Brad Dunks still remembers his great grandfather’s reaction to his mother’s garden. He looked around and remarked “all these flowers and nothing to eat.” His grandfather grew up during the depression and knew the value of growing food. Brad feels the same way. “Why do we put food on ships and send it half way around the world when we have so much space right here?”
He takes full advantage of his rooftop in downtown Vancouver BC. He finds it’s way easier to grow food than people realize and advises new gardeners to keep it simple. “Be practical, use whatever space you have and grow whatever is easiest. Don’t force it.” He likes growing greens: lettuce, kale, and chard. He’s found that kale gets sweeter in the winter and is fine even with 2″ of snow. Herbs are also a good plant to start with –you can’t kill mint– according to him. He also says the food he grows tastes way better than what you can buy. His wife always hated beets till they grew them and his daughter likes vegetables way more now that she helps care for them.
Brad also advises new gardeners to pay attention to the soil. “It’s really all about the dirt.” He composts his kitchen scraps and cuttings and when a plant becomes too rooty he adds it to the compost too. He rotates the compost out every six months or so–keep the soil moving he says.
You’d probably never believe Gary Rosenberg’s garden was on a roof top so I had to prove it with this photo of him climbing up a ladder to it. His Berkeley garden is so densely planted and lush that I was constantly checking my steps to make sure I didn’t walk off the edge. His house didn’t have a backyard and he wanted to make use of his large flat roof top so he began the rooftop garden back in 1994. First, he made sure the foundation was strong enough to support all the weight. Then he then stripped the old roof down to the structural elements and covered them with thick plywood. He topped it with two layers of modified torch-on, a rubber-like surface that is extremely waterproof and durable. But the mechanics of his garden is really not what it’s all about.
“I don’t teach gardening, I teach civil disobedience,” he explained, and there’s nothing that bothers him more than our wasteful consumer society. Almost all the containers, building materials, and even plants have been gleaned. He uses solar power, a composting toilet, and recycles the water used to for his plants into a very rich compost tea that he reuses on his plants. He also allows his plants to live their entire lifespans so he can collect the seed from successful plants so they can naturally adapt to the climate. He doesn’t see weeds as a problem, because they are biomass and natural carbon sinks that he eventually add to the compost. The way Gary sees it, if we could redirect the waste stream, improving society would naturally follow.
Collards are allowed to grow over several seasons, he picks leaves as he needs them.
Gary recycles the roof top runoff in barrels that makes a naturally rich compost tea.
Gary’s rooftop garden is barely visible from the street because of his densely planted sidewalk garden that contains over 20 fruit trees.