Aaron Hinks photo Ulis Restaurant owner Tyson Blume holds freshly picked tomatoes and Rick Ketcheson, partner of Raven Wood Biochar, holds soil he constructed for the roof-top project.

Aaron Hinks photo Ulis Restaurant owner Tyson Blume holds freshly picked tomatoes and Rick Ketcheson, partner of Raven Wood Biochar, holds soil he constructed for the roof-top project.

Uli’s repurposes rooftop into garden

Business partnership results in fresh produce for patrons of White Rock eatery

A Marine Drive restaurant owner has found a clever way to repurpose his roof – and kitchen waste – to grow vegetables for the patrons dining below.

Uli’s Restaurant owner Tyson Blume told Peace Arch News last week that he began experimenting with growing vegetables on top of his restaurant last year, but had trouble keeping the plants hydrated.

Last summer, Blume met Rick Ketcheson, a retired mechanical engineer who has taken an interest in soil biology, at the White Rock Farmers’ Market. Ketcheson told Blume of a design he had for sub-irrigation pots, and “not only that, we will take the kitchen waste and turn it into soil.”

Ketcheson is a partner of Raven Wood Biochar – a company that helps people create living soil – and drafted a proposal for Blume.

“He works with organic waste to make good, live soil. We got together and started talking about how we could do that on the roof of Uli’s,” Blume said.

This past summer, Blume was able to grow a variety of herbs, radishes, and about 30 tomato plants. Most of the ingredients have gone to seed, but the tomatoes are still coming off the vine.

“It’s amazing, we can’t even use them all, the tomatoes are coming off there like crazy. The flavour difference is insane. Growing your own tomatoes, there’s nothing like it. You taste the sun,” Blume said.

Traditionally, Uli’s food scraps went to an organic waste program. Now, the scraps are being recycled on site, a fact Blume can feel good about, he said.

“Full use of product, stuff that people don’t eat at the restaurant. I feel bad about that all the time, I feel bad about all the waste that comes from a restaurant. So it’s nice not having to contribute as much,” he said.

Ketcheson said there’s a lot that goes into the construction of the soil, which he described as a “living thing.”

“The key thing about healthy soil is for it to have the right microorganisms and biology… What we do is we use a special composting system that uses microorganisms to digest the kitchen waste, then you mix it with the soil and all the natural organisms go to work to finish the job,” Ketcheson said.

Examining the soil, you can find bits of bone and mussel shells, which are remnants of the Bokashi composting.

“You do have to pay attention to what you’re doing, but all of those things can be processed,” he added.

The addition of biochar to the soil enhances its water retention, especially helpful during dry periods, he said.

Uli’s is the first client Raven Wood has worked for that wished to create a garden on a roof, and Ketcheson approves of the finished product.

“This is the first time and this is why we were so excited to do it. I’m just up the hill from Uli’s, I can walk down in five minutes… I tasted (the tomatoes) – I sure have – they’re delicious.”

Ketcheson, who hails from the Prairies, said he only started to take a keen interest in soil biology and experimentation in the later year’s of his life.

“I’m from Saskatchewan, I still have a little bit of that soil under my fingernails,” he told PAN.

 

Aaron Hinks photo                                 Ulis Restaurant owner Tyson Blume holds freshly picked tomatoes and Rick Ketcheson, partner of Raven Wood Biochar, holds soil he constructed for the roof-top project.

Aaron Hinks photo Ulis Restaurant owner Tyson Blume holds freshly picked tomatoes and Rick Ketcheson, partner of Raven Wood Biochar, holds soil he constructed for the roof-top project.