Building A Recycled Rooftop Garden

Lauren and I moved into an apartment in Brooklyn (Park Slope) with two friends, Katie and Evan, three weeks ago. After several trips to IKEA and much elbow grease, our room is set up. One of the best features about the place is that we are on the fourth floor and have access to a roof directly above us. You have to climb out of our bedroom window and up a fire escape to get there, and we aren't totally sure if we're supposed to be doing it, but the view is too good to not.

Instead of finding a job right away, which I should really have been doing, I decided to turn the empty space on the roof into a garden. The first planter came in the form of a suitcase which fell apart on the way from the car up the stairs. We bought the suitcase in Delhi to cart copies of 100 Days of India back to the states and it survived all the way to the third floor of our apartment before failing us. It seemed sad to just throw it away, so I flung it up onto the roof and proceeded to cut some holes in the bottom with my Leatherman.

I went round the corner and bought a bag of organic potting soil and a packet of bok choi seeds. Lugging it up the stairs and then up the fire escape wasn't fun, and to my horror it didn't even fill the suitcase halfway. Back down and around the corner again, this time to get two more bags. This did it and I got the seeds straight in the ground. It was pleasing, but by no means did this constitute a garden.

Over the next few days I collated materials from the streets around our place. People in Park Slope seem to throw all sorts of things out on the pavement in front of their apartments. This happened in Portland, Oregon, too, but due to the rain, everything always looked soggy and unsavory. You rarely found a gem worthy of bringing home. Here, I found an old oak bed which was dismantled, some slats from a different bed, several 5-gallon buckets, a large drawer which was mostly in one piece and a whole load of random lengths of pine. I didn't even have to search hard, it was epic.

Lauren was worried about bed bugs, which are still a big problem in New York, but I contended that they can't burrow through ceilings. I tried to get the wood through the door and onto the roof as fast as possible. Some of the pieces were light and easy to get up the fire escape but others were challenging. An oak headboard was the hardest item to deal with. Lauren stood at the top of the ladder whilst I hoisted it up. It wasn't quite long enough/I wasn't quite tall enough, so she ended up having to heave more of it than we expected. Dangerous times. I do not recommend this! I vowed to choose manageable pieces of wood in the future.

Anyway, an afternoon sawing up lengths and a packet of nails later, and I had two more planters. Holes drilled in the bottom of each for drainage. We'd made a set of tea shelves for the kitchen, too, and had some pink paint left over (a mix of an old 1/3 can or red and 1/2 a can of white) so one of the planters got pinked. It took two trips to Home Depot to pick up enough soil to fill them. In the pink planter (below), we planted spinach, rainbow chard and golden beets, and in the unpainted one below it, mustard greens and a mix of other lettuce leaves. Oh and a bit of sage at the end. One final touch was a basket found nearby too which we strung up and planted with a mix of everything.

The rooftop garden in all its glory so far. Deckchairs at the ready!

In my next post I will be discussing and detailing the next step in the formation of the rooftop garden: building a WORM FARM! I can tell you are excited.