Gardening in the Sky

Photo by YWCA

Photo by YWCA

Yesterday I got the chance to get a tour of the YWCA’s 5th floor Rooftop Garden in Vancouver, BC. It’s an amazing spot right in the heart of downtown that produces fruits and vegetables a community centre’s hot meals program on the Downtown Eastside.

The garden started as an under utilized ornamental garden until an intrepid Facilities Manager, Ted, convinced the YWCA to give vegetable gardening a try. They sold the existing ornamental plants to buy tools, and volunteer gardeners began their magic work. In the first year their small plot produced about 150Kg of food. Now in their third year, they’ve expanded to 650sq ft, and are producing over 400Kg of food. The ultimate goal: 1 tonne.

Photo courtesy of YWCA

Photo by YWCA

I have some experience in rooftop gardening, so I was most curious about the soil, which is often a hurdle in rooftop gardening. Existing plant boxes often have very sandy soil (as was the case at the YWCA), it’s hard to get good soil/compost to top of a building, and of course there is the issue of only have 3-4 inches of soil depth to work with. The gardener’s here have done a fantastic job of building up the organic content in the soil by tilling under weeds, composting everything possible, and planting cover crops. Some students from UBC will be doing nutrient testing in the soil later this year – I’ll be interested to know the results of that test.

My favorite part…. The bicycle and trailer that was donated to the garden by PEDAL so they can deliver the produce weekly to the Downtown Eastside. The organic scraps at the kitchen are picked up when the produce is dropped off, and they are brought back to the roof to compost. The fresh veggies and fruit that they produce are amazing, but it’s obviously not enough to supply the hot meal program with all the produce thy need (they serve about 1700 meals per week). Ted refers to the Garden’s contribution as a supplement – they try to grow veggies and fruit that may usually be too expensive for the shelter to purchase on a regular basis or that are simply better when they’re fresh – raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, summer squash, salad greens, Asian greens, bok choy, beans, peas, cucumber, and more.

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