Urban permaculture

Small scale permaculture combined with a rooftop garden

Very limited space and resources should not discourage city dwellers from actively participating  in some of their own food production. There are many techniques and concepts to optimize sun catchment beyond what a balcony allows to do. In confined urban and post industrial areas where concrete and bricks usually are seen in abundance can be found also an interesting micro-climate created by daytime heat absorption. The global warming of a city in the summer can easily cause unbearably high temperatures for us humans but can also be harvested and thrown back into the cycle of life. That is one of the 12 principles of permaculture. Wether on a farm or in a urban area, they all can be applied and we can all benefit from it.

An abandoned clothes line can be the perfect structure for vine to thrive on. Grapes can be harvested from it and birds will be attracted to the area. Eventually the growth will start happening not only along the line but also downward thus creating a natural curtain that will block excessive summer heat and create a nice shady area on the other side. The beauty of this simple design is, it belongs to a natural and autonomous system that follows the subtle increases and decreases of daylight throughout the seasons. Once the majestic autumn color show is terminated the curtain simply falls automatically (to allow for more sun absorption during colder months ahead) and decomposes into what will be food for plants in the next season. A wall can can also be turned into a vertical garden and will drastically improve the visual aspect of a small backyard while giving out similar benefits. Using a flat rooftop to grow plants in containers is another way to engage in that life cycle and can lead to very impressive harvests as I personally experienced.

Our need to start growing food came about with an overwhelming amount of compost we began to produce within two years of carefully putting aside all biodegradable waste that would otherwise end up in the trash can. When we realized how valuable organic matter really was, we began raking the neighbors leaves in the fall to enlarge our biomass pile which, on its own and within a few months, turned into extremely fertile soil.

Even with very limited space such as our urban backyard of 25 feet wide by 40 feet long, there are still many different ways and possibilities to create a small scale permaculture. In our climate zone we privileged the Saskatoon berry and Sumac as medium size trees. They lie underneath one large Silver Maple which is more than we need as our canopy tree. As bushes we have blueberries and haskaps along with rhubarb and different varieties of raspberries. Three varieties of vine climb and cover fences and walls while our principal ground covers are strawberries and sorrel. All of those come back on their own in the spring and give out something to eat throughout spring summer and fall. Planting perennial edibles could also very well be the most accessible and affordable solution to start tackling the most critical worldwide issues of our times.


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Rooftop gardening

In the city of Montreal nearly all of the building’s rooftops are flat, including most residential ones. Many years ago we discovered the wonders of being able to push the climate zone simply by physically climbing up the ladder. Up there, springs resemble summers and summers resemble those of the deep south!

Being able to take advantage of this micro-climate has been an incredible discovery and learning experience. It certainly made us realize how big of a potential for growing food is dormant within cities. It is almost shocking to see how plants can thrive and produce in that environment. We were surprised to witness such growth out of relatively small containers. The yield, the taste and freshness, all there a few feet above our heads!

Despite all the labor that comes with such a project it is well worth the effort. Every moment spent up there surrounded by plants that attract bees and butterflies brings us closer to nature despite being in the city, In a way, it also creates an extra room in the house, one that allows us to reconnect.

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