April 30, 2019

Urban Gardeners: The 3 Best Veggies to grow in Low Light.


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I’m always a little too eager for spring to hurry up and get here.

And I don’t mean early spring when the snow’s still falling and everything’s dirty and slushy. I mean the true spring—bees are out, the weather’s warm, flowers are blooming.

These days, I feel less grandma-ish when I tell people that gardening is one of my favorite things to do. Growing our own food is becoming increasingly trendy, especially as we learn more and more about the benefits of organic produce.

I don’t have a ton of room, though. My backyard is tiny, so I’m stuck with container gardening. And growing these veggies does not actually save me any money. Not at the quantity I can reasonably produce, anyway, in my limited space. I like to joke about my $50 tomatoes, by the time you take into account the initial cost of the containers and seeds/plants, time and energy, water, soil, and the number of fruits I can actually produce from a plant.

But, that tomato tastes better than anything I’d buy at the supermarket. Honestly. Have you compared a homegrown tomato to one you bought at the store? If you haven’t, you’ll be shocked. (And you might even learn how much you either love or hate them, once you realize what they actually taste like.)

Anyway, along with a small space, I also have kind of the worst location. I get a good dash of morning light across part of my yard, and that’s about it. So, sun-loving produce like peppers and cucumbers don’t turn out so well. I can still get away with growing some full-sun veggies like the aforementioned tomatoes, but they don’t grow as fast as they normally would, and with my already short growing season in Alberta, Canada, I prefer to mostly plant what will give me the best, healthiest yield.

If you’re faced with the same problem in your own small, urban space, give these a try.

  1. Lettuce—Lettuce can be planted early and prefers cooler temps, so shady areas work well. There are a ton of different varieties of greens you can choose. We love to grow leaf and romaine…we’re kind of basic that way.
  2. Peas and bush beans—These are sometimes classified as sun-loving but still do pretty well in the shade. Most of us who have light issues are usually also dealing with a small space, so I suggest bush beans rather than climbing varieties. They’re much easier to manage without a trellis, which is not very compatible with containers.
  3. Carrots—Root veggies do alright in the shade because they have little greenery, with most of the energy dedicated to what’s underground. For those of you who must garden in containers, there are short, stubby varieties of carrots available. My current favorite is the Danvers Half-Long from Pacific Northwest Seeds.
  4. Many common herbs—This is a bonus, but definitely worth it. Whenever I’m cooking in the summer, I dash barefoot out into my backyard to snip whatever I need. The convenience, the taste…hell, yes! Try growing mint, parsley, cilantro, chives, thyme, and lemon balm. Worth mentioning: many of these are perfect for making summery drinks too.

Tips for gardening in shady areas:

  1. Make sure your soil is top notch! If you don’t have the light, the next best thing is to make sure your plants have all the nutrients they need. If you don’t compost yet, what are you waiting for? Use that, or buy it if you don’t have any/enough for the season. Other things to add to your soil: worm castings, coffee grounds (these don’t need to be composted), and mulch on the top.
  2. Don’t drown your plants. Because your garden isn’t in direct sun, you probably don’t need to water quite as often. Keep an eye on the moisture of your soil and don’t overdo it. Containers tend to dry out more quickly in hot weather, but they also tend to stay soggy in shadier areas after a lot of rain. A water meter is your best friend for both indoor and outdoor gardening.
  3. Watch out for slugs. They’ll eat all your hard work, and they love moist, shady areas. I usually relocate them outside my yard—they’ll either find a new place to munch, or get eaten by the birds. There are other methods to get rid of them, but most are pretty cruel, so I prefer to just do the nicest thing I can: check for them, move them, and let mother nature do the rest.

Have any good tips to add for those of us who love gardening but don’t have huge, sunny yards? Share in the comments!

author: Catherine Monkman

Image: @Ecofolks

Image: Brenna Huff/Unsplash

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Julie Balsiger May 2, 2019 7:41am

This makes me so happy. While setting up my new place, I put way more effort in the house plants and small container garden than the furnishings. Taking a quick break each day to run outside and just take care of the plants has been a delightful meditation for me. I also grow my own herbs and small veggies. Salad (argula mostly) I grow in hanging pots so the slugs (and cats!) can’t get there. For cats that like to play or spray, a sprinkle of cayenne pepper in the top of the soil to keep those otherwise lovely critters at bay. To start my herbs, I cut plastic water bottles in half to make little green houses and put those on the pots. They self-water as the condensation builds with the sunlight and protect the sprouts from wind or bugs. xoxo

Corti Cooper May 2, 2019 7:05am

Great article Cat!

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Catherine Monkman

Catherine Monkman is a shy, friendly Canadian (former Manitoban, current Albertan) living in a small home with her family. Cat spends her free time reading, gardening, cooking, and journaling, and always gathering life lessons along the way. Cat began contributing as a typo vigilante and now eagerly serves as an editor, writer, and student of the mindful life.