Posts Tagged ‘rooftop garden’
If you’re researching container gardens, you know there are loads of options for sale — terra cotta pots, plastic troughs, Rubbermaid storage containers — and plenty more DIY instructions for redwood boxes, raised beds, and converting any “container” known to man into gardening space (did you see my computer garden post last week??).
Here in Oakland, I was looking for the cheapest possible option — but also something easily mobile, symmetrically attractive, deep enough for carrots, and wide enough to row some veggies.
I needed squares — cubes at least a foot deep.
Milk crates come in a variety of sizes (we have 12” cubes and 13”x15” boxes, and I’ve seen ones that are double wide), they’re really easy to move, they’re almost always free, and they can easily be arranged side by side in “beds.” I found most of my crates on Craigslist — I brought 28 of them home one day in my little Ford Escort when I discovered that a gelato shop in San Francisco looking to get rid of more than 100! Now I see them all over the place (I’m still hoping to score some of those double wides…).
While you can’t put soil directly into milk crates (huge gaping holes aren’t exactly conducive to holding dirt), they’re really easy to line. But what to line them with? I considered burlap, for economy’s sake and easy drainage, but I didn’t think it would last long. Instead, I settled on synthetic landscaping fabric. It’s about $25 for a 3×100-foot roll at my local Home Depot –I think I Iined about 15 crates with my first roll.
1. Cut the landscaping fabric to fit your boxes. You’ll need two identical strips for each box — the width must be 4 to 6 inches wider than the box width (if you bought 3- to 4-foot wide fabric, just cut it in half for most milk crates), and the length must be long enough to fit down both sides and across the bottom, plus a few inches leeway on each side. An easy way to measure is to wrap the fabric around the outside of the crate.
2. Put one strip across the inside of the box to cover two opposite sides. Make sure the fabric fits down into each corner so you don’t end up with a rounded bottom (likely to stretch and tear) when it’s filled with soil. Stitch in the handles on each — or wherever is convenient based on the placement of holes on your crate — to keep the fabric in place.
4. Fill it with soil! I used a mix that was about one half top soil, one quarter compost, one quarter chicken manure, plus a few tablespoons of dry organic fertilizer. I also added a few worms — we inherited a large family of earthworms when we got dirt from someone else’s yard, and I try to keep a few in each box, since they help keep the soil and plants healthy.
5. Plant! I’ve found that carrots, beans, and lettuces can be rowed in these containers, but that plants like eggplant and squash need a full container to themselves. I have peppers planted diagonally — 2 in one box — and they seem to do well that way. I found a really good resource on companion planting that I use to help determine what to plant with what and which boxes to put next to each other for pest control, flavor, shading, etc.
So when my June birthday came around and I still hadn’t hosted a party, I knew it was time.
In part to share (and show off) my garden and in part to encourage local, sustainable eating among my friends, I threw a “Twice Removed Potluck.” In the Kevin Bacon tradition, it could also be called a “Two-Degrees Potluck”: every dish brought to the party — including beverages — had to have at least one ingredient that was no more than two degrees away from the people eating it. This means something in each dish was grown or harvested by the cook, or he/she had met the person who did. I OK’d farmers market finds — even though not all the sellers are actually farmers — to make things easier. I also OK’d beverages brewed or distilled locally, to make it easier to imbibe on my birthday.
Tables and chairs were rented (14 guests were not going to fit around my little dining table!), glasses and forks were borrowed, cloth napkins and extra kitchen accoutrements were scavenged at Goodwill, and herb seedlings — party favors — were found at the little garden shop down the road. Somehow, I even managed to get a live musician: David Stuart (who also runs Ghost Dog Presents) played the party in trade for a photoshoot later this summer!! Ah, I love it when things come together. But enough talk — you want photos and recipes!
A few of my amazingly intelligent friends brought mason jars full of beautiful, handpicked flowers to complement the sunflowers I bought at the farmer’s market. Love love love love…!!
Dinner was: Fresh squeezed grapefruit juice with Hangar One (local) vodka, fresh greens from my garden with a basalmic dressing made by Maryanne, roasted root vegetables (carrots from my garden, the rest from the farmers market), potato salad with farmers market potatoes and eggs from Brentan, spinach pasta salad with basil from Katrina & Ashley’s garden, farmers market bread with homemade jam from Maryanne, two differently delicious bruschettas by Katrina & Jay (see next post) and Travis & Adrienne, a farmer’s market strawberry/peach/nectarine cobbler by Jeff, and a fresh strawberry pie with hand-whipped cream from Meredith & Aaron. Hands down, this was the best birthday dinner of all time.
One of the most popular dishes at the party was Brentan’s potato salad — no dill made me like it even more!
