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roof deck gardens in chicago - pics? greenhouses?

roof deck gardens in chicago - pics? greenhouses?
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  • roof deck gardens in chicago - pics? greenhouses?

    Post #1 - April 7th, 2008, 11:32 am
    Post #1 - April 7th, 2008, 11:32 am Post #1 - April 7th, 2008, 11:32 am
    so it's time to start replanning the garden...

    we have the whole roof and want to dedicate half to a garden area... last year we bought one of those greenhouses. I was never fond of the idea, but it turned out to be a BAD idea if anyone is contemplating doing this. we paid more than the cheapest for a nice steel framed one with rigid poly sides (they sell the same brand at costco now, but we bought a 4'x6' or so)... they're not really designed to be in any sort of wind, and being on a roof they just act like a sail. right away we had to buy tons of silicone caulk to hold the poly into the frame, the clips these things use don't seem to hold well in wind... then for the most part that kept the thing pretty well in place, but it needed to be wired to the wall nearby to prevent blowing... but then one day even that didn't hold up... so it sat for half the winter on it's side where it was ready to be de-commissioned.. with this weekend's weather i disassembled and threw away most of the metal frame, keeping the poly sides... i think i'm going to make a sturdier, more aerodynamic frame out of wood and use the actual sides of the house as part of the wall (there's a penthouse that it could butt up to).

    ...but that leaves the rest of the area... currently it's undecked with just roof. which leaves a lot of options... we can deck it... we had considered this nice looking artificial grass (sold at costco, they have samples in mail.. it really does come pretty close to looking like grass...)... but i think i'm leaning towards some sort of lightweight filler that looks pebble-ish, with perhaps pots planted kind of in the midst of that. but i can't figure out what to actually use. it has to be lighter than regular stone ... it could probably actually be pebbles if some sort of inert matter was inserted as lighter filler. i think styrene would just eventually blow out and blow away... but there must be something?? somewhere i have a photo of something close to what i'm looking for... maybe i'll find and post.

    also regarding decking... costco sells contiki deck tiles that are made with something close to teak... they're fairly inexpensive and actually come out to be cheaper than a regular deck when y ou factor in labor... we ordered some samples (from builddirect.com, which sells the same brand/product cheaper)... but they kind of look like crap after just a few months... the ends are splitting, which is more concerning than the actual looking like crap.... rooftop applications apparently are harsher conditions than normal. (just an FYI if anyone had looked into those and was debating..)

    (another consideration was roof pavers, that are lighter than normal concrete pavers and designed for roof applications... i've found these online, but does anyone know a local source? price seems to be of concern here too)

    anyone else have any good photos of their roof deck or roof gardens? i love idea shopping... not stealing... "shopping"!
  • Post #2 - April 7th, 2008, 12:03 pm
    Post #2 - April 7th, 2008, 12:03 pm Post #2 - April 7th, 2008, 12:03 pm
    We don't have a gardenable roof, but with a seven-year-old, we frequent the The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum across from the zoo on rainy days: they have a whole project dedicated to green roofs and rooftop gardens which includes resources for homeowners. Good luck!
  • Post #3 - April 8th, 2008, 2:16 pm
    Post #3 - April 8th, 2008, 2:16 pm Post #3 - April 8th, 2008, 2:16 pm
    I think I'm going to like this new forum. When planning to build or "develop" something on your roof, you have to be careful. The first thing is to make sure that your roof can handle the weight. Reinforced roof joices should be in place and sometimes they are spaced closer together. Not sure if the original builder of your home did this in prep for a roof deck but if not, I would check with a roofer. Next, you should check your current roofing material. If it's the silver roofing coating, be very careful as this is easy to puncture. Any decking should have at least one layer of the thick black roofing material under the wood. Again, I would seek the help of a roofer.

    Other than that, I can share that I live in a condo with a roof deck and just moved from a condo with a roof deck. Both are decked with your typical wood decking material. My current deck is a bit wider than my last deck and the back quarter of my roof is that shiny silver roofing material (not decked). This is where I plan to lay some roofing material down and put three rows of four Earthboxes (self watering containers). I found that if you have a roof deck, you should invest in container planting and a water source. The dirt you use should be light, like a potting mix (not soil), which is better for containers anyway. For large containers, we use styrofoam or some other lightweight space eater, in the bottom half of the containers since they can become heavy. Also, you'll want good drainage in your pots, especially for those downpours.

    Here are a couple of photos of our last deck. This was taken in September so some of my vegetables were gone by then. I had tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and herbs in containers. This year, as I mentioned, I'm using Earthboxes, which are made for high yield vegetable production (for containers that is). I'll take some pics when I get started. Good luck!

