Monday, March 19, 2012

Winter/Spring rooftop garden 2012

It's been unseasonably warm in Philadelphia for the past few weeks, so my rooftop garden is already off to a pretty great start. About two weeks ago I soaked some snow peas for a few days to get them ready for planting, and a week and a half ago I turned the soil in the planters I'd left on the roof since last year, added about an inch of mushroom compost and put some peas and garlic cloves in the ground.

Garlic shoots started popping up almost immediately. I'm wondering if I should have put the garlic a little deeper beneath the surface -- but I've got garlic hanging out in my closet so I'll probably do a second planting next weekend and try digging a little deeper this time.

This is my first year growing garlic, and to be honest I haven't done a whole lot of research. Much of what I read about growing vegetables in containers last year proved to be only partially useful at best. It turns out my rooftop has its own rather unusual microclimate and I suspect the best way to figure out what will grow well there is to keep seeding as many plants as possible.

To give my plants a little shade, I've placed the planters up against the only wall available. It's on the north side, so the plants get a nice southern exposure... most of the time. At certain parts of the day the sun dips below the high-rise building directly southeast of us and everybody gets a little more shade.

But when the sun is out it gets very bright and very warm. I've already realized that I have to water the plants more often than I would if they were in the ground because the planters dry out pretty quickly. 

It's also very windy on the rooftop, so plants have to be pretty sturdy to survive.

Last year I discovered that snow peas I directly seeded outside came up with nice thick stems while those I started indoors had long, thin stalks. 

But since I had some extra sprouted seeds, I figured I'd try a few indoors anyway just in case cold weather returned and decided to wipe out everything I've planted on the rooftop before the little guys were established.

As it turns out, the seeds I started indoors are suffering the same fate as last year's. I suspect if I tried to take them outside they'd wilt and fall over just as quickly as last year's.

At least part of the problem is probably that it's hard to find places to put seed trays and pots in the house that are cat-proof. While the cats rarely actually eat the plants, they do like to paw at them, turn over small planters, and play in the soil. 

I suspect it's also just not windy enough inside, and the temperatures don't get as hot and cold, which makes it tough to prepare the little baby snow peas for the harsh realities of life on the roof.

Anyway, long story short, my goal at this point is to find plants that aren't only container-friendly, but which also have relatively short yield times. That will allow me to plant as many veggies as possible directly in outdoor planters since I can plant snow peas in March, hopefully get a harvest in April or May, and start peppers and beans in May and hopefully allow them to grow up around the snow peas so that by the time the weather's really warm enough for the summer veggies to thrive I'll have gotten sick of snow peas and I'll be ready to cut down those vines.

You'll notice there's a lot of "hope" in that last paragraph. I'm not really sure this will work. Technically you're supposed to plant peppers indoors about 6 weeks before last frost and then transplant them outside. I'm just not sure that any plants I try to transplant will actually bear much fruit. 

I mean, I'll try it, because there are more seeds in my packet than I really need for direct seeding outdoors. I'm just not sure it will work.

I may also break down and pick up a few plants from a nursery to transplant, but I'd like to grow as much as possible from seed, just so I can actually figure out how best to grow things three stories up in the urban wilderness of Philadelphia.

Speaking of which, despite limited success with last year's spinach crop, I've decided to try a few leafy greens again this year. There are a few shoots of what could be spinach popping up... but it could also be weeds. You'd be amazed just how many weeds find their way into pots placed on a rooftop thanks to bugs, birds, wind, and trees.

Last year's green onions also don't quite seem to be ready to go away. 

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