Growing Cities Blog

How the sun can be another tool utilized in your urban garden

January 28th, 2014

Good morning,

It may seem strange to mention the sun when many areas of the country are iced over and cloud ridden, but utilizing the sun’s full potential can help your urban farming experience.  Read the blog below written by Greg Peterson on the Urban Farm Blog for more details and explanation.


Sunlight—we all get some or a lot, but besides turning it into a nice tan, heating water or making a few hundred watts of electricity, what else can you do with the brilliant sunshine? How about channeling it into a cost-effective, energy-saving tool for cooking? Yep, I am talking about one of the greenest practices custom-made for us: the solar oven.

I am often asked in puzzlement, how hot can a solar oven really get? Well, there is that old anecdote about cooking an egg on the sidewalks of Phoenix in the height of summer…all joking aside, it really does get hot enough to cook in a solar oven. Sunshine can cook, steam or boil anything you can prepare in your conventional oven – all for free!

Believe it or not, solar cookers can be as fancy or as simple as regular kitchen ovens. Well, OK, most kitchen ovens are not quite as simple as an insulated cardboard box pointed at the sun, but there is quite a gamut of solar ovens available. In fact, my first solar oven was made by the Kerr-Cole Sustainable Living Center in Taylor, Arizona. Talk about basic: it was a cardboard box inside another cardboard box with insulation in between. But boy, did it work. Its internal temperatures regularly exceed 325° F. A little fancier and made from sturdier materials, my new solar oven is a Sun Oven, and can easily get up to 375° F.

Even better, solar ovens are a little like a two-for-one deal. They can serve as either a crockpot, where the temperature rises slowly, slow-cooking food throughout the day, or as a regular oven, baking, steaming or boiling all types of food. Plus the even temperatures of a solar oven help prevent overcooking. In fact, using my solar oven almost feels like cheating – no electricity, so no fear of burning my dinner and it couldn’t be more natural.

I know we’ve had some interesting weather, but don’t be fooled. Even though the sidewalks aren’t hot and it is brisk outside, the sun is bright enough to cook food. In fact, “a 40-degree, low-humidity day will allow food to cook faster than a 100-degree day with high humidity,” according to the makers of the Global Sun Oven. But remember that the days are getting shorter, so cooking hours will be somewhat limited.

If you’re considering a solar oven, here are some points to consider:

  • Sunlight is free. This goes without saying, but it’s important to consider as the economy continues to shift. The initial investment can vary from under $100 up to $300 or $400, depending on type and model, but there’s absolutely no cost beyond that.

Read more HERE!


A Smattering of Roof Top Gardens

September 14th, 2013

Inspired by a recent twitter exchange with the Netherlands’ Grown Down Town, here’s a bit of a compilation of what kinds of systems roof top gardeners are using. The fact that most of these examples stem from the rooftops of New York City shows that it really depends on the circumstances and specifications of the roof and operation that determine what to use.

Replicating the Earth…On A Roof: Eagle Street Rooftop Farm (NYC, NY) –


Details on how they grow:

“• The green roof base system is comprised of 2” of built-up components: polyethelene, drainange mat, and retention and separation fabrics.

• With the approval of the building’s engineer, 200,000 pounds of growing medium were lifted onto the roof by crane in “super-sacks” over the course of a single day. The growing medium, laid directly onto the green roof base, is a mixture of compost, rock particulates and shale and is manufactured in Pennsylvania. It is a green roof component that at the same time retains water, allows for air circulation and is lightweight.

• The green roof can hold over 1.5” of rain, providing a significant reduction in storm water runoff. The captured water, in turn, can help to cool the warehouse below yielding a reduction in cooling costs.

• Installation cost was approximately $10 per square foot. This is significantly lower than most green roof installations due in part to two main factors: the three story building and open expanse of roof were very accessible, and that recycled materials such as used rafters were utilized for edging.

• Upon completion of Goode Green’s base system installation, the growing medium was moved into by place by a team of farming volunteers over the course of three days. It was arranged into 16 north-south beds measuring thirty inches to four feet in width and divided down the middle by a single long aisle. The beds have a soil depth of 4-7”. The aisles were filled with mulched bark.

• Since overhead watering on a rooftop often evaporates or blows away, irrigation was inititally provided via black plastic drip lines, using city tap water.  In 2010, the drip irrigation system was de-installed, as the root systems of the crops rotated and intercropped through the farm during the growing season were incondusive with drip watering (e.g. carrots, microgreens, radishes).

