Urban Projects

Cloud Gardening (Croatia)

Dear friends, we believe we have an interesting urban gardening story to share.

We are Sandra and Drazen from Zagreb, Croatia. Our permaculture interest began two years ago when I (Sandra) fell and broke a leg during a recreational badminton match. The recovery process took three months, so I had enough time to forget all work-related stresses, to read a lot and search the internet.

One morning I found Permaculturenews.org and those were wow moments — a revelation that there is a genuine way to tackle personal and world problems and that all problems can be solved in the garden. I’ve been reading the site ever since.

My husband shared this enthusiasm, so we started contemplating leaving the city and buying our own piece of land to put our new knowledge into practice — as is probably the case with many who start reading, learning and absorbing permaculture knowledge and expand this to aspects of health/disease, community problems, real food revolution, consumerism, peak oil, agriculture, climate change, politics….

But, financial insecurity held us here. However, the idea of growing our own food became important and we made a plan to plant our garden in the city using a self-watering two-bucket system. The problem was — we do not have a balcony! We live in a small flat in a 16-story apartment building here in Zagreb, Croatia. Growing at ground level was out of the question because of neighbors walking their dogs and the possibility of vandalism and/or theft. There were no city gardening plots either (that has changed this spring, but they’re still nowhere near us).

There was only one option left: the roof! Way up there in the sky!

See that balcony in a concrete box on top of the skyscraper at left? That’s where we got
permission to install our garden in the spring of 2013.

May 2013. Runner beans growing happily till the first wind.
It was a disaster. Had to pull them out.

We planted bravely in May 2013 with many ups and downs, but learning all the way: no chance to grow runner beans because the wind is too strong, and no cucumbers or zucchinis either — there are no bees to pollinate at this height (we pollinated some with a brush). Tomatoes are very hungry, thirsty plants and susceptible to fungal diseases… we didn’t pick many of them. All the same — it was an interesting summer!

July 2013: Small tomato guild – tomato plant, Greek basil and nasturtium. Plants were
struggling to survive during the cold and windy May, remained small and early blight
finished them in August. It was too much for them.

During the winter months we contemplated new strategies: to start our own plants from seeds, to think about protection during cold and windy days in May, grow spinach and chard in early spring, choose vegetables that do not need insect pollinators, mulch with hay instead of using plastic bucket covers, add mycorrhizal fungi spores into our soil, feed plants with comfrey and protect them with nettle tea, spray with raw milk to prevent fungal diseases, add banana peels and crushed egg shells for phosphorus, potassium and calcium, even spray with Epsom salt for magnesium… working with nature, never against it!

So here comes the new story of 2014:

Starting our own seedlings at the end of February 2014

March 2014. Chili peppers looking cute and strong with a few granules of mycorrhizal
spores already added to the soil.

March 2014. Tomatoes – cocktail and one Heinz variety. Also with a few granules of
mycorrhizal spores to help them develop a proper root system.

May 2014. Transplanted and growing happily. Bell Peppers in buckets.

Cocktail tomatoes in May. Supported and mulched. Looking good.

May 2014. Yellow bell peppers needed support. See the mulching hay underneath.

Early June 2014. Already we have sweet peppers for our salads. See the milk droplets on leaves
— spraying with raw milk helps them form a protective bacterial coating
and fight fungal problems.

July 2014. Let the feast begin! No fungal problems whatsoever even though we’ve had plenty
of rain and warm days. Still feeding them every week with comfrey leaves we pick — cut and
tuck under the mulch.

June 2014. Cocktail tomatoes have produced so many fruits
— more than three hundred on each plant.

Chili pepper urban jungle

July 2014. A few kilograms of fruit on this branch alone.

Lots of joy and many tasty vegetables this year!

And looking down on Zagreb from where our cloud garden is — we see huge potential for more gardeners to join the fun of growing their own food wherever they can.


  1. Well done , Keep up the Great Work You’re doing and others will follow Your example . Enjoy the fruits of your Labour, You certainly deserve it. God Bless You Both and I Hope Your Dream of moving to the country side becomes a Reality for You both soon.

  2. he wow I mad the same in Mexico Puerto Vallarta Nayarit…
    I made a aquaponic system there with 43 tilapia … and a lot of growings … we eat fresh and are healty … hope to get you as a friend in facebook so that we can share our knowledge … the power is with us … lets feed the once how like Organic fresh food.
    hope to hear from you .. all the best on your roof :) .. like me on facebook to stay in contact ;) Love your Idea

    1. Thank you for all support. We could not have done it without all the knowledge collected browsing through permaculture experiences of others, so we wanted to post this as a positive feedback.

  3. Fantastic. Maybe start to specialise in something that you can market and maybe your financial insecurity can be gone in time. Maybe organic garlic for instance has a market. Or something that restaurants in the area need. Or something that is not grown much in Croatia that has a niche market. Something exotic like Licorice maybe? Have you seen the article on SPIN farming? Might be useful. Congrats for being great pioneers!

  4. I am an established landscape/garden designer in Northern California. You have succeeded quite well with Permaculture principles. I am eager to know more. Especially the benefits of comfrey with underplanting. Thank you for sharing, and success to you!

    1. We started adding green comfrey tea for watering our tomatoes and peppers when they were small. Before transplanting them to the buckets, we added shredded comfrey leaves into the soil – like a lasagna of soil and comfrey, and planted into it. Later continued adding some leaves (comfrey and stinging nettles) every 7-10 days under the mulch, shredded in food processor for faster decomposition.

  5. Sounds like a great idea turning whats essentially wasted land into usable space. Have you ever considered rooftop beekeeping? If you sheltered the hive from a little wind and rain up there they would do well. It would solve your pollination issue, give you honey, beeswax and propolis and fertilize your neighbors fruits etc. And with all the trees you have surrounding you the bees would have plenty of food.

    1. Hi Steven, thank you for this idea of urban beekeeping. After reading your comment, I checked – there are no restrictions for keeping urban bees here. Zagreb is truly a green city, during spring everything is in bloom, but I’ve always wondered what is bees food during summer months? And if we place them at the rooftop, would they know their way home? This sounds OK., but I admit that would require lots of learning.

  6. well done! also consider something like a passionfruit, around the edges, trellising can provide wind protection for other crops and create microclimate.

    1. Wind is definitely the most important issue in rooftop gardening. One approach is to select wind resistant crops (like carrots, beets and onions), and the other – like you are suggesting -is to provide some sort of windshield. While our tomatoes and peppers were still small we were covering them with big bottomless plastic water containers (5 gallon/18L). Maybe we should consider natural wind protection like you are suggesting. Thanks.

  7. Bravo! Well done. Comfrey tea is the most marvellous feed for plants. I cut mine up and soak it in buckets of water and leave it until it smells (+/- 1 week in a South African summer) – won’t be practical in an apartment building in Zagreb. Have been to Zagreb a number of times – my family are from the Peljesac. Comfrey, chopped finely in a food processor and mixed with aqueous cream (or something similar) is wonderful for healing of broken boned, when applied externally

    1. Dear Diana, I’m so glad to find more people from Croatia here collecting and applying permaculture principles. Real Food local production, distribution and consumption is the key for resolving crisis, it could be the solution for our poor economy in Croatia (Feel free to contact me through my blog or Facebook profile).
      If I had only known all benefits of comfrey when I’d broken my leg two years ago- it would’ve healed much faster. Thanks for the advice.

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