Up on the Roof: Our Urban Garden

Posted on June 19, 2011

 Open House reception at the rooftop gardenOpen House reception at the rooftop gardenby Robin Taylor and Norman Feldman
Horticulture Unit, Fountain House

The Horticulture Unit at Fountain House has been creating a new space to sow its seeds - the rooftop of 441 W. 47th Street, just a few buildings away.

A year ago, we began cultivating container crops on the rooftop for use in the Culinary Unit. Last summer we grew about two hundred pounds of vegetables in this garden. In the fall we planted small greenhouses with spinach, kale, cauliflower, collards and garlic. In April we harvested greens which the Culinary Unit served on the salad bar. Many members and staff have enjoyed wonderful, fresh-picked salads.
With a successful first year behind us, in May we began improving and expanding. We moved all the plants to one side, swept and cleaned the part of the roof the garden sits on, and painted it with a reflecting paint to bounce the sun’s rays off the surface. On a 90-degree day, the unpainted tar roof could reach temperatures of 180 degrees – harmful to both gardeners and plants. The white paint reduces the temperature significantly.
The garden is thriving!The garden is thriving!We built four raised beds, each with an automatic watering system, to hold vegetable and herb plants. We filled each bed with eleven bags of soil, carried up one flight of stairs from the fifth floor of the building. Bell peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, mint, rosemary, parsley, basil and dill, strawberries and fig trees are all among the seeds we planted. Members and staff of the Horticulture Unit have taken on the responsibility of going up twice a day to harvest, water, and weed.
We expect to grow seven hundred pounds of fruit and vegetables to feed our community. Our increased capacity is largely due to an exciting partnership we’ve developed with Gardener’s Supply Company. Their expertise and donated test products have made the rooftop garden much easier to tend.
Tending the garden. Robin, one of the authors, is on the right.Tending the garden. Robin, one of the authors, is on the right.On Wednesday, June 15th we held an open house garden party for the residents of 441 and all of Fountain House. It was a great opportunity to show off our garden and the work that’s gone into it. We owe a great deal of thanks to Norm, Elliott, Samantha, Jessica, Bill and Vincent. 
The snow and cold temperatures this winter made preparing the roof for the spring and summer seem like an endless vision. Yet, our soil and seeds survived, with living vegetables to show that Mother Nature is stronger than we think. We look forward to a rich summer and fall crop. 

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