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Problem Garden? Not a Problem!!

My daughter called me the other day, in tears. She had just gotten home from the store with her load of landscape timbers, soil, fertilizer, and a vast array of gardening tools. She had gone online and ordered several varieties of heirloom seed and was going to get the garden bed ready so that when she received them, she’d be able to plant without delay.

Understand, this was her first venture into gardening. Although we had gardened and canned foods during her growing up years, in typical teenage rebellious fashion, she took no interest in the process or learning how to do it. It wasn’t until she was a grown woman, married, and with a child of her own that she began to see the benefit of being able to provide her family with garden-fresh foods free of chemicals and genetic manipulation.

It seems that she had overlooked one little bitty thing… every inch of dirt she had was in the shade most of the day. After listening for a few minutes, I told her things were not as bad as they looked, and that yes, she could have a garden but it would take a little more ingenuity on her part. Most problems of the garden can be solved in much the same way. That Love the Shade!

Most people envision their gardens as being in full sun all day long, and yet there may be some of us that have more shade in our yards than full sunshine. Is it still possible to have a vegetable garden? I say yes, you can! You may not be able to have all of your favorites, but then again you may be able to grow plants that others cannot.

So what can you grow in a shady garden? All varieties of lettuce, arugula, endive, cress, radicchio, Swiss chard, and spinaches; members of the cabbage family such as broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and Chinese cabbage are also able to grow in areas of limited sunshine. Herbs such as sage, rosemary, and bay do well in shaded spots. Mustard greens don’t mind the shade, and asparagus will grow as well, although you’ll get fewer spears.

All plants do need some time in the sunlight, but those listed above are able to grow where other plants won’t. If your plants are growing under or near trees, they may be fighting for the proper nutrients to survive. A soil test kit is available at your local nursery or garden center, so test to see what you may need to supplement your soil with. Better yet, build a raised bed and be sure to add an organic, totally biodegradable weed barrier to keep the tree roots and sprouts from coming up before building the soil base for your plants. Then they won’t be competing for the nutrients from the trees.

Utilize that Garden Space!!

But what if you have just a tiny garden spot to begin with? You have plenty of sun, just not much space! One of the best ways to make the most of your garden space is to use the “three sisters” method of planting. This is the method of growing three different crops together to maximize the growth and production of each plant. It’s not as “neat” as a row garden, but it’s much more effective in space utilization.

“Three sisters” planting is a form of agriculture created by the Native Americans long before the first settlers arrived. (In fact, the Indians teaching the settlers this form of planting actually helped insure the survival of those first colonies that nearly starved to death.)

So how is this accomplished? Let’s take corn, squash, and beans. Prepare you bed, building a mound about 12 inches high and 18 to 36 inches in diameter. You’ll want about three feet of space between each mound. If you live in a particularly dry area, flatten your mound and make a shallow depression in the center so that water doesn’t run off.

Plant four to seven corn seeds in the center of the mound, about 6 inches apart. Once they’ve come up, you’ll thin these to three or four stalks. When your corn is about 4 inches high (in about a week or two) and after thinning, plant pole bean seeds in a circle around the corn, about six inches away from the corn. Plant about 6 seeds. At the base of the mound, plant about 4 squash plants, a foot away from the beans.

Once your beans start growing, make sure the tendrils are twining themselves around the corn stalks. This is what gives support to your pole beans. The wonderful thing about this way of gardening is that pollination seems more successful as there is a variety of flowers for insects to pollinate. In addition, the beans and corn help ward off harmful insects that can destroy your squash crop.

You Can Still Grow These Sun Hogs But…

There are plants that hate shade: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and all varieties of squash. So use your shady yard to your advantage and plant your sun lovers in pots – on bases with rollers for heavy containers – so that they can be moved around your garden area to maximize the sunlight you have available.

You can also utilize a window sill, a patio, a balcony, or a well-lit area of the house for container gardening. Some plants that have vining properties (such as pole beans and cucumbers) will require more space than others, but with a little bit of planning and foresight, it can be done.

The only thing is that with container gardening, you’ll have to be diligent about the soil prep, watering, and the fertilizer you use. You’ll need to be careful not to burn your plants up, but still provide them the nutrients they need. You’ll need to keep them watered, yet not drown them. Using a synthetic soil mix is much better than regular dirt because the mixture is free of disease and weeds. It’s also light-weight, holds moisture, and yet drains well.

You can prepare your own synthetic soil mixture by using the following recipe:

  • 4 quarts of vermiculite
  • 4 quarts of peat moss
  • 1 tablespoon of superphosphate (0-20-0)
  • 2 tablespoons of lime
  • Protogrow®

Just because your garden spot doesn’t fit the perfect definition of “usable” land doesn’t mean that any of your attempts to garden will be worthless. With a little ingenuity and use of hardy established heirlooms like those seed from Heirloom Solutions, even problem gardens can produce!


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