What do you get when you cross one sunny roof, seventy-two planter boxes, and four young urban farmers? Apparently, one heck of a rooftop garden. Last month we introduced you to the rooftop garden project that had recently been implemented on TAS’s rooftop in Regent Park. The garden is a joint project with Cultivate Toronto – a non-profit organization that has been operating a Community Shared Agriculture program since 2010.
Since the garden’s installation in early June, Cultivate Toronto’s Regent Park gardening team has been hard at work watering, weeding, and as of late – harvesting. I recently caught up with Micki Mutch – lead gardener on the roof – for an interview. TAS is so pleased to have Micki and her green-thumbed team working their magic on our roof. Judging by her answers, Micki is pretty keen on the project too.
TAS: Is this your first rooftop gardening experience? What sort of gardening have you done previously?
MM: Yes, this is my first season working on a rooftop and in containers. Before joining CTO in Regent Park, I was involved in urban permaculture projects in the prairies. My love of growing food stems from my parents who farm in Saskatchewan and from my mom for always having kept a garden for us. I’ve had a strong connection to food and land since a very young age.
TAS: What are the unique challenges and opportunities associated with growing food on a roof top?
MM: The main challenge was getting the soil and Earth Box containers up to the roof! Other than that, the opportunities have been overwhelming. We have been able to make some really great connections throughout the neighbourhood because of the garden. I am hoping that in future years the garden will really be a connecting point for the community and I’m excited to see it evolve over time.
TAS: How is growing food in containers different from working in an in-ground garden?
MM: It is different growing in containers, but the same gardening principles apply as anywhere else. It is easier to manage weeds and disease in containers since the soil is new and controlled, but everything else is the same. I was concerned about the scorching heat at first, but it turns out this unique micro-climate provides the perfect growing conditions for our crops. It’s a jungle up there!!
TAS: How many gardeners are working on the roof?
MM: Four in total: three volunteer interns and me. However, many more people have been involved in making this project happen, and ensuring that it continues successfully.
We’re all interested in what you are growing up there. What’s working out best? Which crops are struggling?
MM: We have a lot of variety on the roof. Probably ten, or more, varieties of tomatoes, broccoli and kale, three types of zucchini, cantaloupe, cucumbers, bell and spicy peppers, strawberry, edible flowers, chick peas, and a large herb garden.
TAS: What crop are you most excited about?
MM: I’m most excited about our Three Sisters box. Using an Aboriginal planting method, we have seeded bean with corn. The purpose of this companion cropping is for the beans to provide extra nitrogen for the heavy-feeding corn, and the corn to provide a stalk for the beans to climb. Traditionally, there is a third sister, squash, which provides ground cover to keep moisture in and pests out, but we didn’t have enough room in the box. It’s an experiment!
TAS: Have you had to contend with any garden pests?
MM: Yes, early on our tat soi, an Asian green, was devastated by some hungry flea beetles. We unfortunately lost all the tat soi…but it looked delicious so I can’t blame the beetles.
TAS: How did the roof garden weather the major storms that Toronto experienced this past week?
MM: I was afraid of what condition I might find the garden in on our gardening night this week. I stepped on the roof preparing to see a few sad sights but when I reached the garden it was even more beautiful than three nights prior! It’s really incredible how well this garden is doing. It seems to be able to handle full sun, full wind, full and heavy rain, and is probably all the more resilient due to the lack of protection it receives.
TAS: Have you harvested anything so far? What are you doing with the harvest?
MM: We have had three harvests in the past two weeks! Now that everything is in full swing, it is actually challenging to keep up with all of the produce. Everything we are growing this year will be donated. So far, we’ve connected with the CRC at 40 Oaks in Regent Park to donate the bulk of our harvest. The CRC runs a meal program Monday through Friday and can easily put all of this food to good use. Our goal is to keep the food in Regent Park and improve access, both physically and economically, to fresh and healthful foods.
TAS: What is planned for the garden for the rest of the summer? Is there a way for the public to see the garden?
MM: Throughout the rest of the summer we will be keeping up with the harvests, working on creating more community connections and food partners, and facilitating roof tours, which we are presently working on setting up. It’s important to get the word out and get people thinking about all of the spaces we can grow; there is a lot of opportunity in Regent Park, and beyond!