how to build a rooftop vegetable garden

how to build a rooftop vegetable garden

Earlier than man was, gardening waited for him. The final word commerce awaiting its final practitioner.

Okay positive, Cormac McCarthy was really speaking about conflict when he wrote that, however if you happen to ask me, it nonetheless holds true for gardening.

You're reading: how to build a rooftop vegetable garden

Together with mastering fireplace, the purposeful cultivation of vegetation is broadly thought-about to be one of many technological leaps that set people on the trail to complicated civilization, for higher or for worse. Talking as a metropolis dweller and inhabitant of the present iteration of stated complicated civilization, we’d like gardening now, greater than ever, to clean out among the rougher edges of this bizarre world we’ve constructed for ourselves.

Gardening could be a good way to loosen up and free your thoughts from the numbing pressures of The Display screen. Futzing round with vegetation within the solar helps us reconnect with the glories of the pure world that we’ve grow to be more and more remoted from. And, as this bizarrely darkish listicle places it, gardening “reminds us of the cycle of life,” and thus helps us “come to phrases with that almost all common of anxieties: loss of life.”

However hey, let’s not fear about that simply but. The tall, skinny man with the scythe and black robes comes for us all, however till he rings the buzzer, let’s squeeze all the enjoyment we are able to out of the right here and now.

Which brings us again to gardening, and the right way to get into it.

For these of us who dwell within the suburbs or, even higher, the nation, the method is straightforward: go exterior and plant some seeds within the floor, then watch them develop. For these of us dwelling in a metropolis, it’s a bit extra sophisticated.

However concern not. I’ve toiled for numerous hours and spent hundreds of {dollars} to string that needle, so that you don’t must. After 4 years of banging my head towards the wall in an try and backyard regardless of dwelling in a tiny residence in Brooklyn, New York, I’ve lastly discovered a design that’s comparatively easy, works nicely, and, most significantly, is extraordinarily low-maintenance as soon as it’s arrange.

Ryan Boysen rooftop garden
The writer along with his accomplished (and thriving) rooftop backyard. Sheri Barclay

So long as you could have rooftop entry and a comparatively chill landlord, there’s a good chance you may be taught from my errors and construct your self a rooftop backyard. It ought to solely price you just a few hundred bucks and a weekend or two of your time—even much less if you happen to’ve already obtained spare supplies mendacity round and are able to getting away from bed earlier than 1 p.m. on the weekend.

It’s actually simply three issues

There are an countless number of methods to backyard on a roof, however my setup consists of three elements supposed to handle what I contemplate to be the three important issues confronting the would-be rooftop gardener.

  1. A PVC construction wrapped in bamboo fencing to guard the vegetation from wind, which could be brutal on a roof.
  2. Self-watering containers to scale back the period of time spent lugging water as much as the roof and to make sure that, if you happen to don’t accomplish that for just a few days, the vegetation gained’t undergo.
  3. A home made soil combination to encourage a bountiful harvest by offering the vegetation with primo grime that gained’t require fixed fertilizing.

Should you’re simply beginning out and all that appears overwhelming, you may halve the time required to place this collectively by foregoing the customized soil combine and easily including natural fertilizers to store-bought potting soil (solely baggage marked as “potting soil,” no “in-ground” or “raised mattress” stuff, because it’s a lot heavier and won’t distribute water correctly). It will work positive, however not in addition to mixing it up from scratch.

It ought to go with out saying, however undoubtedly ask your landlord for permission earlier than constructing a rooftop backyard, and ensure the roof in query has the structural integrity essential to help one. Most residence constructing roofs shouldn’t have an issue supporting not less than a small backyard, however you do must scope it out first. If unsure, ask your landlord.

Construct the construction

This half can appear intimidating, however it’s really pretty easy, so long as you suppose forward.

First, resolve the place you need your backyard to go. Measure the world, and plan the scale of your construction accordingly.

Mine, for instance, is 12 ft lengthy, 8 ft extensive, and eight ft tall. Your size and width could fluctuate, however I like to recommend a easy sq. or rectangle with 8-foot-tall sides to maintain the wind from roughing up your vegetation. You’ll additionally wish to go away a gap on one facet so you may get out and in.

Sketch a rudimentary blueprint (no must get fancy with this), then work out how a lot PVC pipe and bamboo fencing you’ll want. Keep in mind that you gained’t require horizontal items of pipe on the inside—you’ll want area to stroll round—and that you just’ll preserve the entryway away from fencing.

