Sunday, October 20, 2013

Growing salad in the city

I have a sunny rooftop deck in a sunny SF neighborhood, and a bit of a green thumb, so I tried rooftop gardening this past spring and summer. 

Sugar snap pea did really well

To be clear, this was primarily a salad vegetable garden. I grew lots of lettuces, arugula, cherry tomatoes and herbs, and a few cukes, beans and peppers.

Arugula! This did really well in the spring, but got bitter and bolted once we hit June. I'm going to restart it again now that it's cooled off

I did a mix of plants from seed and seedlings from my friendly neighborhood nursery. Oh, and some heirloom cherry tomato plants from a neighborhood plant project.

Cherry tomatoes did REALLY well on my SF rooftop deck. I had 6 varieties, and had about 20-30 a day through most of July and August

 Why grow produce when you can just buy it in the market (as one of my work colleagues asked)? I found it tremendously satisfying to grow and then eat my salads. I really love super-fresh lettuce. A side benefit- because I didn't want to waste my hand-grown produce, I ate a ton of salad over the summer.

This summer squash plant looks very happy and flowered like crazy, but it really did not work in a pot. I got two decent sized squashs the entire summer, and a ton of extremely small ones. I won't be doing this plant again in a pot
What worked:
lettuce and arugula: grew tremendously well in May through early July. I started with seedling plants from the nursery (arugula, redleaf lettuce) and also started sowing mixed green and arugula crops about every two weeks. I ended up producing enough mixed greens for two yummy salads a day (plus bonus bags that I inflicted on friends). Once it got hot in July, however, the arugula grew bitter and bolted and the lettuces also couldn't handle the heat. I switched the lettuce to a heat tolerant variety (will insert name once I look it up), and ate this through July. I'm about to restart the arugula and lettuce now that it's cooler again

Lettuce and arugula did super well on my SF rooftop deck, at least in the spring and early summer. The lettuces did well at high density as long as I fertilized it weekly
herbs: rosemary, catnip, parsley, thyme, sage, peppermint, dill, & oregano did really well on the deck, so long as it was in the shaded part of the deck or up on the table to protect it from the intense heat radiated from the roof. Basel was a bit of a disappointment-- something was just off, in terms of temperature or pot size. I've managed a few small pots, but only got two batches of pesto the entire summer

Herbs and flowers did well on my SF rooftop deck garden

Cherry tomatoes: This was the big success story. I went a little nuts and ended up with 5 varieties, all selected to work in SF zone 4 growing season. Sungold worked well, and the two plants produced starting in June through about the end of August (with a few stragglers still ripening in now). I also tried heirloom varieties, with the winner being Snow White (amazing production and flavor) and Chadworth's Cherries (enormous! Lots of tomatoes in August and September). I also had two dwarf heirloom cherry tomatos, which had incredible production (they are in the top left of the below photo). I had a ton of tomatos from June through early September. Yum

The plants are a big improvement on the ugly asphalt deck. I mixed in some flowers for variety and to attract pollinators
Peppers- these worked really well in pots and the plants/fruits are attractive. I went a little nutso on these, and ended up with about 100 more jalepeno, habenero and Thai chili peppers than I needed. Next year, I'm going to try small non-hot (or less hot) peppers

Peas- I planted a few sugar snap peas and let them grow up on the wooden deck railing. These were amazingly yummy and productive, but I had to rip the plants out when the local predators (rodents, ugh) detected the plant and came up to eat.

A predator gets into the lettuce
Mixed/Poor success
Dark leafy greens- swiss chard grew OK but only in the cooler months. Kale kind of straggled along, but I think I really needed bigger pots or perhaps more protection from heat/evaporation. Not sure I'll do these again without an earthbox kind of planter

Cucumber- the plant grew enthusiastically, but production was fairly poor (limited by planter size, I am guessing). I harvested one large cuke a week and they were indeed tasty. Not sure I'd do this one again though
summer squash- not worth it. I think a larger pot is required for reasonable production. I did get a ton of squash flowers (but didn't cook or eat any of them)

Flowers on the Thai pepper plant