Growing in the Shade

Not everyone is blessed with open space, plenty of sunlight and perfect soil.  If you're one of the 'unlucky' ones but still yearn to have a robust garden, this post is for you.

Let's start off with the soil.  In our nearly 30 years of gardening, we have never tested the soil. Perhaps that was to our determent but I don't believe so.  Our gardens typically produce well without any intervention except the following;
  • Properly till the garden area with either a shovel, pitch fork or rototiller.  You want the soil to be loose so plant roots have the freedom to take hold and prosper. Not everyone believes in tilling, but we found it to not only be beneficial but makes planting easier.
  • Adding leaves in the Fall.  They will break down over the winter and be ready to till into the soil in the Spring.  Gardener's Supply Company explains "Leaves are packed with trace minerals that trees draw up from deep in the soil.  When added to your garden, leaves feed earthworms and beneficial microbes.  They lighten heavy soils and help sandy soils retain moisture".
  • Compost.  We compost year round.  It's either put into the compost pile or directly into the garden.
  • Rotate plants every year or every other year.  Wikipedia puts it very simply; "Crop rotation is the practive of growing a series of dissimilar or different types of crops in the same area in sequenced seasons.  It help in reducing soil erosion and increases soil fertility and crop yield."  What the means is don't put your tomato plants in the same place every year.  Change it up and reap the benefits.
  • Our best weed fighter is grass!  Take your clippings and put them right in the garden. We pile it up in between the rows.  Be sure NOT to directly cover any plants, it will kill them. Another bonus, you're adding nutrients that can be tilled into the soil every year. I would however caution you, if you use chemicals on your grass, don't use it in your garden.  If your goal is growing heirloom or organic fruits and vegetables, then adding chemically treated grass will defeat your efforts.

Let's talk about shade and determining what you have and will be able to grow.  Penn State Extension has a guidance on determining your specific conditions.  Here are the basics:
  • Heavy shade; no direct sunlight reaches the ground (such as under dense evergreen trees).
  • Moderate shade; mostly reflected light (such as a typical hardwood forest).
  • Light shade; there is partially filtered sun (such as under birch trees).
Finally, you will need to determine just what type of shade you have; Heavy, Moderate or Light. Take a few days to note where the sun reaches and for how long.  Once you have an area chosen and determine how many hours of sun vs. shade it gets, you're ready to plant.  ALWAYS keep in mind, gardens are temperamental, not everything grows when or how it's supposed to.  Most successful gardens go through several years of experimentation.

I agree, you don't have a whole lot of options when dealing with shade, but you do have some and that's always better than none.

If you'd like to research more before diving in, check out these additional, informative posts.

Mother Earth News:  40 Gardening Tips to Maximize Your Garden
Smiling Gardener:  Checklist for Growing Nutrient-Dense Organic Food
Penn State Extention:  Vegetable Planting and Transplanting Guide
Planet Natural:  Vegetable Gardening Tips and Tricks
Gardener's Supply Company:  Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

Now that you've harvested your garden, it's time to enjoy!  There are a wide variety of recipes on our Pinterest Boards; choose the right one for you.

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