Green Roof Dream Actualized

I know, you can’t garden. You want to, you have dreams and ideas, but you are scared. You don’t think you can do it. You have pintrest pages. you have so many saved ideas and pictures, you have bought how-to books and read so many articles. These are the ideas and stories that spark the imagination and light a fire. Let them instead guide you. I never believed I had the time. I doubted myself 100%. I only started growing a garden to please my boss and keep my job. Then I saw the reality, it was easy, I could do it! I grew a head of lettuce for goodness sake, in Utah, without knowing a thing. If I can do you, anyone can!

Gorgeous Green House

Pic courtesy Geoff Nichols Pic courtesy Geoff Nichols

Imagine our cities with birds and butterflies flitting from building to building. Imagine views from tall buildings that include roof tops full of plants, rich with life and colour and the sound of birdsong and insects. This is starting to happening all over the planet. People are seeking alternatives to the alienating and sterile world of concrete, without moving to the countryside.  Roof gardens provide all of this and much, much more!

I have dreamed of creating my own green roof for so long it hardly seems real that it is now in.  This post is about the benefits of green roofs and quite a detailed ‘How To’ guide for those who wish to do the same. Early inspiration came from the Green Roof Pilot Project (GRPP) at eThekwini which is testing various options that provide healthier urban environments.  This project among others has shown that…

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Thin to : A carrots chronicle on spreading roots, having space and time to grow

carrots that were not thinned
“…are my carrots suppose to look like this?”

The hardest thing I have found the patience to grow is carrots. See, the thing is I love eating carrots. The crunchy textures and the almost sweet taste. The way they compliment ranch and wings. I could almost say they are my favorite veggie, but I have this issue with veggie monogamy , I can’t be faithful to just the one veggie for life. The truth about carrots: they are the gateway veggie. They can lead you into that upward spiral to healthy eating and starting a garden.

carrot seeds in palm of hand
carrot seeds are tiny, use 2-3 per hole

Looking at the seeds they are so tiny! I dare you to try to be sitting at your garden, in front of the chosen carrot bed for the season, with the packet of seeds in your hand( of course at this point your hands will be slightly damp and a little dirty from the work prepping the spot) and tap that packet into the palm of your hand and get just one little carrot seed, let alone two or three. They love each other and they hold onto seed family ties for life! Then you are trying to get that little seed into the little hole. Yep, in that moment, you are completely fine with the mind set “The more the merrier and besides, I can thin them later and not ALL the seeds will sprout anyhow.”

Carrots will not be planted singularly, I will plant other wonderful Spring edibles on the same day, some from transplant, others from seeds. The carrots will get a nice little sign dedicating that space to them for the rest of the season. I plant radish seeds whenever I have a space I am not sure what I want to grow there, or as a space saver when I am staggering my crops and I dont want an empty space looking sad. Radishes are the sprinter runners, they seem to be as impatient as I am, they grow overnight! (ok, not true. but they seem to anyways.) So when you watch two or three crops of radishes come and go while waiting for those carrot tops to pop through and prove that  “Yes, the seeds were good; and no, I did not need to add more seeds on top just in case.”

carrot seeds sprouting
Thin now

Carrots will try your garden patience. They grow under ground, they won’t show off how great they are growing. The tops looks like little baby grass at first. They tease you, and taunt you as the stems reach for the sky. One day you look and stare at the way the group of carrots wave back and forth, the space they occupy so very gracefully alive among the rest of the plants growing around them. Then you look closer, and you realize the time came and went to thin all those extra carrots. You have two choices here. You go inside, get a pair of scissors and snip the top off of the weakest looking stems to give the healthiest of the bunch a chance to grow into the carrots you always knew they could be, or you try tugging a few out, because this way you can prove to yourself that there are carrots down there. I caution you, tugging the carrots is not a good idea. It disrupts the other carrots and the tendency to try to save them may come to mind, since a gardener can’t seem to let anything willingly go to waste or die peacefully embraced by the compost pile. Even worse, is when you realize you waited too long and you sigh, think well its gonna be ok. You talk yourself into believing that you dont have to thin, and the carrots will be happy “bunches” instead of singles.