• Currently, the Farm relies on hand watering (via hose) for seedlings and transplants, and rainwater for established plants (e.g. kale, chard, tomatoes).”

Simplifying the System: Gotham Greens

*Jun 12 - 00:05*

Check out their short video about how they grow their greens with hydroponics

How they grow:

“The greenhouse in an impressive hydroponics growing facility that yields 20-30 times more produce per acre than conventional field production and uses 20 times less water in the growing process. Hydroponics allow for water to be recycled and go directly to plants meaning no water is lost to soil.

Additionally, Gotham Greens’ products are free of chemical pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, and their packaging is high quality, food-grade, tree-free, GMO-free compostable containers made from renewable plant fibers.”

Computer-Monitored Container Gardening: Grown Down Town


 How they grow:

“Irrigation system is integrated into crates, where you put inserts with sprouts from herbs, veggies & fruit.

The inserts take water from beneath and computer system knows when it’s dry or wet.

It grows very well on flat roofs all over the city.”


Bus-Gardens! (Originally from Pop-up Cities)


“It is surprising that no one thought of it much earlier. Luckily, greening the city has gained a huge fan community. Landscape artist Marc Grañén, in collaboration with Grupo IRACO, takes it to the next level by using vehicle roofs as flower beds, turning unused space into little oases.

In order to make rooftop gardens on vehicles possible Marc Grañén uses IRACO’s Aquapro SkyGardens which are phytokinetic gardens made of aquaponic foam embedded in a steel grid. The flower bed is kept moist by a sedum carpet of small succulents that are planted in addition to small shrubs and ferns. The whole area is then covered with a protective mesh. Interestingly, the plants on the vehicle’s rooftop are watered with the waste from its air conditioning unit and, in addition, buses can be cooled down by 38.5° F through rooftop gardens and, thus, save on air conditioning as a whole.”

Gardening for everyone, anywhere!


If you want to grow food without setting up large scale or expensive systems, use cheaper, available materials to create a garden nearly anywhere. Urban Garden Solutions

One method of growing:

“The plastic wading pool is the most cost-efficient container available. A 4 – 6 ft diameter pool of 12 – 15 inches deep, provide a decent size growing area and costs under $10. They are known to last for more than 6 years in harsh climate regions like Chicago. The topsoil, peat moss, and manure that fill the pool can be bought for under $20.

Wading pools can be placed in any area that could not be used for conventional gardens, such as rooftops, black tops, along fences and railroad tracks.

On contaminated surfaces, such as brown fields, vacant lots and abandoned industrial sites, wading pools can be used to isolate the growing medium from contamination.

As the wading pools are above the ground they tend to dry up quickly. Therefore water the wading pool gardens as often as you see the need. You can stop watering when you see the water dripping from the holes on the side of the pools.”

A good reference for finding green roofs and rooftop gardens, also check out

World’s Largest Rooftop Farm

April 3rd, 2012

Hello everyone!

Just wanted to share with you this fantastic article about something stirring in New York City. The world’s largest rooftop farm is being planned for Brooklyn! Let’s all jump in the car and take a road trip, kay?




March 26th, 2012

Hello everyone,

The weather has been absolutely beautiful in Omaha. Everyone is outside- biking, walking, running, roller blading… it’s so exciting. I’m here to share an awesome article about food pantries in Brooklyn growing their own fresh veggies! Hands up for them!

Hope everyone’s Monday is going well!


Farming on Asphalt, you say?

March 21st, 2012

Hello friends,

Happy Wednesday everyone! It may a rainy week, but excitement is high with the Growing Cities team. Lots of good things to come!

Just wanted to share with you a little article via City Farmer News- a Vancouver parking lot turned farm!



Organic Farming

March 13th, 2012

We know that organic foods are better for people, but how does organic farming benefit the Earth? Organic farming is good for the soil and for “the health of Mother Nature.”

Read the article to learn more!

March 5th, 2012

There is something amazing going on in the Pacific Northwest. Something beautiful, something green, and something everyone should know. Seattle is creating the nation’s biggest food forest! I have been reading up on this for the last week or two and I wanted to share it with you. Beacon Food Forest has been said to be “the largest public edible landscape”

Check out this awesome article to learn more about the design of the forest, how it’ll be built, and what crops will be planted. Have a great Monday everyone!