At Seattle's Bastille, the garden goodies are on the roof
Bastille in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood offers lettuces and other fresh menu items grown right on the restaurant's roof.
FROM ALL THE fuss over Bastille restaurant's new rooftop vegetable plots, you'd think that gardening on top of a building is a brand new concept. All over the world, people in urban areas take advantage of the sun-drenched space up top to grow food and flowers. Apiarists are even keeping bees on the rooftop of the Opera House and the Eiffel Park Hotel in Paris. But here in Seattle we're just getting used to urban density, and owners James Weimann and Demming Maclise are out front putting a commercial rooftop to work growing fresh herbs and lettuces for their restaurant.
"We wanted to pioneer this idea," says Weimann. The weight calculations were a shock, however, and the lovely old Ballard building needed extensive retrofitting to support a 2,500-square-foot working garden. "You could park a tank up there now," jokes Maclise. "We'll break even in about 20 years."
The owners' vision is an ambitious one: They hope to list "Rooftop Salad" on their menu every day of the year. Chef Shannon Galusha looks forward to snipping greens for sandwiches and salads, as well as herbs for savory dishes and made-to-order sorbets and glacées. Plans include growing garlic, peppers and tomatoes.
Enter Colin McCrate of Seattle Urban Farm Company, hired to come up with a scheme for growing a year-round garden on a windy, glaring hot roof. These less-than-hospitable conditions won't daunt the basil and lavender, but tender greens suffer, even bolt, in such intense sun and heat.
McCrate designed clever, boxlike raised beds, each with its own little roof that can be easily raised and lowered. In the heat of summer, the lids are outfitted with shade cloth and overhead spray to create an encouragingly cool environment for arugula and lettuces. In winter, McCrate plans to fit lids with glass for a greenhouse effect and thread the soil with heating coils to push the greens to keep producing.
The herbs, being more resilient, aren't housed in quite such classy digs. Chervil, dill, fennel, tarragon and basil grow in round plastic wading pools made for little kids to splash in. McCrate simply poked holes in the bottom of the pools to make inexpensive, lightweight, slightly raised beds. He started planting last summer in the midst of Seattle's heat wave in the hopes of having produce available for the restaurant's opening; unfortunately the city was pretty much sold out of wading pools as Seattleites tried to beat the heat. But it appears McCrate's been able to add to the restaurant's collection of rooftop pools, which now sprout a wide variety of herbs to spice up Bastille's French bistro menu.
In both boxes and pools, McCrate uses local Cedar Grove brand potting soil. He mixes in plenty of organic fertilizer because he expects these beds to produce greens year-round. He seeds directly into the soil and never thins out the crop. The result is a thick crop of multicolored baby greens that are harvested, then immediately replanted.
Before Bastille opened, McCrate met with the owners and the chef for taste tests up on the roof. They tried out six varieties of arugula and ended up selecting 'Astro' and 'Surrey.' "These two taste best and grow quickly from seed to harvest," explains McCrate. Four kinds of lettuce made the cut. 'Flashy Trout Back' and 'Deer Tongue' are both green; 'Red Oak' and 'Lola Rosa' are the red varieties in Bastille's Rooftop Salad. There's still plenty of experimenting going on as the menu changes seasonally and McCrate learns what grows most luxuriantly and consistently in such exposed conditions.
There's even a washing station on the roof to speed up moving the fresh greens from dirt to table. "The people in the kitchen can come up a set of stairs and be in their garden," says chef Galusha with satisfaction. "We can harvest at 4 o'clock and have it on the table at 5 o'clock."
Maybe rooftop vegetable gardens are a marker of a city's urban maturity; if so, Bastille is leading the way, high in the sky. The restaurant (at 5307 Ballard Ave. N.W.) has plans for tours of the rooftop garden; call 206-453-5014 or see www.bastilleseattle.com.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "The New Low-Maintenance Garden." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Steve Ringman is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
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