By Jimmy Fisher
PITTSTON — That’s not Santa Claus on the roof. It’s James Verdekal Jr. checking on his garden.
An avid gardener, Verdekal had no place to plant his garden so he chose the roof of his construction warehouse in Pittston. The roof is made of rubber material with steel construction underneath it, giving it a sturdy base.
The 61-year-old owner of 1st Quality Construction in Wilkes-Barre has kept a garden there for five years.
“When I put my stuff in storage here in my warehouse, I asked my landlord if I could put a garden on the roof,” he said. “It started off only with 30 boxes and 30 tomato plants, but it’s grown into 120 boxes of plants.”
Verdekal grows tomatoes, watermelon, cucumbers, zucchini, banana peppers, corn, sunflowers, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, bell peppers, hot peppers and much more. His favorites, though, are the tomatoes.
“Just to see the tomatoes grow and how big they get and how juicy they are, it’s great to see them grow,” he said. “There’s a big difference between a homegrown tomato and a store-bought tomato.”
Verdekal usually starts gardening in early June and takes everything down in early November.
He keeps the pots on the roof year round, removing just the vegetables and the soil. He then distributes vegetables to friends, family and customers.
Able to check on his garden only once a week, Verdekal tends to the garden himself and uses tricks to help his plants stay alive, such as mixing Miracle Grow with rabbit manure and clam shells.
“The clam shells have a little bit of calcium in them,” he said. “It dissolves into the ground a bit and gives the plants some minerals.”
Verdekal also ties aluminum cans to the top of some of his plants to keep birds away.
Getting a hose to the top of his roof is difficult, but Verdekal doesn’t use tap water anyway.
“I will not give it tap water,” he said. “This gets all rainwater and what I do is I connect two drain pipes and have 30 plastic buckets I bring up. There are holes in the bottom of the drain pipes and each two holes goes over a five-gallon bucket and the water drips into each bucket. After a rain, I put the water into a container and store it.”
This year has been both beneficial and hurtful to the rooftop garden as there has been heavy blight, or plant disease, on the tomato plants.
In years past, there have been dry spells in the summer months, but Verdekal uses another trick for times like that.
“I take a teaspoon of epsom salt and sprinkle it around the stem of the plant and pour a quart of water on it,” he said. “The epsom salt goes down into the soil around the root and it helps the plant stay moist. It’s a farmer’s trick.”
Verdekal said he’s learned many tricks over the years to keep his rooftop garden going, the biggest learning how to work with Mother Nature.
“Just be kind to Mother Nature and she’ll be kind to you,” he said. “Just have a good heart and think positive.”
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher