First time gardener when/how should I start?

Los Angeles, CA

I want to start a vegetable garden on the roof of my second-story apartment near downtown Los Angeles, CA. Since it's an old building of questionable structural integrity I can't use a lot of soil (gets really heavy on the rare occasions when it rains). I'd like to know what plants-- preferably edible ones-- require minimal soil and do well in warm temperatures/direct sunlight. I'm also not sure about the best time to plant. Is now too late?

I wish I had a big yard for planting a more traditional garden, but in the absence of that I'd like to (safely) turn my rooftop into a green space of its own, and hopefully make a little dent in the smog.


The (soon to be) Rooftop Gardener

Hopkinton, MA(Zone 5b)

rooftopgardener, Hi! I recommend a bark dust and perlite soil which is much lighter than regular potting soil. Novosel has inexpensive paper pots that are light and seem hard as wood.

The ones I have from a year ago are as solid as when I bought them even though some have been outdoors. They're also very inexpensive which allows you to experiment at little cost. A large 4 1/2 gallon pot filled with half and half perlite and bark dust (mulch) seems to weigh less than a pound and can easily be moved which makes it easy to mix and match plants while you're finding out what the best sun location is for each species.

However, you probably should add nutrients to the water and/or fertilizer to the top of the soil because bark dust and perlite don't have a lot of nutrients. Also, you would need to remove the sand from the perlite. One way to do that is to place a gauze cloth in a pot with holes, put the perlite in the gauze and pour water over the perlite for a minute. I've used a pine bark and perlite media for many different species of plants and almost all thrive in it (i.e. my tomato plant grew 2 ft. in 2 months and my Lamium in the attached photo grew 4 times bigger and bloomed in 2 months), but I add humic acid, Miracle-Gro, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide at different times plus organic fertilizer usually during the potting phase. - DoGooder

Thumbnail by NancyGroutsis
Arroyo Grande, CA(Zone 9a)

You should be able to find some lighter weight containers, the paper type, or fiberglass, or even plastic.
Another good vege planter mix is 1/3 peat, 1/3 mulch, 1/3 perlite, all of these can be bought at your local garden center. The peat will hold more water so your plants won't dry up as fast. I used this mix in my raised beds.
It's not too late to start veges, my garden has barely come up, I'm 200 miles north of you.
Good beginner veges - carrots, radishes, squash, beans, tomatos (buy starter plants for tomatos) It will be too hot soon to grow lettuce unless you put it in the shade.
Herbs are also good to work with, most are perennials so you can use them year round. Parsley, Sage, rosemary, and Thyme (Oregano too). Try Basil but don't be disappointed if it doesn't do well, sometimes it grows good and sometimes it doesn't, who knows why.
The seed packs will give you basic information but I recommend this book, "Square Foot Gardening", it will help you get the most from your limited space.

Hopkinton, MA(Zone 5b)

rooftopgardener, I checked the photo of my tomato plant and it says April 23rd so I was wrong about my tomato growing 2 ft. in 2 months. I thought I had gotten the tomato with a previous order I got 2 months ago from another place. I photographed my tomato plant (Solanum lycopersicum "Super Sweet 100") the day I received it (see first photo), so I have been caring for it for 22 days. I didn't measure it when I got it, but the stick is still attached to the tomato plant and I measured the stick today at 13 inches, therefore the plant was about 1 ft high when I got it.

It is now 38 inches high (see 2nd photo), therefore it grew about 26 inches in 22 days! This is proof that cherry tomato plants can thrive in a pine bark and perlite mix. The pine bark was basic mulch ordered from a lumber company by the cubic yard and its been sitting outside gathering forest debris like leaves, pine needles, and bugs have crawled all over it, etc. I took out a few giant wood pieces but it's basically the same stuff that's used as mulch not expensive pine bark fines.


Thumbnail by NancyGroutsis Thumbnail by NancyGroutsis
Arroyo Grande, CA(Zone 9a)

I'm really glad to hear that this type of bark works well in a potting mix, DoGooders tomatos prove that.
I have been mixing perlite and bark with a "way to rich" soil mix I buy in bulk (by the yard) for potting plants to sell at the local Farmer's Market.
The downfall of bark, or any organic material, is that it is still decomposing and nitrogen is used in the decomposition process.
So plant food is a good idea when using bark in the mix.

Hopkinton, MA(Zone 5b)

Domehomedee, yes, the bark will deplete nitrogen and you provide helpful advice to add plant food to counteract that effect. That's one of the reasons I add plant food every other time I water the plants with the bark & perlite mix. I wish you luck at the Farmer's Market! My parents grow olives to produce olive oil and I'm thinking of selling it at a local farmer's market, but I've never joined a market so I have a lot of research to do.


This message was edited May 15, 2012 11:23 PM

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