December 27, 2011

Bins draining for winter 2011 - Compost bin absorbs clean up.

Draining the containers in the late fall served two functions. It removed extra water weight before the roof has to contend with the winter ice and snow load, and hopefully it will prevent container and root damage by removing the most likely source of expansion and contraction in the container - water. We like to over engineer, so after draining the containers we move them all up onto the flashing that caps the support walls of the building, and then wrapped the drained bins in waterproof tarps. All that debris in the foreground compost heap? Dead plant material, and compostable coffee and tea cups we keep up top for guests and work parties.

City Hops Project - Early September

Three varieties of Hops, Cascade, Centennial and Nugget, grown as part of Bellwood Brewery's city hop project. First year hop vines typically grow 8-10 feet, and rarely produce cones. These varieties shot up past 20 feet long, and produced heavily. Even though they seem to love container living, we don't know how they'll do over the winter. In the fall I let the vines die, cut them back, layered some compost on the tops of the bins, buried the whole bin cluster in maple leaves, and wrapped the whole thing up in a tarp. I'm hoping that this "dumpling," approach will prevent the freeze/thaw that damages root systems overwinter. Last year the chives made it through with less padding, but apparently it's almost impossible to kill them. Fingers crossed.

Garden's beauty relaxes staff/lures them into education zone.

Staff lounge and tool storage area just before the second overhead shade tarp was re-attached.
The discounted astroturf patch in the background gained credibility, (with us), through it's no maintenance, no problem approach. Staff report it was softer than expected.

Just a rainbow. No big deal.

Facing south, mid-summer 2011. Semi-transparent camouflage netting worked as a partial privacy screen in between us and our neighbors in the Community housing across Queen Street. Originally we put up tarps, but the high winds up top would catch in them, and tear them to shreds. The netting worked well enough in the end. I felt like I was in a private space, and the view into their windows from the main roof was obscured.

Weed takes over salad bin, and we're into it.

One of the quickest ways to lose plant saving moisture from a container is through surface evaporation. This outrageously prolific chickweed explosion (the wee, low growing green plant with star shaped leaf clusters) slowed the moisture loss of this bin down by spreading over the soil surface like a chubby, lettuce cooling blanket. Less watering equals less work, and free chickweed equals a better profit on salad green mixes for sale. Check the last blog for an article about treating ulcers with chickweed, or search Stellaria Media for plant info. If you'd like to shoot straight down the native plant, medicinal/witchcraft rabbit hole, add Susan Weed to your search.

Chickweed flips bird to containment attempts by rooting in nothing

Volunteer chickweed plants set up shop on the roof surface. Another example of native plants thriving in a harsh environment, and why I often consider abandoning high maintenance cultivated varieties. Chickweed doesn't mind the shade, is an effective natural mulch, tastes like fresh corn, is prolific and adds an interesting dimension to salads. Here's a link to an article about chickweed treating ulcers, and other city ailments.

Nettles, surprisingly comfortable in the bins.

A bin of Urtica Diocia, or stinging nettle that was established in 2010, and returned to take over three bins in 2011. The self defense systems of this native flowering perennial are tiny, hollow stinging hairs called Tricomes. The Tricomes, found in the leaves of the plant, act like tiny hypodermic needles, and shoot Histimines and other irritating chemicals into skin that comes in contact with the plant. This plant has an extensive medicinal and culinary history in North America, is 10% protein, and, like other wild edibles introduced to the Parts and Labour roof, it manages to thrive despite the harsh temperature fluctuations up top. It also sneak attacks the chefs fingers.

Here's a site with a great deal of nettle lore, including the benefits of being flogged with the plant?

compost bin gets a carbon boost from the Grid.

The microbes responsible for breaking down the compost pile need a balanced diet of nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen comes from green materials such as food scraps, manure, and grass clippings. Carbon comes from brown materials such as dead leaves, hay, wood chips and shredded newspaper. A ratio that contains equal portions by weight (not volume) of both works best, and since most of what we've got up top is green plant material, this layer of abandoned weeklies helped to balance things out.
The cage was 6 plastic ties and 3$ worth of chicken wire I picked up at a Parkdale garage sale. It's 3 feet across - small enough to turn and keep air flow going, but large enough to retain the heat necessary to "cook" the compost. We started this pile mid-summer, and as of two weeks ago, it was half broken down into black black soil. Last week we cut the cage and turned the pile into a six by two foot, "compost burrito," that is wrapped in a dark tarp. It was a precaution against over-weighting any one point on the roof overwinter. We will see if the burrito is wide enough to keep the worms alive this winter.