Weeks pass, then a month. Many salads have been harvested , eaten and the thought of how many trips have been made to the produce aisle to purchase that bag of baby carrots weigh heavy on your mind. I stare down at them, those carrots. Those stems. I close my eyes and I pray to the heaven of veggietopia for root strength. I water them. I talk to them, nay, I beg them. Oh my carrots!

carrot top

Then I forget about them as I realize its time to plant my warm weather crops. The broccoli and squash and leafy greens are ready to be replaces with tomatoes and peppers and exciting bright above ground things that I can declare to friends families and neighbors as proof I have things growing back there !

Then one morning, while I am not thinking about it, there the top is! I sprint over to see if it is true, or if my eyes are deceiving me. I kneel down, I gently push aside the stems that have teased me so long. Then the moment of truth! I have carrots! I jump up and down and I do a little carrot dance that no one should ever see including those poor carrots. Victory is mine!

Now, this is a personal dilemma I struggle with at this moment. To photograph or not to photograph. I want at that moment to grab that carrot stem and free my carrot from the soft bed of soil it has lain in all this time. Then the worry sets in that the kids have also waited just as long to share in this moment. Do I wait until the kids get home from school and then we use the camera and we take pictures to share? Kids and carrots make great pictures. Then the carrots are safe and happy and fresh for dinner. This is the silent stream of self narration that flows through my head while standing over the plot of carrots.

I step back, I smile, I caress the stems. I walk back inside with a determined sense of pride. I will wait.

Now, being as I have some history growing carrots, I can tell you a few endings to this story, not all have ended well. I dont have any pictures of me and my kids harvesting carrots. I am still waiting for that happy ending. What I do have to share with you, is this. I have only eaten one carrot from my garden ever. One, single solitary home-grown delicious, perfect carrot.

malamute caught digging in garden
“No Mom, I was not in the garden.”

Why, you ask? It seems that our alaskan malamute also loves carrots, he loves the garden in general. He has been the culprit who has eaten carrots, eggplants, peppers and melons. He loves the smell of the compost and he lays in wait for that moment he can annihilate anything soft, smelly and ready to eat. Yes, we have fenced in the garden for protection. We also have kids who like to run in and out of the garden and eat snacks while outside. All the neighborhood kids are welcome in my garden also. I encourage my kids to eat anything they want directly from the garden, and they share. Sometimes the fence doesn’t get closed, and sometimes kids and dogs unite in a happy melee of an after school binge attack.

Then there is also the “I’m not going to thin” method that kept me from eating a carrot. They look and taste funny, bitter almost.

So let me share with you these carrot tips:

  • Any carrot seeds will work. They all grow.
  • Use a great soil mix.
  • Plant your carrots by hand, meaning use your fingers to press a hole into the soil up to your knuckle. Then place 2-3 seeds into that hole and cover with soil.
  • Water by hand, with a cup not a hose.
  • Love them
  • Thin by scissor when the time is right, the sooner the better.
  • Don’t worry – they will grow.
  • Harvest immediately – or grow extra and hide your stash

Domesticated Argiculture

5 kids and an ape

Domestication is the process that defines a change over time based on breeding for the purpose of human needs. To tame something is to bring one part of that natural being to terms with the human presence, but to domesticate something means to change it to the point of being dependent upon human care to survive.  I read the term domesticated agriculture today on line from a post, and then I thought about what that statement really means. Are we not in the process of a war upon GMO’s and the genetic changes that are happening in the agriculture industry, in fact is that not one of the reasons why there is this stress to grow your own produce and eat from the garden? When it comes down to the purest form of truth – where does our food come from? Are we safe? 

