rooftop farm

A Green Heart In the City

This urban rooftop farm should be an example to us all.

In the centre of Durban, amidst a cacophony of taxi hooting and the bustle of a seething throng of humanity is a green escape, a piece of ground that is productively farmed and produces fresh vegetables that are sold at markets and to local restaurants, with the excess donated to charities – a real rooftop farm.

To find something like this in the midst of a cityscape is fairly unusual in itself, but things get even more interesting when you find out that all of this happens dozens of metres off the ground, on the rooftop of a normal-looking business building across the road from the International Convention Centre.

The building is home to the peculiarly named iTrump (Inner City Thekwini Regeneration and Urban Management Programme), an initiative that deals with urban regeneration, and their roof-top garden is certainly a beautiful example of walking the talk. In fact, it’s wrong to call the green space on the roof a rooftop garden, because it is more of a rooftop farm than anything.

Covering 1300m2, it is made up of indigenous succulents, landscaped gardens, food landscaping, and vegetable and herb tunnels. The garden is a wonderful example of how to artfully and functionally upcycle waste, for it is made of pallets, drums, handbags, buckets and old tyres, and plants have been given homes in everything from Coke cans to old shoes to fan grids and even an old traffic light.

There’s also a vertical garden that uses plastic bottles as containers. The purpose of the garden is two-fold: to produce food and to create a relaxing green space to be enjoyed. To this end there are places to sit and relax in, a meeting space for groups, and even an oversized chess set for casual sessions of mental stimulation. Then there are solar panels, rain-collection systems, worm farms, a green or living roof and even a recycling programme. It’s phenomenal.

And since the rooftop farm was established in 2011 by Wendy Taylor and Sylvia Burger there has been a return of butterflies, birds and bees to the area. Birdbaths have also been installed to keep these visitors happy.

The garden has made use of aloes and other indigenous plants for aesthetic structure, but the bulk of the planting is edible. Strawberry plants overflow containers big and small, while half oil drums hold the bulk of the edibles, from onions to lettuce and spinach. Old tyres are home to rocket, and marigolds have been used as companion plants to keep nasty bugs away in an environmentally friendly way.

Simple raised gardens have been made from planks, many of them topped off with equally simple shade-cloth tunnels, under which tomatoes and leafy greens proliferate. In fact, everywhere you look you see a clever idea that you could use at home. We loved the very easy-to-make raised planters built from stacked bricks and a plastic seedling tray. They keep the trays off the ground, make them a more back-friendly height, and they look far neater than seedling trays lying on the ground. The bricks used were the ones with holes in them, which assists with ventilation and also gives friendly bugs a home.

If you would like to visit the garden for yourself, it is open, free of charge, to the public between 8am and 4pm. The address is 77 Monty Naicker Street, Durban. There is no bell though, so getting in can be tricky.

Contain yourself

Container gardening is such a great idea for edible plants. It helps to keep them where you want them (we’re looking at you, mint!), you can give each container the correct amount of water for its inhabitants, and you can make sure the plants grow in beautiful soil.

To make your own growing medium, we suggest you mix two bags of compost with two bags of potting soil and one block of palm peat. As always, we recommend conditioning the soil with the EcoBuz soil products. Start with Humigro when you initially mix your soil, then add Startgro when you plant. Once everything is established, feed regularly with Multigro.

The Gardener