[I’m one of those cooks who sorta throws things together and seasons, etc., based on taste and feel, so I don’t have really precise recipes for things -- and is probably why I’m not a huge baker. That said, the eggs are the “secret” that makes this taste so good. It is debatable whether this is potato salad with eggs or egg salad with potatoes. Usually I’m somewhere between a 1:1 and 2:1 potato to egg ratio. The amounts used in this recipe yield about 10 cups of potato salad.]
- 6 medium-sized waxy red potatoes
- 6 eggs (hard boiled)
- One quarter of a white onion, finely diced
- 1 to 2 tablespoons mustard
- 2 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise
- Salt, to taste
Dice potatoes into 1 inch cubes.
Bring water to boil (Enough to cover potatoes) and salt the water. Add potatoes and boil until tender, about 30 minutes. You can cook longer until they get slightly mushy to make a creamier potato salad, which is also pretty good.
Shell and chop the hard boiled eggs into whatever size you prefer. When the potatoes are done, mix with eggs, onion, mustard, and mayo. Add salt to taste.
Refrigerate for about one hour before serving. This step is actually rather important, it allows flavors to mingle and mellow (or enhance). The onion flavor really blossoms after this time, for example, so something that tastes perfectly onionated before the fridge can be overpoweringly onioned after. Mustard spreads and mellows a bit, just makes it all better.
For variations, my favorite additions include diced celery, peas, and dill.
Maryanne’s Surprise Balsamic Dressing
Maryanne saved my butt with her salad dressing — when she arrived, I was attempting to make an avocado goddess dressing, but it’s never a good idea to be cooking when your party starts!! I kept adding the wrong ingredients at the wrong times in the wrong amounts, so I turned over my kitchen — and an empty salsa jar — to Maryanne.
[This recipe isn’t precise – all ingredients are added to your preference -- I use a LOT of garlic and mustard. The surprise each time is 90 percent of the fun!]
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Dijon or brown mustard
- Salt and pepper
For the liquid base, mix olive oil and balsamic vinegar, at about a 3:1 ratio depending on how much dressing you need, in a clean jar or small container with a sealing lid.
Then add minced garlic (I use a couple cloves), mustard, salt and pepper, close the jar, and shake!
Two years ago, I had a friend help me cook for another birthday dinner. We went to the store not knowing what we would make, and ended up with a basket full of carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, and other root veggies I had never cooked before.
But this sweet, colorful, and delicious side dish turns out to be about the easiest thing you could make. Especially — as happened at the party this weekend — when you have minions (I mean, guests?) to do all the chopping!
- Root vegetables — Purple and yellow beets, all kinds of carrots, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, etc. (I used 6 carrots, 1 purple beet, 2 parsnips, 2 turnips and 1 rutabaga to fill one roasting pan – use your own ratio based on color, flavor, or preference!)
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Chop the veggies into approximately 1/2 inch cubes. Mix them all together along with the olive oil so everything is lightly coated in oil. Spread the mix over a high-sided cookie sheet, roasting pan, or casserole dish. Cover with tin foil, and cook on a center oven rack for 45 minutes to one hour.
We haven’t gotten a grill yet for our porch, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy America’s favorite food. The 20 minutes these Rosemary Chevre Burgers took to make is fairly fast as far as dinner in my house goes, and they made for a very happy meal!
The rosemary and onion as well as the lettuce on top came from my garden, and the garlic and egg came from the farmers market (both are things I always have on hand).
In retrospect, I also could have gotten the chevre cheese and probably even the 100-percent grass fed ground beef and olive oil from the farmers market, but I bought them at the grocery store down the street. My advice: Don’t skimp on the meat — grass fed beef is more expensive (my one-pound package was $5.99), but it made these burgers taste so fresh and rich!
Rosemary Chevre Burgers
Makes approximately 4 burgers
From the garden…
1 sprig fresh rosemary (1-2 teaspoons chopped)
1 small white onion, chopped
From the farmers market…
2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
Mix the chopped rosemary, onion, and garlic in a medium-sized bowl.
Add the ground beef, cheese, and egg and stir — I found it easiest to mix it with my hands after getting it started with a spoon.
Divide meat mix into four portions and shape into burgers.
Spread a splash of olive oil (or butter or cooking spray) in your frying pan, and cook the burgers over medium-high heat, turning as needed — for the first flip, I wait until the juices start coming out on top.
Assemble the burger, bun, lettuce and whatever other toppings you want in whatever way pleases you most, and dig in!
I served mine with an arugula side salad topped with a little pomegranate vinaigrette dressing! Yum!
A lot of the inspiration for my rooftop garden came from seeing photos, videos, and blogs about what other people have done with their own urban spaces. On Urbivore, I’ll periodically feature other people’s gardens, in the hopes of inspiring you too!
