Living in the middle of a densely populated city like Hong Kong, it seems every square inch of land has already been taken. Until you look up! On top of the shopping malls, office buildings and old walk ups lies a treasure trove of unused and wasted space: rooftops. And it turns out they’re the perfect spot for a bit of gardening.
Enter Rooftop Republic – a sustainable living group that has been pioneering the urban rooftop farming movement in Hong Kong since 2015. Their aim is to revolutionize the relationship people have with food by integrating farming into city living. Over the years, they’ve lent their expertise to various rooftops, transforming them from under-utilized spaces to vibrant urban gardens.
This summer, with the help of our friends over at Garage Society, Rooftop Republic are giving Hong Kongers the opportunity to get in on the action themselves with the Garage Greens program – a three month seasonal urban farming initiative. Don’t worry if you don’t have a rooftop because Garage Society are lending their spacious terrace at the Garage Academy Campus in Wan Chai. All participants of the program will also enjoy fortnightly workshops with Rooftop Republic’s expert organic farmers, and the opportunity to take their hard-earned harvest home!
Not in Hong Kong? No problem – I caught up with Pol Fabrega, co-founder of Rooftop Republic, to find out how we can create our very own rooftop garden at home. Keep reading to find out more.
How to Grow Your Own Rooftop Garden
Why do I want a rooftop garden?
Urban farming brings a whole range of environmental, health and wellness benefits. When it comes to the environment for example, urban farming helps us to produce food closer to where it is consumed, minimizing the impact of all the wasteful steps food typically goes through to get to our dinner table (i.e. packaging and transportation).
“Urban farming is a powerful way in which we can contribute to a more sustainable food system. At a broader level, it also helps with the city’s sustainability by greening unused concrete spaces into farms, or in the case of rooftop farms, by reducing the footprint of buildings.”
As far as health goes, there’s nothing better than eating home grown food that has been produced not for its ability to travel thousands of miles (like the food we so commonly find in our supermarkets), but for its taste, texture, color and nutritional value. All free of chemicals! At the same time, practical experience with growing fresh food positively impacts dietary habits. It’s a great way to raise awareness on healthy eating, especially among children.
Last but not least, what we have seen from our projects is that growing your own food has an incredible positive effect on your mental wellbeing. The contact with nature, with soil, and the experience of seeing a tomato grow from seed to a fruiting plant is simply priceless – not to mention fun!
“Rooftop gardening is on the rise. The diversity in Rooftop Republic’s clientele very much demonstrates this – from housing estates to malls to bank buildings, Rooftop Republic is enabling greener and healthier living in our city.” – Garage Society.
What are the steps to creating my own rooftop garden?
1. Selecting your space
The first thing to consider when embarking on the urban farming revolution at home is to identify a good location. For instance, the space should have easy access to water. Out of all the tasks in your garden, watering is the one that will take up the most time so it helps to make sure you have easy access.
More importantly, find a space which gets a lot of sunlight! Most herbs and veggies require a minimum of four to five hours of direct sun to grow well. Varieties that can tolerate less sun include lettuce, garlic, spinach, Swiss chard and mint.
“Generally speaking, the more sun you can get the better. No matter how good a grower you are, without sun, your plants won’t grow well.”
2. Selecting your containers
Once you are confident about the location, it’s time to get the containers. Some key considerations when choosing containers include:
- Weight: It’s preferable to select a light container for ease of transportation. This also avoids adding too much weight to your roof’s structure.
- Drainage: Make sure your containers have some sort of drainage system. This is especially important during rainy months.
- Size: The bigger, the better. The more space you give to your plants, the easier they will find it to develop their root systems.
3. Choosing Your Soil
It’s common for beginners to not give much importance to the soil they use, but this is a huge mistake! Using the wrong soil is often a major cause of failure. Given the fact that we’re growing in containers, it’s of critical importance to choose the right soil. Avoid using soil from the ground, or even from a farm, as they have little porosity and are not suitable for containers. Also avoid soil that is generally used for flowers – vegetables are more demanding than flowers. The overall objective is to find the right balance between good aeration of the soil and good water retention. It further helps for your soil to have plenty of organic materials which can retain nutrients.
I don’t have access to a rooftop, can I try this on my balcony?
Any space is suitable as long as you have the minimum requirements for vegetables to grow, as explained above. Of course, the bigger the better!
What plants are best suited for rooftop gardens?
You can grow pretty much everything on a rooftop garden! We generally don’t recommend growing fruit trees on rooftops because they require a lot of space and have long growing cycles. But other than that, you can grow all kinds of vegetables, herbs or even edible flowers. The key to success is growing according to the season.
Are you interested in getting your gardening on with Garage Greens? Get in touch with [email protected] for more info!
For more like this check out our guide to turning your garden into a cozy sanctuary. Also don’t miss our round up of stylish garden gnomes – the little guy has had a thoroughly modern makeover!