Tenants at the Stack House Apartments are invited upstairs to snack among the vegetable beds or pick food for meals.
VEGETABLES RATE HIGHER than sports courts or the media room in publicity for the Stack House Apartments. “Pea-patch gardens” are listed first on the flyer designed to attract renters to these eco-friendly residences in South Lake Union.
And no wonder. Atop the apartment complex’s rooftop with a sweeping view of the city and the Sound, Seattle Urban Farm Company tends foot-deep, raised-bed gardens filled with lettuces, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes and herbs, among other veggies. “It’s not a small investment,” says Colin McCrate of the food gardens he and his team designed, planted, care for and harvest. Residents are invited on up to the roof to snack among the beds or pick food for dinner.
Every day when McCrate’s team comes to work, they change out the little signs indicating which crops are ready to harvest. “Residents have been respectful, not taking more than their share,” says McCrate, who teaches classes at Stack House on proper harvesting. Residents in the 278 apartments, average age 33, get the advantages of apartment living without actually caring for a garden themselves. The beds also function like a little green market; McCrate and team harvest and bag up vegetables and herbs to distribute among residents.
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There are chaises and barbecues up top, as well as sweeps of ornamental grasses and perennials. The rooftop was designed by the Berger Partnership, with more than 800 square feet of rooftop space devoted to growing groceries.
“There are challenges to gardening up here,” says McCrate. It’s windy and hot seven stories up in the sky, with plenty of unobstructed sunshine to ripen the tomatoes. “But the arugula bolts so fast,” says McCrate, in part because the soil in the steel beds heats up quickly. Which is great for heat-loving squashes and peppers.
The vegetable beds run east to west, with rows planted north to south. Plants are repeated in different beds for symmetry, heights are staggered and textures contrasting to create a scene as beautiful as it is productive.
“People are hanging out up here most days,” says McCrate, who took care to design the beds so they look good in the winter as well as summer.
McCrate has surveyed residents on what foods they’d most like to find when they go to the roof to browse for herbs and veggies. At the moment, the potato varieties growing on the roof are Yukon Golds and red-skinned Colorado Rose. When it comes to tomatoes, McCrate favors Sungolds, Sweet 100s and Supersweet 100s, all cherry tomatoes, delicious popped directly into your mouth off a sun-warmed vine, cooked, or sliced into salads.
McCrate grows French breakfast radishes because they’re milder tasting and have fewer pests. “All the lettuces and radishes we can grow are consumed immediately,” says McCrate. “The kale was actually overharvested, people are so into juicing.”
McCrate’s goal is to get as much food out of each plant as possible. Which ones has he found to be the most prolific producers in small amounts of space? McCrate lists snap peas, cucumbers, bush beans, hot peppers, head and leaf lettuces, basil, cherry tomatoes, eggplant and fennel. He’s still experimenting with beets, carrots and chard.
“It’s like having a farmers market in progress upstairs all the time,” McCrate says. “I’m excited to see what it’s like up here on the roof in peak barbecue season.”