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  • the savvy host

From Rooftop to Table

Updated: Aug 2, 2020

Whether you appreciate the local food movement (we do), or think organic is important (we do), you must agree that the fresher the ingredients, the better the taste. Whether from a farmers market, roadside stand, or your very own garden, the smell and taste always seem to be more intense. In our personal style of entertaining and cooking, fresh ingredients are a must. They offer a more healthful as well as tasteful foundation for cooking. We think emphasizing the fresh ingredients is part of getting back to the basics of what makes food good. But is planting and tending to your own garden necessary? Of course not!! But we thought we'd share a little of our zeal and enthusiasm for creating our own "rooftop to table" local food movement...

We didn't have to start an edible garden. We're lucky to have Green City Market a mere 10 minutes away. We belong to a most delicious CSA program through Simply Wisconsin (so delicious in fact that we purchased memberships for our extended family to make sure they got a chance to enjoy!). And, our family has a home along Lake Michigan in Indiana with access to so many delicious farm produce throughout the summer. But if you enjoy a little dirt under your nails, if greenery is visually appealing to you, and even from a budget standpoint, investing the time in event a small garden of herbs, vegetables, and fruit can yield much fun and produce.

One of the main reasons we bought our current loft was the private rooftop deck and what it offered ~ entertaining al fresco, space for masterful grilling, and a rooftop garden. Please understand that we're the type to get jazzed about picking the tomatoes and basil just a few minutes before we craft an-ever-so-fresh Insalata Caprese!

Being city dwellers, we don't have the backyard option that many do. We considered working with one of the shared garden projects, but weren't sure that we would have the time to get there to take care of it regularly. Our rooftop provided the best option.

(We'll save the landscaping, furnishing & decor part of the rooftop beautification story for another post.)

In terms of vegetation selection, we start with a few rules of the house: 1. Must be produce we use regularly in our cooking. 2. Can't require special handling (this is a hobby, not a full-time occupation). 3. Must tolerate the existing conditions - hot, dry, full sun and lots of wind. 4. Must yield enough to make the effort worthwhile. Based on a few years of experience, here's what's growing upstairs and regularly available on our dining table:

  • Tomatoes - believe it or not, many of the heirloom varieties do VERY well - Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, and Brandywine as well as Yellow Teardrop (image top left), Red Pear and Cherry Super Sweets (image above right). Be forewarned that we've gotten the best results with fairly large containers, giving the plants room to take root. Tight on space? The "Patio Tomato" containers available at most garden stores yield amazing results!

  • Swiss Chard - (image to the left) such a beautiful, bright leafy addition to any garden, we also like the Rainbow version.

  • Kale - both Lacinato and standard love the conditions and grow well all season. We frequently harvest for our Summer Minestrone, and the plants just keep growing all season long...

  • Peppers (Bell, Jalapeno, Banana, Thai Chile and Habanero) - they didn't like the long cold Spring this year, and did need a little special attention. But they are already producing the buds that should make for a nice first crop of the season.

  • Zucchini - we LOVE having months of the baseball size orange blossoms available to us for frying, stuffing and quesadillas - such a delicious treat. And, this plant requires so little effort (as long as it's in a BIG container... it has an extensive root base,)

  • Strawberries - (image to the right) a truly perfect container plant, the bonus is that ours come back EVERY year! These plants propagate quickly during the season, so be sure to have a good, medium size container to accommodate growth enough for jam!

  • Raspberries - both a Golden and a Ruby Red grace our rooftop (see image below left). These are a wonderful container bush that also returns each year. Some types bear fruit early in the season, some are late-blooming. From the number of blooms thus far, we're looking at a bumper crop!

  • Arugula - why pay for this at all during the summer when it grows and grows and grows on its own? We love our "field of arugula" in its container box.

  • Lettuce - (image below right) it's so easy in any size space to grow your own lettuce. Our garden includes Red Leaf and Green Leaf, along with Romaine. The sweetness and flavor of the leaves is not to be missed. Starter container kits are even available at Home Depot! Imagine salads full of fresh baby greens every night of the week with only a little watering effort required...

  • Cooking Herbs - (image near top left) this is really a no-brainer - especially when the small packages of cut herbs are $2-$3 EACH at the store. You can purchase starter plants - or even full-size plants - for $2-15 each and you'll have fresh herbs all summer! A small container of whatever cooking herbs you prefer can sit on a windowsill, or even a small balcony... At a minimum, grab some basil, dill, marjoram, thyme and parsley and enjoy the benefits!

Looking for some how-to's to get started? A few expert sources we rely on to stay savvy are... ~ Growing a Greener World including Joe Gardener. Download his 27pp ebook, Abundant Harvest: Your Guide to the Home Vegetable Garden - it's FREE! ~ The Yarden, "spreading the edible word" has a wonderful post about teaching new gardeners as a part of the historical Peterson Garden Project in Chicago. ~ Get in the Garden, "sowing a better garden at a time" has a great section on Vegetable Gardening 101. ~ Herb Garden Plants offers the best of both worlds - indoor and outdoor information to help your herb garden to thrive. ~ Organic Authority's 7 Easy Steps to Get Your Organic Garden Started details starting out in containers (which may be where you decide to stay put if you don't have a yard!). Also read 111 Herbs, Vegetables, Edible Flowers, & Fruit to Plant in Your Garden. ~ Join the tweet-up "Garden Chat" (#gardenchat) on Monday evenings. You can also follow @JoeGardener, @TheYarden, @getinthegarden, @HerbNut and @OrganicAuthorit for regular tweets to help keep things growing. If we've inspired you to try your own hand at growing a little local food, please share your adventures. We'd love to know what other savvy hosts are sowing as favorite edible garden crops ~ whether backyard, balcony or rooftop!

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