Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Growing in Shady Spots

Just about all food gardening is done in the sun. But I have sections of land that have shade issues. And I do not want to cut the bordering trees down.  I hated just to give up on those areas, so I experimented. I asked other gardeners what they had tried in shady spots, I looked around my neighborhood to see what we growing naturally in shade, and I searched the internet. I discovered that I could indeed utilize the shaded areas. Now I'm not talking about dense shade or all day shade. But I have spots of dappled shade, others with a few hours of morning shade, others with afternoon shade. 

My first thought was coffee. I have indeed planted coffee trees in the heavily shaded areas, but I wanted vegetables. So coffee was relegated to those spots that got too much shade for anything else. Ok, back to veggies.

My first experiment was sweet potatoes. And surprisingly, I was successful. Since that first attempt, I have discovered that some varieties of sweet potatoes produce quite fine in semi-shade, while some do not. My current shade area for sweets gets morning shade until 11 a.m., then full sun the rest of the day.

In this "morning shade" section I also can grow greens : chard, mustard, Chinese greens, beet and turnip greens, purslane, and leaf lettuce. Plus tulsi, cutting celery, oregano, basils. I am trying some new stuff this year but I don't know yet how they will do : okinawan spinach, New Zealand spinach, and malabar spinach.

On the other side of the field I have another section that gets great sun until 1 pm, then complete shade.  There I can grow beets, rutabagas, Portuguese cabbage, collards, potatoes, bush beans, short vined peas, kale, and broccoli. But I notice that the beans and peas are not quite as productive as those grown in the full sun. But they still do ok.

Along one area I have a strip of dappled shade after 3 hours of morning sun. I find that a local brushy tree called mamaki grows just fine there. Mamaki is used to make a tea. I can also grow regular tea bushes there, so those two produce a significant portion of my homemade teas.

I'm quite pleased with myself on this shade growing experiment. I've worked out a way to use most of the designated garden area. I'm still toying with veggies to see what grows where, which grows best.


  1. I would have guessed that tea and coffee would do quite well in shady areas. I noticed several places where bananas and plantain [the cooking banana, not the weed] seemed very happy, with fairly good sets of fruits, too, with pretty limited sun exposure. You could probably get lilikoi to grow in or through shady areas, . Mango makes its own shade! Maybe a tilapia tank would work in the shade?

  2. Good suggestions! I never thought about banana trees, but you're right. Now that I think about it, I've seen them in shady areas. I'll keep that in mind.

    There is a giant lilikoi patch about three miles from me. Dozens of people collect lilikois there and there are still plenty that would go to waste if I didn't pick them up for the chickens. I'm always giving fruits away during lilikoi season. If that land ever gets cleared, the whole community will be sad. Guess we'll just have to grow our own then.

    Tilapia tanks would be a good consideration for people in warm areas. I'm at 2300 feet, so it's a bit cool. Thus tilapia would need to be in the sun for warmth here,so I'm told. I'm just starting out with tilapia, do I have a lot to learn.

    Twice now I've tried growing cocao, which is supposed to be an understory tree. Both times I managed to kill the trees. Don't know why. Maybe my elevation is too high? Maybe too cool? Maybe ignorant novice farmer? But after investing $40 twice, I've given up for now. I need to learn more before trying again.