I left New Mexico for a few days on Feb. 1: the exact day the brutal, 50-year cold front began its move into the state. While my absence was beautiful for more reasons than I can count or even remember, it did result in at least one casualty: the rooftop garden.


My attempt to raise winter greens in an warm microclimate at 30-40 feet high, surrounded by heat-absorbing stucco, was decimated by the weather. My flimsy, makeshift greenhouse of PVC and plastic wasn't enough to withstand the elements or protect the organic greens -- from which I got several good harvests! -- from severe cold. When I came back, the rooftop garden looked like a strange, Icelandic landscape! So I gave up for a month.


I'm just now nurturing one group of greens on the roof that is emerging from the decimation. The two tubs of soil up there are now prepared for the planting of the next several weeks. And there's some great cilantro just starting to thrive on the west side, despite some real neglect.


Meanwhile, I have this other rooftop news to report:

  • 1.3 Kilowatts of Solar PV Have Entered the Building! Yes, just 7 panels, but my very small rooftop is now full. We wrapped this and the solar hot water heater -- whose water will burn your ass if you like it like that  --  into the mortgage, so upfront costs were basically none. In my particular situation, solar PV will probably cover it's own costs in 6-7 years (thanks to VERY generous federal and state tax credits, my own LEED situation, the payment for energy generated and subsidies paid by all PNM customers for the environmental attributes, or RECs). What does this mean? While my garden hesitates until the weather turns for good, I'm able to harvest various benefits of the sun, including reduced carbon emissions.
  • Rooftop Composting? I Need To Be Convinced. It was an experiment for a number of months. I did two 20 gallon containers from Home Depot, mixing not only scraps, coffee grounds and dryer lint, but various other, unmentionable things. It got physically hot, then not. Messy for a rooftop, particularly for someone who gave up a yard for simplicity. Experts, maybe vermiculture is better for more intensity?
  • Perennial Container Plants DOA? I have a number of great grasses and other plants I was growing in containers outside that I suspect may have been killed by the -7F winter low in Albuquerque. Despite watering, they show no sign of life as of this writing (3/18).

Once I get my taxes done,

I'll be planting. The soul is willing, and the skyshovel is ready! Thanks for reading!!







Views: 20

Comment by Krista on March 22, 2011 at 8:05pm
Have you tried a rolling compost bin??  that might really help (and be less messy).
Comment by JeSais on March 23, 2011 at 10:55am
I lost a geranium in my "sun porch" due to the bitter cold...
Comment by hettie on March 23, 2011 at 5:13pm
don, you should definitely check out this system from gardens alive. it claims to be ideal for apartment living, so it might work for your rooftop space. I've been wanting one for ages, but I can't justify buying it when we have an outdoor compost and plenty of room in our backyard to keep compost far from the house. if you get one, give us updates!
Comment by Don Brown on March 23, 2011 at 7:56pm
Krista and Hettie, haven't tried these options but will certainly look at them. I did a little more research and think I way overestimated my need for compost. So I've going with extremely small scale vermiculture for right now. This weekend, I bought a very small bin, small enough for under my sink, and 300 red wigglers. Added wet shredded newspaper and some rotting veggies. Based on my calculation, my daily coffee grounds and whatever produce I can't consume should be enough to feed them. We'll see how it goes. They're thriving after just a few days, and the only smell is that of coffee grounds. Maybe enough good intense compost for me to feed my container plants, but not so much as to have a bunch of dirt laying around?! 
Comment by Katys on March 24, 2011 at 8:42pm

It is very difficult to compost successfully without the addition of such "brown" additions as straw, dead leaves and plants. These are probably in short supply on your roof! I composted for 30 years and when I moved here I had to buy a bale of straw to add to my kitchen scraps ....the "green" stuff. When I ran out I got rot, not compost. Very smelly stuff! 

I bet you will have much better luck with the worms. 


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