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Tips for Shade Gardening for edible gardeners

So you have shade… don’t be sad!  We love all of our big trees in Evanston and the shade they give us in the summer time, but our typical vegetable gardens don’t.  With a few adjustments and maybe some strategy, you can work with the sunshine you have to grow some delicious and interesting fruits and vegetables to add to your family’s table.

The first key to a shade garden is to really pay attention to how much sunlight actually comes through.  Full sun is considered to be 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day, and that is what you need to be a successful tomato, pepper, eggplant grower.  Chances are, if you are reading this, you do not have enough sunlight to grow those plants in a raised bed.  DON’T PANIC! 

Raised Beds:  You can grow other things in a raised bed.  Cool weather crops like peas, lettuces, spinach might grow better in your situation than in your neighbor’s glorious sun-soaked back yard.  For ideas of the types of plants you can grow in your shaded raised bed, just do an internet search for “shade vegetable garden” and you will get plenty of results.  Don’t forget to look into herbs as well.  While they might not get as big as your neighbor’s, many of herbs will be able to provide you with delicious green leaves to use in your cooking and salads.

Mobile Containers:  If you MUST have a tomato, and aren’t afraid of some additional work, get some large planters (about the size of a five gallon bucket), put wheels on it, plant your one tomato plant per container, and wheel the container around during the day to catch the rays.  This is definitely work- intensive, but will give you quality time with your plants every day and the opportunity to observe how your plant is doing.  Observing is the first step to staying in front of pests and diseases, so maybe your tomato will be better than your neighbor’s.

Edible Landscaping:  Look around.  Is your WHOLE yard really shady?  Or is it just your back yard?  Or is it just the fenced in part of your backyard that no one can see where you imagined your garden would go?  Time to start re-imagining your garden and landscaping AS THE SAME THING.  What if you put in a border of Swiss Chard instead of a bed of pansies this spring?  Can you sneak a pepper plant in beside that rosebush?  A hanging basket with strawberries dripping over the edge can look beautiful on a front porch.  There are many resources out there to help people incorporate edibles into their landscape. Some pairings of edibles and ornamentals are even beneficial as one plant disrupts the pests of the other. 

You have plenty of options even if your sunlight is limited.  Look into it.  Try some things out.  Don’t be afraid to experiment, and remember, we all have “failed” gardens sometimes, but the only “failed” gardener is one who stops trying.