I has been suggested by several parties that I should document my experiences growing fruits and vegetables on a Vancouver rooftop. After much procrastination I’ve run out of reasons not to do so, and have decided to give it a shot.
We moved into a mid-rise building outside of downtown Vancouver a couple years ago. Prior to that we lived in Kitsilano and container-gardened to the extent our small balcony and filtered sunlight would allow.
On moving to our current location, the rooftop was initially planted with various types of vegetation, none of which were edible and few of which looked particularly nice. In fact, two of the planters weren’t planted at all, and so that first summer I seeded both and found that they produced quite well in the unobstructed sun (there are no skyscrapers nearby to interrupt the rays). That first year in what amounted to about 50 square feet we grew herbs (thyme, chives and rosemary), tomatoes, tomatillos, cape gooseberries, strawberries, beans and peas with surprising success. It wasn’t without lessons however. In our case, unobstructed sunlight comes along with largely unobstructed wind, and all that it entails. Seeds arrive from who-knows-where, storms lash all but the low-growing bushes, but all things considered the plots and location were successful.
I tore out a portion of ‘lawn’ in one of the lower raised beds and expanded the ‘farm,’ slightly more than doubling the square footage. Production included the varieties from year one and added some additional experiments. These included watermelon (we managed to produce two), a gooseberry bush (no fruit that year), carrots, peppers (shishito, mini bell, bhut jolokia, habanero and a few mislabeled varieties). Again we generally had success with enough vegetables to share with others in the building. Learnings continued. Rooftop gardens benefit from absence of rabbits, rats, raccoons and the like, but of course aren’t out of reach of birds, and (surprisingly) slugs which we assume hitched a ride on the soil. Speaking of soil, ours is miserable. I assume this reflects the original intent of supporting drought tolerant plants rather than fruits and vegetables, and so we’re stuck with substrate with a large amount of crushed lava rock, presumably to aid drainage and reduce weight.