    West view:
    Image

    East view:
    Image
  • Post #4 - April 8th, 2008, 2:45 pm
    Post #4 - April 8th, 2008, 2:45 pm Post #4 - April 8th, 2008, 2:45 pm
    Tyrus, that's beautiful and I'm incredibly jealous [refraining with much difficulty from saying green with envy]
  • Post #5 - April 8th, 2008, 3:24 pm
    Post #5 - April 8th, 2008, 3:24 pm Post #5 - April 8th, 2008, 3:24 pm
    Mhays wrote:Tyrus, that's beautiful and I'm incredibly jealous [refraining with much difficulty from saying green with envy]


    Thank you - I actually appreciate a good pun! Hopefully, I'll be able to post some pictures of a great roofdeck vegetable garden this year, in my new place! Thanks again...
  • Post #6 - April 9th, 2008, 2:51 pm
    Post #6 - April 9th, 2008, 2:51 pm Post #6 - April 9th, 2008, 2:51 pm
    It seems to me you'd be better off going with some type of decking. If I'm understanding you correctly, covering an entire roof with filler - even if it's lightweight - seems really heavy to me. If you have to pull it up to do work on the roof, it would be more of a hassle having to shovel it all up. Decking you can build/buy in manageable pieces that can just be moved when necessary. Let us know what you end up with. Sounds like a fun project!
  • Post #7 - April 9th, 2008, 3:51 pm
    Post #7 - April 9th, 2008, 3:51 pm Post #7 - April 9th, 2008, 3:51 pm
    Home-made Earthboxes... for the DIY-er in you. Can be particularly green if you recycle household "trash" to make this item.

    http://www.josho.com/gardening.htm
  • Post #8 - April 10th, 2008, 3:42 pm
    Post #8 - April 10th, 2008, 3:42 pm Post #8 - April 10th, 2008, 3:42 pm
    Jay K wrote:Home-made Earthboxes... for the DIY-er in you. Can be particularly green if you recycle household "trash" to make this item.

    http://www.josho.com/gardening.htm


    hey cool!

    maybe i'm missing something here... but what is the real benefit of an earth box over a regular container with dirt and a plant in it? it seems there's always a water reservoir at the bottom.... almost like a hydroponic system, but with dirt. is the entire purpose to just make watering easier then? (you have to water less often?)... do they grow faster? or is there something that would somehow magically be better by using one of these vs. just sticking it in a pot? it seems that most regular pots could somehow be fairly easily be adapted to work with this method too, i find the rubbermaid option kind of ugly, though it's utilitarian.. sadly, i had a ton of these rubbermaid bins with no lids (menards had them for like $1 and i needed containers that could carry lots of rocks), and this would have been perfect for them had i not tossed them one by one over the last 2 years. ...maybe i'm dense here, but the soil then goes on top of the grated area and fills that pond screen thing as well? does the bin lose dirt over time into the water? (is this something that needs to be cleaned completely every year?)

    btw, in the back patio of Crust pizza they may have either homemade earth boxes or the real deal... well they did last year, i'm not really rushing to go back to crush any time soon to know. or maybe they just cover their soil with that liner ... but it caught my attention that they had covered the soil with that liner but i didn't really fully understand it at the time


    and btw thanks for posting those pics tyrus!
  • Post #9 - April 10th, 2008, 5:16 pm
    Post #9 - April 10th, 2008, 5:16 pm Post #9 - April 10th, 2008, 5:16 pm
    I like the homemade Earthboxes, though I'd agree they're not exactly attractive (but would be easy to stash in something pretty)

    Reading their website, I gather that the main benefit from an Earthbox vs a planter is the regulation of moisture due to the reservoir and plastic mulch (there are other planters available with the reservoir option, and I like newspaper as a mulch, covered with something ornamental) I got some regular pots from Wal-Mart and Home Depot with a reservoir that were very inexpensive.
  • Post #10 - April 11th, 2008, 11:29 am
    Post #10 - April 11th, 2008, 11:29 am Post #10 - April 11th, 2008, 11:29 am
    ok... plastic mulch??? he uses soil in his... so the "real" one uses some plastic mulch ehh..

    how does the plant actually get watered? i'm a bit confused.. there's obviously water under the soil, but the roots don't extend to that water... does the water wick up through the soil?
  • Post #11 - April 11th, 2008, 12:55 pm
    Post #11 - April 11th, 2008, 12:55 pm Post #11 - April 11th, 2008, 12:55 pm
    OK, take this FWIW - I am talking a bit out of my backside, as I don't own any EarthBoxes. However, my experience with plants in pots is that, regardless of what material they are, they dry out superfast - and consistent moisture levels are a priority in gardening (porous pots e.g. teracotta or wood do dry out faster than plastic) I do, however, have several "self-watering" pots - mine don't have an actual cloth wick like this one, but instead a little mesh tube in the reservoir that gets filled with dirt and presumably acts like a wick. Most of your moisture, however, is probably lost through the top of the soil, as these pots still dry out faster on sunny days than on cloudy, and that's probably where the plastic mulch comes in. IIRC, the Earthboxes are watered through the pipe, which takes the water directly to the roots and you don't wind up wetting your plant's leaves, which is undesireable in many cases. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I can see, these are the advantages of the Earthbox over other container systems.

