Most restaurants looking for fresh, local produce head to a farmers market. Not so at Proof on Main at 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Chef Michael Paley heads to the roof.
And why not? City rooftops offer abundant sunshine and plenty of unused space. With a little preparation, says garden designer Jon Carloftis, a rooftop garden can be just as productive as one on the ground.
This project began when Michael asked Jon to add fresh herbs to an ornamental garden, which Jon had designed earlier on 21c’s roof. Things escalated quickly. “It went from one little pot to a whole slew of containers with tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, Swiss chard, peppers, and all sorts of herbs,” Jon recalls.
No Neighbors, No Bugs
Pesticides aren’t used on the vegetables or greens. They weren’t needed anyway. “One of the great things about a rooftop garden is you don’t have the onslaught of pests that you do on the ground,” says Jon. Being isolated from other vegetation keeps bugs and diseases from taking hold.
Of course, rooftop gardens face challenges those on the ground don’t. One of them, weight, is a big deal. To evenly distribute the weight of planters, the ones shown here rest atop pressure-treated 1 x 6s laid upon the roof. Wind is problematic on roofs too. Tying tomato vines to an iron railing gives them necessary support.
Containers include recycled halved whiskey barrels (abundant in Kentucky) as well as galvanized watering troughs. Jon likes the latter because “they’re lightweight, inexpensive, and very modern looking.” He looks for ones with drainage holes. If yours don’t have them, just drill some. To reduce weight when they’re filled with soil, Jon first adds a couple of inches of biodegradable packing pellets. He covers the pellets with a cut piece of landscape fabric and then tops it with lightweight, soilless potting mix. This veggie patch far exceeded Jon’s expectations. “There were 50 pounds of tomatoes up there at any given point in the summer,” he says.