Getting to Know True Nature

I come home with dirty, wet jeans every Tuesday. I’m exhausted, but in the best way – an hour or two of being hunched over planting beds, clipping weeds at the soil line. It’s no easy task to garden like this – first my gardening partner and I pull down a bin of supplies off the top shelf of a storage rack in a back storeroom. We select the supplies we’ll need – clippers, bags for harvesting, gloves and garden aprons. We then  maneuver a tall extension ladder out of it’s place along the wall and onto the back terrace. One of us holds the ladder; the other pulls the rope to extend it to it’s full length. Then comes the harrowing climb to the roof. It’s takes about thirty seconds to ascend to the top; slowly, carefully. And then the work begins.

I’ve been volunteering at True Nature, our local natural foods store. They’ve got a rooftop garden where they grow vegetables to sell in the store, use in their juice bar, and sell at the Saturday farmer’s market. There is kale, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, parsley, basil and a few other things. It’s remarkable because all of this grows in mere inches of soil. The setup is pretty interesting – the roof at True Nature cannot support a high weight, so to create the planting beds foam board was laid down and covered with landscape fabric and then covered with a few inches of perlite-based potting soil. To keep the soil in place, they intercrop the food-producing plants with clover and wheat.

The main task is keeping the clover and wheat in check. Pulling up weeds isn’t possible – if there’s nothing to hold the soil in place, it will simply blow away. So the main weeding task is keeping it all cut down to the soil line, so the food-producing crops can grow up and benefit from the sunlight. This also benefits the concept of the green roof in that the more green matter on the roof, the cooler the building will be. The natural mulch of the cuttings (which are left on the beds) also helps retain moisture for the plants.

We also harvest the produce that is ready to be picked when we get up on the roof. So far this season, we’ve harvested Anaheim peppers, kale, parsley, basil, Thai basil, and cherry tomatoes.

There is some talk about expansion in the spring – installing another planting bed, building cold frames, putting in a water barrel to collect rainwater and putting some planting pots on the store’s back patio for heavier weight crops that can’t be grown on the roof. The store also hosts three honeybee hives on the back patio, and I hope to get more involved with them next season – I’d love to be able to learn about urban beekeeping firsthand.

There’s another month or so of days that are long enough to continue working on the roof this season, and I’m signed up to get up there for the rest of the Tuesdays in September. It’s been pretty awesome to be involved in the project this summer and I’ve learned a lot and had a great time. I’m hoping to continue volunteering on the roof next season as well – that’s the great thing about gardening – there always another season!