    I do find it interesting that these ideas and a really good marketing plan appear to be clearing $40 a box or more in profit. Our school is starting a garden project and has recieved several of them through grants and donations.
  • Post #12 - April 18th, 2008, 8:59 am
    Post #12 - April 18th, 2008, 8:59 am Post #12 - April 18th, 2008, 8:59 am
    Okay - Earthboxes. Yes, yes, I had the same questions and are trying them for the first time this year. Luckily, my mom lives in Sarasota, close to their "research center" which is just a plot of land they use to show off their garden and give tutorials. After seeing these things in action, on March 1st, with mini coconut trees in them, cauliflower the size of soccer balls, I was sold. if you buy them from a garden center, you'll pay about $50/piece - not worth it. I bought 12 directly from the Earthbox website for about $27/piece plus shipping. They arrived within 3 weeks via UPS Ground.

    Here's how they are supposed to work:

    It's basically a planter's box with a water reservoir on the bottom. A plastic screen separates the potting MIX (not soil) from the water. On opposite corners of the box, the screen has cut out-outs so that the potting mix reaches the water, providing a wick for the plants.

    To water, there is a black plastic pvc pipe that reaches the bottom of the reservoir and extends about 8 inches above the box. There is also a water overflow so you can't over water. They recommend that you fill up the box everyday and don't let it dry out.

    There is a reversible plastic cover that stretches over the top (one side black, one white - to control heat) of the box. This retains the moisture. When you go to plant, you are to cut the plastic, in an "X" and plant your seedling. Before planting, they recommend a strip of fertilizer on the opposite side of your plants or in the middle, not touching the plants themselves.

    I'm trying this method because for the past few years, I've grown vegetables in pots but it has been difficult. The pots would get hot and dry out quickly. I tried mulch but it was a pain. One of the main reasons is that I am on the third floor and have a roof deck that is four flights from the ground. With this investment, I'm hoping to haul dirt once, not every year, up the stairs. The potting mix is reusable. They recommend that you remove the fertilizer strip though. I'm also hoping that this will be cleaner as well, instead of having dirt drain out the bottom of my plants after aggressive watering.

    I will document the process this year on this forum. I'm hoping to find a nice alternative for city gardeners. I'll keep you posted...
  • Post #13 - April 18th, 2008, 12:21 pm
    Post #13 - April 18th, 2008, 12:21 pm Post #13 - April 18th, 2008, 12:21 pm
    For those who don't want to fuss with self-watering systems (or even those who do), mixing hydrogel such as this into your potting mixture can help a great deal. Also, use a light soil mix with a fair amount of vermiculite in it.

    You can stick a pipe into any pot to hold water and dispense it slowly. Cap the bottom of the pipe and drill some holes in the sides. Or Google on "self watering" for all kinds of schemes.

    I usually use water-permeable landscaping fabric to mulch in the garden, but black plastic works fine if you set up to water underneath. You can throw wood chips on top for aesthetics' sake.
  • Post #14 - May 4th, 2008, 3:24 pm
    Post #14 - May 4th, 2008, 3:24 pm Post #14 - May 4th, 2008, 3:24 pm
    Here's a quick update on my garden so far this year. I ordered 12 Earthboxes and finally finished planting today. So far, I have 8 tomato plants (4 different varieties), 6 strawberry, 3 bell pepper, 3 hot pepper, 6 broccoli, 6 red leaf lettuce, 6 romaine lettuce, 10 onions, japanese eggplant, eggplant, 2 cucumber, and 2 zucchini. Here are some pics:

    Laying it all out
    Image

    After one week:
    Image

    Another view:
    Image

    Onions are starting to sprout:
    Image

    I should mention that I planted starter plants - so this is NOT one week worth of growth, it's just the starter plants, well...started. Now I have to plant the rest of the deck - flowers and such!
  • Post #15 - May 6th, 2008, 10:51 am
    Post #15 - May 6th, 2008, 10:51 am Post #15 - May 6th, 2008, 10:51 am
    thanks for the pics...that's a pretty organized setup you have there... i'm impressed with the line posts! you're certainly the envy of your neighbors now i'm sure!!

