Book Review: The Rooftop Growing Guide

The Rooftop Growing Guide: How To Transform Your Roof Into A Vegetable Garden Or Farm, by Annie Novak

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by blogging for Books/10 Speed Press in exchange for an honest review.]

From time to time, although not very often [1], I collect books that deal with urban agriculture. I find a certain degree of irony in this, in that I grew up as a child of farmers and gardeners on both sides, and without any particular green thumb or driving interest in farming, I have nevertheless continued to find myself involved in agricultural efforts and seeking knowledge in such areas almost in spite of my own interests, simply because working with the soil is part of my soul and being, and because it deals with my concerns about processes and logistics, even if it is not a particularly notable talent or interest of mine. And so it was that I came to request this slightly more than 200 page book full of tables and packed with information and a certain experimental mindset that I am not fond of personally, and lots of pictures and small-scale case studies of successful rooftop farming efforts with the aim of profit, scientific research, or agricultural education for urban children whose love for dirt and life is likely no less than for their more rural peers.

In terms of its structure and contents, the book takes a strongly topical approach and would be useful for anyone contemplating an effort in urban gardening on rooftops (most of the examples shown are mostly flat in nature), of the kind that is on top of skyscrapers and apartment buildings and office buildings and the like. The book consists of eight chapters and then a short conclusion about the expected financial and educational payoff. The eight chapters of the book deal with such issues as: the desirability of using rooftops for gardens and farms given their large footprint within the area of cities, how to assess the rooftop’s suitability for different types of farming and gardening, examining containers, greenhouses, green roofs, and rooftop irrigation, examining soils and growing substances, looking at seeds and transplants, a focus on flowers, herbs, shrubs, and trees, planning around the space constraints of rooftop planting, and exploring pests and organic ways of dealing with them. The book is long on photos, stories pulled from the personal experience of the author and others, and handy charts and diagrams.

Unsurprisingly, the author views urban gardening and farming as a highly political act on several different levels. For one, the author urges the readers to find out about the applicable laws for greenhouses, urban chicken farming, and urban beekeeping, and to obey those laws. This is not a book on guerrilla gardening, of which there are books, where people are urged to farm and garden sub rosa. That said, the author makes it plain that urban gardening is a political act which encourages people to understand the fact that eating is an agricultural activity, and that our lives are bettered to the extent that we are familiar with how food is grown and on the best practices for working the land, even if we happen to live in cities, so that we do not lose touch with the source of food. Personally, I find farming to be an immensely challenging and often heartbreaking task, where one’s best efforts and the harvests do not bear a close relationship because of any number of problems beyond our control. But life is a lot like that, so it is certainly practical to learn how chancy and how labor-intensive food agricultural methods are. At best, it allows us to seek mercy for ourselves, and to be more merciful to others. Even aside from logistical concerns and a desire for fresher foods and more local foods with better flavors and a better involvement with the local habitat, there are a lot of reasons to appreciate this book and the effort to make cities more green, more full of natural life, and more conducive to providing food to the eyes as well as the stomach.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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