Boysen rooftop garden blueprint
Significantly, you don’t should be a great artist to sketch a blueprint. Ryan Boysen

What you’ll want:

The supplies listed under are standardized for one 4-by-4-by-8-foot part of backyard area, which is the fundamental constructing block of my design. As you add sq. footage, you’ll want barely fewer items for every extra part, as they are going to share poles and joints.

Supplies (for one 4-by-4-by-8-foot block of backyard area)

  • 18 or so 4-foot-long, 3/4-inch-thick PVC poles (about 12 for every extra block)
  • 12 PVC pipe joints (your mixture of tee joints, 3-way connectors, 4-way connectors, and 5-way connectors will fluctuate relying on the scale of your construction)
  • 12 ft of bamboo fencing (4 ft for every extra edge block)
  • A can of PVC cement
  • A roll of string (or about 100 zip ties)

Find out: how to store new potatoes from the garden


  • Hacksaw (or PVC pipe cutter)
  • Knife (or scissors)
  • Everlasting marker

When you’ve obtained your instruments and supplies, measure the pipe to your required size, mark it, lower it, and begin connecting. It’s OK to be a bit confused throughout this step, however as soon as you set just a few items collectively it ought to start making sense fairly shortly. When all the things appears good, return and glue all of the joints along with the PVC cement.

As soon as your body is full, wrap the bamboo round it and safe the fencing with zip ties or string. This may occasionally take an hour or two, however it’s value going sluggish and doing a radical job. Your vegetation and neighbors will thanks the following time a storm rolls via. Tie the corners to one thing heavy to forestall your backyard from flying away—wood pallets work nicely if you happen to’re utilizing these to help your vegetation, however you too can anchor the construction to the handles of your planters.

Craft the self-watering containers

There are a lot of methods to construct self-watering containers, however the fundamental thought is that this: every one has a built-in, refillable water reservoir and a wicking mechanism that brings that water up into the soil.

And whereas this how-to offers with 5-gallon buckets, it’s simple to increase the underlying rules to bigger containers and different varieties of supplies when you get the grasp of issues.

Boysen rooftop garden with self-watering containers
Self-watering containers, like these seen right here, imply that even if you happen to’re not at all times round to care for your backyard, your vegetation will nonetheless have sufficient to drink. Ryan Boysen

What you’ll want:

Supplies (for one container)

  • 2 plastic 5-gallon buckets (cheaper in bulk)
  • 2 sponges
  • 3 strips of foot-long cotton materials (one t-shirt will make sufficient for a couple of dozen containers, however it have to be 100% cotton—artificial materials doesn’t wick correctly)
  • A 3-foot size of three/4-inch PVC pipe
  • A big funnel (you solely want one, regardless of what number of containers you could have)
  • A wood pallet or one thing else to raise the planter (elective)

Find out: how to store new potatoes from the garden


  • Drill
  • 1-inch drill bit
  • 1/4-inch drill bit
  • Everlasting marker
  • Scissors (or a boxcutter)

So, you’ve obtained two buckets. Put one inside the opposite and measure the place the underside of the within bucket reaches on the surface bucket. Mark that spot along with your marker, then draw a bit circle a half-inch under that. Separate the buckets and drill a 1/4-inch gap throughout the circle you marked on the surface one, then set that bucket apart.

Now take the opposite bucket, flip it upside-down and drill a 1-inch gap in the midst of its backside. Drill one other 1-inch gap close to the surface of the underside. Now drill a dozen or so 1/4-inch holes throughout.

Now, take two sponges and use a knife or scissors to chop a 2-inch-long gash within the heart of every sponge. Take your cotton strips and thread them via one sponge, so about 4 inches of fabric stands out the opposite facet.

Stuff that materials via the large gap within the heart of the within bucket so the sponge and nearly all of the material stays throughout the bucket. Take the opposite sponge, place it on the surface of the bucket, and thread the dangling strips via it, ensuring it’s cosy towards the underside of the bucket. These items of fabric will wick water from the reservoir into the soil, and the sponges will guarantee they keep in place.

self-watering garden containers
How you can arrange the within bucket, from left to proper: drill holes within the backside, place a sponge inside and thread the material strips via it, after which thread the fabric via a sponge on the surface. Ryan Boysen

Now put the within bucket again into the surface bucket. Jam the 3-foot size of PVC pipe into the opposite 1-inch gap. With assistance from the funnel you’ll use this pipe to fill the reservoir.

Whenever you finally load the within bucket with soil, attempt to be sure that the cotton strips prolong upward to make sure even water distribution all through the soil combination. I’ll often fill it one-third of the way in which with grime, lay one strip throughout that layer, add the following third and do the identical factor with one other strip, then attempt to bury the remaining strip slightly below the floor.

