Investigating Growth Media Effects on Rooftop Vegetable Production

Institution: Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Funders (26)
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Why This Project Is Important 

We will create an experimental vegetable garden on patio roof space of the Morris University Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) to evaluate a waste product as a growth media. The rooftop garden will create learning and job opportunities for SIUE students, who will receive training in green roof technology and vegetable production, and all produce will be used by SIUE Dining Services or donated to initiatives such as SIUE's Campus Kitchen, which keeps food from going to waste while feeding those in need.

Project Description 

Green roofs, including rooftop gardens, are growing in popularity because they provide many benefits to a community. They are known to improve air quality by reducing carbon dioxide levels and raising oxygen levels in the atmosphere. They increase biodiversity, reduce storm water runoff, and provide thermal benefits. Recently, they have been used to provide fresh, nutritious produce. In our project, we will evaluate rooftop vegetable production and provide the vegetables to SIUE students, staff, faculty, and guests. SIUE Head Chef Eric Ruhmann is fully supportive of the establishment of our rooftop vegetable garden and will use the produce in the university dining facility. Extra will be donated to initiatives such as SIUE's Campus Kitchen, which keeps food from going to waste while feeding those in need. Our project will also increase knowledge of alternative green roof applications by demonstrating a new method of food production in the urban environment using a waste product – drinking water treatment solids. A rooftop plot outside of the university restaurant with a total area of about 600 sq. ft. will be divided into four equal quadrants, each approximately 150 sq. ft. of growing space. Gardensoxx, 8 in. in diameter by 3 ft long, will be placed in 9-ft. rows, with a 16 in. walkway between each row. Each of the four quadrants will contain a total of 12 Gardensoxx (for 48 total). Each individual 3-ft. Gardensoxx section will contain one of three different growth media (100% compost; 50% drinking water treatment solids and 50% compost; 100% drinking water treatment solids). Each rooftop quadrant will contain one vegetable variety - lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, or pole beans. Upright fencing will be used to support vertical growth of the cucumbers and pole beans. After the vegetables have fully developed, yield will be harvested and total plot yield and vegetable quality will be determined from each growth media blend. Data will be analyzed to determine the impact of the media composition on vegetable yield. Our replicated experimental design will enable us to determine which growth media blend produces the most and highest quality vegetables in the rooftop garden.

Meet the Researchers

Susan Morgan

Susan Morgan received her B.S. in civil engineering from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and her Ph.D. in environmental systems engineering from Clemson University. She joined the faculty in the Department of Civil Engineering at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where she earned the rank of professor and served in numerous capacities until accepting her current position as Associate Dean in the Graduate School. She is a co-founder of the Green Roof Environmental Evaluation Network (G.R.E.E.N.), which has supported numerous graduate and undergraduate students conducting research on Midwest green roofs.

Bill Retzlaff

Professor of Biological Sciences, Associate Dean College of Arts and Sciences, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Green Infrastructure research!

Questions for the Researcher

Susan Morgan's picture
Susan Morgan (Researcher)  February 13, 2014 - 1:35pm
Thanks to everyone who helped with the video, including (in alphabetical order) Howard Ash (photographer), Cory Byers (videographer), Beth Giese (writer), Sierra Halverson (narrator), and Brandon Rice (videographer).
Susan Morgan's picture
Susan Morgan (Researcher)  September 23, 2014 - 5:37pm
After extensive delays, the Gardensoxx were installed on the patio on Sept. 22, 2014. Lettuce will be planted this fall and evaluated. Produce will be donated to the SIUE Campus Kitchen project. Next spring lettuce, pole beans, cucumbers, and carrots will be planted to be evaluated. Thanks to the many student volunteers who helped with the planting!
Superior Ideas's picture
Superior Ideas  September 24, 2014 - 8:06am
Great! Thank you for the update!
Susan Morgan's picture
Susan Morgan (Researcher)  November 18, 2014 - 12:39pm
Check out our new video that shows the start of the project - installation, planting, and initial growth.
Superior Ideas's picture
Superior Ideas  November 18, 2014 - 12:39pm
How exciting! Great work! Thank you for posting the video.
Susan Morgan's picture
Susan Morgan (Researcher)  November 25, 2014 - 9:38am
If you're interested in donating, visit and donate to "Green Roof Project." Funds will be used to support students and purchase supplies that are not donated.

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of $8,100 fund goal
The average donation for this project is $43
days left
Funding is Closed

What Your Donation Can Help Us Do: 

  • Financially support one graduate student and one undergraduate student who will be conducting the research.
  • The remaining funds to cover supplies are being provided through previous donations to SIUE’s Green Roof Environmental Evaluation Network, donations from St. Louis Composting, Illinois American Water Company, and possibly grant funds from the Composting Council Research and Education Foundation and the Illinois State Academy of Science.
Although there are no rewards for this project, all donors will receive an email receipt with tax-deduction information.

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