My home is a penthouse apartment on the fourth storey of a modern apartment block in a northern suburb of Sydney, about 30 kms from the city. The useable area is about 100sqm so somewhat larger than most but 80% is tiled floor and there are a couple of large raised wall garden beds. While most other apartment balconies in my heavily built suburb have a potted ornamental or two such as a palm or annual blooms, my balcony sprouts herbs of many varieties tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, lemons, kale, spinach, apples, figs, beetroot, lettuces, peaches, nectarines, carrots, Asian greens, radishes, strawberries, and much more. I produced close to 70kgs of fruit, vegetables and herbs over the last year. There’s generally enough vegetables for the two adults here all year-round. My apartment is part of a growing global movement of people involved in urban farming.
I have always had an interest in gardening modelled by parents who grew a lot of Asian vegetables and Tomatoes in our suburban home back in the 60’s and carrying that through to every home we have lived in from a small two bedroom flat with a tiny balcony crammed full of Geraniums and flowering plants to a beautiful productive backyard vegetable garden in our first house, to this penthouse apartment where we are now. Always growing, always reading and learning about plants, plant biology, pests, soils and listening to garden sages on podcasts and television.
In 2016 I completed a Permaculture Design Certificate and have adopted the practices and techniques to create the garden at Up On The Rooftop which has been a very interesting, creative and challenging exercise. Accordingly each area of the Balcony is divided into a Zones and named by use – The Park, the Kitchen Garden, The Orchard, The Market Garden and The Meadow.
I’ve created a closed loop system whereby kitchen and garden waste is recycled as much as possible going back into compost bins, both homemade and commercial, and two large Hungry bin worm farms. Worm leachate goes back into the system as fertiliser. Potting soil is amended and reused using my homemade composts and the occasional fish carcasses from a fly-fishing friend. I even have the capacity to compost the scraps of a neighbour in the apartment block as well!
With two hives of Native Stingless Bees up here and frequent visitors from many solitary and honey bees, beetles, slugs, butterflies and other insects I’ve tried to create a balanced ecosystem including nourishing the microbiome in the soil. The Balcony Meadow is planted out with self seeding flowers under a large Frangipani tree. I wrote about this in a Blog on my website and it forms part of the urban B&B Highway Rest-Stop referred to by Judy Friedlander from the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures.
My journey up here is to promote urban farming and make it accessible and achievable for everyone who has the space for one pot! I believe that it is one of the most important movements of our time! the influence of urban farming is uniquely widespread because more people live in cities than rural areas and food is a central necessity that affects everything at once. The seeds of change are already being planted in homes like mine across the world. For these seeds to grow and blossom, we need to demand more local food so that the market for urban-grown produce expands. We also need to put pressure on our legal system to allow easier local trade and more local food production. Imagine if we grew food instead of grass. Every community is a local food economy waiting to come to life. The answer to climate change, the health crisis, and the recession economy is right outside your door. I’ll meet you at the garden fence.
You can follow my journey on Instagram @up_on_the_rooftop
Wendy Siu-Chew Lee