Of course the easiest one to start with is my own.
My first garden, on a small patio in Portland, Maine, used Rubbermaid storage containers as pots — they were convenient, cheap, easy to move, and available in many sizes…but not terribly attractive.
The containers worked just fine, and I’d recommend them to any first-timer looking for fast and cheap. But for me — OCD about symmetry — the varying sizes, shapes, and colors of my plastic storage bins just didn’t make the aesthetic cut.
When I got the chance at a fresh start in Oakland, I took it.
I knew I wanted to put containers of some kind on the roof, which for us is a porch. I did a bunch of research into what other people were doing, and found woodworking plans (like this one) for building your own containers.
I even went so far as volunteering for a rooftop project work day with Bay Localize — a local non-profit promoting sustainable practices in the Bay Area — in order to get a feel for how building and using big wooden flats might work.
After that, the idea of building and moving all those flats (and all that dirt) on our own just didn’t seem reasonable — we’re not in this apartment forever!
They had a video posted on YouTube (I can’t find it anymore!?) with instructions on how to build a milk crate garden, so I watched it a few times and modified as needed.
I searched Craigslist and found one batch of “storage crates” — 11 for $15 – and then scored the mother lode when a San Francisco gelato company posted they had 100 milk crates on the sidewalk, for free (plus $4 bridge toll). I can officially say that a Ford Escort can hold exactly 28 crates and one driver.
We laid down shipping pallets (free on Craigslist) to keep crates from directly contacting the roof. (We initially had pallets on the actual roof surface, but moved them onto the decking to prevent trouble with our wishy-washy, undecided, and certifiably crazy landlord.)
On top of those pallets are milk crates that I lined with landscaping fabric — this keeps soil from falling out, but lets water drain and air get in. We filled the lined crates with good soil — most of it came free from a Craigslister looking to dig up a backyard raised garden bed, some has come from mixing store-bought bags of soil and compost.
We also tried following Glide’s video instructions for building wooden walls out of salvaged pallet wood. They were surprisingly difficult to build (old, dried-out pallets are impossible to take apart!), and, despite being stained, the walls on our 9-crate flat warped apart after a couple months. So… no more walls.
But that’s OK: I still have symmetry! And plenty of veggies, of course.
Currently planted: Four kinds of lettuce, hillbilly (purple!) spinach, carrots, four kinds of peppers, five different tomatoes, eggplant, two kinds of zucchini, summer squash, green beans, basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, watermelon, cantaloupe, two kinds of strawberries, sunflowers, violets, and an orange tree. And more crates await!
At some point in elementary school, I remember telling a boy in my neighborhood that when I grew up, I wanted to live on a farm. Not only that, I wanted to be an author and an actress on that farm. All of these dreams were combined in my imagination into a barn-theater that would put on productions written (and produced and acted) by me.
Fifteen years later, I’ve abandoned all interest in theater, but I’m still a writer, and I still want a farm.
The writing part has been easy — after studying English and journalism in college, I was hired as a newspaper reporter at a small local paper in Maine. Oddly enough, it was precisely that job which reminded me of my other interest — about a year in I realized that my favorite stories to write were agriculture-related, and my favorite people to feature were farmers. Between all that folk knowledge and a hands-in-the-dirt lifestyle, farmers are damn interesting people!
So I started growing a few things of my own.
In Portland I planted lettuce, beans, and carrots in Rubbermaid containers on a little shared patio behind my building. When I moved to California in 2009, I was ready to expand.
Steve (my roommate and now-exboyfriend — don’t ask) was brilliant, and found us a penthouse apartment in Oakland with full access to the roof, which is now our garden. Spinach, snap peas, strawberries, carrots, onions, peppers, tomatoes, rosemary, sunflowers, ranunculus, and violets have all graced this space, and I’ve thought since the beginning that this was something worth writing about.
Add to that my growing interest in healthy eating — sparked by books from Berkeley’s Michael Pollan, NYU’s Marion Nestle, and the documentary Food, Inc. — and a lack of meaningful writing in my daily life (I now work in marketing), and the idea for this blog just sort of sprouted.
I’ll be writing a little about my own garden, but also, ideally, about other urban gardens in the Bay Area and beyond. I’ll also be writing about food — how to live off local produce from the farmer’s market and/or your own back yard, and how to successfully navigate the overly-processed food at the grocery store. And, because my interests extend beyond just food and growing it, I’ll throw in a little bit about more general sustainable living, too.
My goal with Urbivore is to encourage and support local and hyper-local food production and healthy consumption of that food. By doing so, I hope to increase sustainability and improve the lives of individuals and the community.
I want feedback, I want ideas, I want collaboration — so please, be in touch, and keep reading!