I myself have 5 children, 3 of which have ciliacs disease, which is an allergy to gluten meaning wheat, rye and barley. 2 of my kids are allergic to milk, and one of my girls developed rapidly, in girl stages, to proclaim that chicken hormones from McDonalds chicken nuggets caused her “curves” at preteen moments. I remember when I was a new mom with a 9 month old baby at home, I was on WIC and they would test her constantly to make sure she was healthy. She stopped growing at 9 months. They diagnosed her with failure to thrive. I was taught during the months to follow how to feed my baby. A nutritionalist came into our home from the local University.  They taught me using the food pyramid, USDA guidelines,  and what a body needs to thrive. Funny, but guess what the base of that food pyramid was ? Breads and whole grains. How in the world is my child allergic to a base food that is part of the thriving diet? Do you know it took them 4 years to diagnose her, removal of her gall bladder and at one time they said she had an ulcer. She was 13 when it started and 17 when they figured it out. The strangest thing the doctors said was that this was a genetic thing.

food pyramid

food pyramid

I guess my point is this: food is the sustaining force in our lives, along with water to survive. I admit I never wanted to garden, I never thought food would matter. The truth of the matter is this, food matters. Veggies are important and I dont want domesticated agriculture. I want heirloom, safe, natural seeds to grow from. I want this for a very simple reason, not because I am some advocate or on a mission to change the world, but because a happy life for my family comes from being healthy – mentally and physically.

Food is important, what we eat is the difference between a long life of happiness and a life that you nearly survive. I love growing food and seeing my family eat together, I take so much pride watching my kids embrace the idea of growing veggies and fruits with actual delight. I find so much joy in knowing my daughters of 12 and 13 can teach anyone they meet how to garden and that they smile the whole time, because from my heart to theirs, they have found the same dedication to family gardening as their friends have found to junk food. Little by little I see the change, I see my teens taking friends to task for dietary choices and they do it with conviction and pride.

I am lucky, I didn’t set out to teach them this, they learned it from first hand knowledge. I have hope in this, one by one, we will learn to take back our health from the diseases plaguing our society. We will learn to manage our health and from that we will heal what is broken in our lives.

seat of my gardening soul



March is one of the few times in the year where you can be sure you will never know what each day will bring. Year to year, every March of my life, has been unique. I have made many choices based on some weary day filled with snow while in Utah or when the sun has shone down upon me while in South Carolina. Today, this March day, finds more rain and cold then I would like. In fact what a strange year we have had so far all around; in regards, to the Winter weather. I have no seedlings in my window for starts, I have no transplants hanging around waiting to find the earth. I have memories of gardens and hopes for a great year of squash since I horribly failed at that dear veggie last year ( actually I would like to say it was the rain that drowned my poor squash ). The rain, however cold and dark, is beauty in and of itself. The gift of life comes forth from the glory of the essence of water. We hail showers in the heat of Summer, and declare it a natural resource for which we should preserve each drop. Each year finds the growing season a new and brilliant challenge. I have stopped looking at the normal ideas of what a growing season is. Spring – Summer, or Cool and Warm. Anytime is a planting time other then the frozen time for me. I guess because I was not trained conventionally, and I am a hopeless believer in all things are possible with enough care and effort. I find myself watching the rain as it runs along the window sill and I loose myself in the reflections of light. My hands are cold and my fingers almost frozen as I type because I am so absorbed in the thought, no the memory of Spring. I can close my eyes and feel the sun as I sat in my garden caring for the little seedlings and transplants. I can see the faces of the little ones I taught to garden, their little hands trying to be gentle to the roots as we planted together 4 hands cradling together this tiny life. They look of awe as those same children tenderly cared for their very own plant. The pride. It can not be given without knowing the truth, grocery store are full of food, gardens are full of life. While I can not plant in my garden today, I can take a walk into nature. I can see the life as it starts to burst forth. The little green buds on the end of the tree limbs, the bright green shoots as they push forward from the earth into the waiting warmth of days yet to come. I see the way the birds are celebrating in the boughs of the trees, filling the air with such a joyous song. Connecting with Mother Nature in these early moments, that is what gives me the peace I need every day to find my place in our world. Anything that grows, that lives, that depends on the rain and the sun to survive, they are all woven together to create the soul of our world. Spring will come, as it always does as the Earth travels along the path that brings us closer to warmth. Nature takes care of herself, in her time, and in her way. We are the impatient ones. My soul needs the quiet of the earth and the strength of the trees, the beauty of the heavens, and the hope of the rain. Too soon life will speed up, and I will be carried away. Let these moments of quiet revelry live within me always.

Hope for those who want to learn to garden even though they kill silk house plants.

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