    (ok one more question... is that rubber or roll roofing your deck sits on? ..)
  • Post #16 - May 6th, 2008, 12:50 pm
    Post #16 - May 6th, 2008, 12:50 pm Post #16 - May 6th, 2008, 12:50 pm
    It's a rubberized roll of roofing material I bought at Home Depot. The material is about an 1/8" thick and comes in a very heavy roll (has to be about 50-70 lbs). It's pretty expensive but not as bad as a new roof!

    Thanks for the note.
  • Post #17 - May 7th, 2008, 1:23 pm
    Post #17 - May 7th, 2008, 1:23 pm Post #17 - May 7th, 2008, 1:23 pm
    thanks... i am building my roof deck this weekend actually...

    i have been debating between asphalt roll roofing, that rubberized stuff (which apparently is what the roof itself is made of, then they coat it in the silver aluminum stuff), and some sort of foam... (and actually i had found that large rubberized pond liners were fairly inexpensive if purchased online)... but i just picked up two rolls of the same rubberized roof rolls last night and will be using that with shims instead of the foams.. should be interesting. we'll see.. i'll post pics when all is said and done, assuming all goes well :)
  • Post #18 - March 5th, 2010, 11:38 am
    Post #18 - March 5th, 2010, 11:38 am Post #18 - March 5th, 2010, 11:38 am
    any updates?

    I am in the process of buying a 3rd floor condo with full roof rights and will be building a deck with an integrated garden. I would like to do something similar to you, tyrus, but with some decking in between the Earthboxes (or whatever we choose to go with). How have they worked out for you? Is the extra roll of rubberized roofing material necessary/helpful?

    Any other insight on building a deck/garden?
  • Post #19 - March 24th, 2010, 3:26 pm
    Post #19 - March 24th, 2010, 3:26 pm Post #19 - March 24th, 2010, 3:26 pm
    ziggy wrote:Is the extra roll of rubberized roofing material necessary/helpful? Any other insight on building a deck/garden?


    i researched for literally what seems like hundreds of hours before building (similar situation, 3rd floor w/ penthouse on roof/roof rights). as far as if the rubber material is necessary... i would rank it to be very important cushion; if your supports have any flex to them ever, they're going to wear on whatever material is below, and i wouldn't want that to be my primary roofing material. also from a legal point of view, the condo association itself likely owns the actual roof material and is responsible for its maintenance, so I wouldn't want to be blamed for causing premature wear or anything. i've seen it done both ways, and talked to construction people who have done both. it seems that most people these days are putting the extra layer of rubber there. it seems like it's only the older roof decks i've seen that don't do it. most people don't put the rubber down the full way though, just under each support. in the end, i'd say it's worth it. i think at some point i realized the second roll could be returned and would be able to get all the supports done for the 950sf deck w/ just one roll (kinda went minimalist on how i cut the rubber for the supports), so it was only a $50 or so expense.

    the foam i mentioned was a pourable dense polyurethane type thing (almost the kind of stuff they use in floating decks on water). this in the end ranked to be a very expensive option though it probably would've saved a lot of my own labor spent scribing, leveling, and shimming the supports.

    figuring out your deck supports is probably by far the most complicated planning portion of building it though. your supports should be primarily perpendicular to the roof joists underneath. in most standard 3 flat sized chicago lots, the joists would run the shortest distance from wall to wall (14' wide or whatever width your building is). if you run the deck supports parallel to the roof joists, you're basically putting a line of pressure directly between roof joists on your roof sheathing. alternatively if you use a stud-finder you may be able to detect where the roof joists are and place your deck supports directly above those parallel to them, but this might be a lot of extra work. it's slightly hard to tell, and they could be perfectly correct, but in tyrus' pictures above it looks like the supports for the planters may actually be parallel along with the roof joists.