For you visible learners, this video straight impressed my container design and it’s a good way to see the method play out.

When placing the buckets in your backyard, it’s finest to put them on prime of one thing to maintain them from sitting straight on the roofing materials. It will guarantee correct drainage and forestall roof injury from any water trapped below the containers. I used wood pallets, however just about something that gives a little bit of elevation will work simply positive.

It is best to solely must fill your containers with water a couple of times every week, relying on the scale of the vegetation they maintain and the way a lot it has rained.

Combine the soil

You need your soil to be equal components compost, vermiculite, and sphagnum moss—the quantities under are approximate.

Vermiculite and the moss are often bought in baggage of 1-3 cubic ft—greater than sufficient for a single container. To avoid wasting you the conversion time: one 5-gallon bucket holds about 0.7 cubic ft of fabric, so that you’ll want rather less than 0.25 cubic ft of every (or about 1.5 gallons).

Find out: Vegetable Garden Layout: 7 Best Design Secrets!

Compost is an important aspect, and you’ll find the great things at close by group gardens or composting operations. You can also make your personal, too, however it may be arduous to supply sufficient if you happen to’re constructing a big backyard. Nonetheless, by no means accept the store-bought stuff.

For finest outcomes, it helps to sift the compost and moss to filter out any massive chunks. Doing so helps guarantee even water distribution all through the soil, however if you happen to’re drained and simply wish to get to the precise gardening, you may skip this step with out an excessive amount of fear.

What you’ll want:

Supplies (for one container)

  • 1/4 cubic foot of vermiculite
  • 1/4 cubic foot of sphagnum moss
  • 1/4 cubic foot of compost
  • 3 tablespoons of Azomite
  • 3 tablespoons of kelp meal
  • 3 tablespoons of all-purpose fertilizer
  • A big tarp
  • 3 tablespoons of worm castings (elective)

Find out: how to store new potatoes from the garden


  • Gardening gloves
  • Shovel
  • Soil measuring cup

Should you’re not going to sift, merely dump the right quantity of every materials onto your tarp. Should you’re mixing soil for a number of containers, merely scale it up—your solely limits are tarp measurement and the way arduous you wish to work. Should you’ve obtained a big container to combine in, that works, too, however a tarp might be extra sensible for many apartment-dwellers.

Sprinkle kelp meal, all-purpose fertilizer, worm castings (if obtainable), and Azomite on prime. I often use about 1 cup for six buckets value.

Now combine all of it up. Don’t half-ass it.

dirt in a container with a shovel
If in case you have a big container to combine the soil in, nice! But when not, a tarp works simply positive. Ryan Boysen

I had to pick a bunch of worms throughout this course of, so in case your compost can be stuffed with ‘em (which suggests the compost is wholesome), preserve them protected. Simply put a bit little bit of compost in a small container, stash the worms in there, after which both launch them into soil someplace, or return them to wherever you bought your compost. Sadly, the situations inside your containers will in all probability not be optimum for worm survival, and a bunch of useless worms in your containers may result in fungus or illness issues down the road.

When your soil is well-combined, put it in your containers.

If you wish to sift the compost and moss, you’ll must construct a sifter.

What you’ll want:

Supplies (for the sifter)

  • 2 2-foot-long 2-by-4s
  • 2 4-foot-long 2-by-4s
  • A chunk of 1/4-inch mesh (not less than 4 ft lengthy and a couple of ft extensive)
  • 1.5-inch screws

Find out: how to store new potatoes from the garden


  • Chopping pliers
  • Drill
  • Staple gun

Make a rectangle along with your 2-by-4s and screw the corners collectively. Reduce a size of mesh to suit over all of it, letting the perimeters overlap the wood body so you may fasten it in place. Then, staple it tightly to the wooden with the staple gun.

Place the sifter above your tarp by placing it on prime of two chairs, packing containers, tables, or no matter you could have that’ll preserve it elevated. Dump the compost into the sifter, then rub it round along with your gloved palms till most of it has fallen via. Put any massive bits into one other container and set it apart.

Now do the identical with sphagnum moss. You don’t must sift the vermiculite.

This video is a good way to see what the method appears like.

As you get extra into it, I’d suggest experimenting with liquid fertilizers to offer your vegetation some additional oomph, however the vitamins on this combination ought to be greater than sufficient to get you, and your vegetation, began.

Now get on the market and get gardening, and keep in mind this: although a person’s at odds to know his thoughts as a result of his thoughts is aught he has to realize it with, so long as you’re gardening you gained’t want to bother your self with all that. Simply stand among the many screaming leaves and name down the lightning, and know that the time has come so that you can reap.

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