    with your joists themselves you can do one of a few things... you can get 2x6s and scribe them to the roof for a perfectly level and very solid frame. this is probably the most expensive choice but most solid, but also drainage becomes an issue because there's no gap for the water to move so you have to figure out a way to channel the water. another options is you can get 2x4s, and shim them level. your joists have to be slightly closer together because they hold a bit less weight, or you have to shim pretty frequently. this is what i did, as it was the cheapest way to go and also seemed best for drainage. i had a hard time keeping them in place and keeping everything level while building though, i think i ended up adding about twice as many shims (which really were ~1-2' cuts of wood scribed to the roof line, not small shims) as i expected. you could also get just 2x4s and lay them flat across your roof and not worry about levelness too much. this is by far the cheapest and quickest way, and in most new construction the roofs are flat enough that you can do most of the roof without much pitch problem. but you then have drainage issues as well, since there's no gap underneath for the water to drain (which then can cause mosquito issues, rotting, and all kinds of fun stuff). i think a lot of people who do this method also don't go to the very edge of their roof because the edge has the most curve, though the edge is also a great place to plan for planters anyway. beware of the drainage though, i have a friend that does almost nothing but goes in to replace people's roof decks and he says poor drainage is probably the biggest problem he sees with them of why they're failing. one thing you could do to aid drainage if you were doing the last method would be put breaks in the 2x4s for the water to flow.

    btw for the decking itself, i went with western red cedar bought through builddirect.com. they drop ship from the mill in oregon directly, and it was about the same price as getting the cheapest treated wood from any of the lumber yards i called. they have an order minimum, but for a full roof deck w/ 10' boards, their 1 palette minimum was pretty much exactly the right amount (came to $2050 at the time, shipped). i used an electric deer hoist to get it to the roof. it was about $90 at cabella's and at ~40' lift height it is the perfect height needed for a chicago 3flat, best $90 ever spent (then i just sold it on ebay anyway). there's a video in link below if curious of the contraption i used. neighbors might think you're a bit off your rocker, but it saved a ton of time. one contractor i talked to said the labor to bring the wood to the roof was as much as building the deck. having the lumber yard boom it to the roof isn't really an option for a variety of reasons.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/danebrian/ ... 113591323/ are my photos of the start/finish, though the ending isn't that exciting since i cut most of the fun stuff i had planned out. and for some odd reason we never really took pictures of the entire finished deck on the same day, or for that matter when the debris was cleaned up
  • Post #20 - March 25th, 2010, 2:11 pm
    Post #20 - March 25th, 2010, 2:11 pm Post #20 - March 25th, 2010, 2:11 pm
    ziggy wrote:any updates?

    I am in the process of buying a 3rd floor condo with full roof rights and will be building a deck with an integrated garden. I would like to do something similar to you, tyrus, but with some decking in between the Earthboxes (or whatever we choose to go with). How have they worked out for you? Is the extra roll of rubberized roofing material necessary/helpful?

    Any other insight on building a deck/garden?


    Ziggy - I'm sorry I didn't get back to you earlier on this thread. I think dddane's floating roof deck "how to" is right on.

    I'm a big fan of the Earthboxes and if you'd like to see my other posts, you can find last year's progress here: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=22759

    The Earthbox is a sub irrigated planter and is perfect for roof decks (especially those that have access to water). They are typically lighter than other planters and use less water. I've had great results for the past two years. Plus, they're clean (self contained) and easy to maintain. The website, http://www.greenroofgrowers.blogspot.com is also a good resource on gardening in the city, as they are both in the Wicker Park neighborhood. Good luck.
    "It's not that I'm on commission, it's just I've sifted through a lot of stuff and it's not worth filling up on the bland when the extraordinary is within equidistant tasting distance." - David Lebovitz
  • Post #21 - March 26th, 2010, 11:08 am
    Post #21 - March 26th, 2010, 11:08 am Post #21 - March 26th, 2010, 11:08 am
    Wow, thanks for the incredibly detailed reply dddane! And no worries, tyrus. I'm actually closing on Monday so once we get all moved in, this will be my first order of business. I may have some more questions as I get further into the planning process.

    And it looks like we'll be neighbors, tyrus. Maybe we can start a roof gardening club in Ukie Village. :wink:
  • Post #22 - August 30th, 2010, 7:20 am
    Post #22 - August 30th, 2010, 7:20 am Post #22 - August 30th, 2010, 7:20 am
    All you have to do is to research about it. That was my problem before
    and I was in dire search of something or someone that can assist me decide on my
    roofing estimates.

    I found some answers here:http://www.viddler.com/explore/pflugervillehow/videos/1/

    They also give free ebook that tells you the 7 big and expensive mistakes homeowners make. It's a really interesting topic and will help you most, especially when you want to hire someone for your house repair or renovation such as roofing replacement.

    Check it out, but I also suggest you look elsewhere too, then choose which really fit your needs. :)
  • Post #23 - May 26th, 2015, 8:52 am
    Post #23 - May 26th, 2015, 8:52 am Post #23 - May 26th, 2015, 8:52 am
    These Women Want to Grow Plants and Crops on Your Roof -- And Pay You

    http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20150526 ... ---pay-you
    "Sandwiches are wonderful. You don't need a spoon or a plate!"
    Paul Lynde

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