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How to Grow a Vegetable Garden in Low Light

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I was lucky enough to speak with the lovely and garden savvy, Shawna Coronado on a few occasions. She oozes green, and has the most wonderful and upbeat personality. You can’t help, but love her! She has shared How to Plant a Sustainable Front Lawn Veggie Garden and How to Build a Vertical Living Wall Garden on my blog. I am very excited to have her share her knowledge on how she grew a vegetable garden in low light, and donated some of her produce to her local food pantry when harvested. Very cool, Shawna!

When a very well known garden expert (who will go unmentioned) said to me at a dinner party last year, “really, dear, vegetables are full sun animals!” I about choked on my drink. This is a huge mythic untruth in common vegetable

practices – even among many so-called “experts”. Vegetables will indeed grow in shade. The secret is to pick the best vegetable varieties for the shady conditions.

This startling conversation inspired an epic rebuild of my traditional suburban back lawn into a French Potager Kitchen Garden gone shade crazy. Below I tell you how I did it and also what vegetables grow very well in shady conditions. Perhaps it will inspire you to put in your own amazing shade vegetable garden and help feed both your family and the community with organic vegetables.

What Vegetables Grow in Shade:

First step for building a vegetable garden in the shade is to lay out a plan which supports shade loving vegetables. There are many different vegetables which will grow well in part-shade, and generally speaking, if the plant has leaves or stems that you are harvesting, then it should perform alright in shade. Plants that produce fruits or larger vegetables (like watermelons) do not typically do well in shade. Below is a list of shade-loving vegetables -

  • Arugula
  • Basil
  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Celery
  • Collards
  • Corn Maiche
  • Cucumbers
  • Herbs (i.e. chives, cilantro, lemon balm, mint, oregano, parsley, scallions)
  • Kale (all types)
  • Lettuces (all types)
  • Mustard Greens
  • Pak Choi
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard

Out of all the vegetables that were planted and harvested this season in the garden, the three best performers in shade were Basil, Celery, and Dinosaur Kale.

Below is the design I used for the shade potager garden:

Building the Basic Shade Vegetable Garden

  • As a first lawn conversion step I had to remove the grass and build the basic structure of the potage garden. Grass removal is a challenge and it was quite a shock to see my back yard look like a mud pit. I decided on four raised beds and a wine bottle path. You can go to this link to see the basics on the grass removal and wine bottle path building process – LINK.
  • After removing the grass, and laying out the paths, the next step was to assemble the raised beds which I got from Greenland Gardener. This turned out to be remarkably easy because the Greenland kits take about five minutes to assemble each, with no drilling needed. Hooray!
  • Once the kits were assembled, it was then time to fill them with organic soil from Organic Mechanics Soil. This was a very important step to me because I wanted all the vegetables to be organically grown. I also added rotted manure for an extra kick of natural fertilizer.
  • Planting went quickly – I planted both vegetative plants from Burpee Home Gardensand seeds from Botanical Interests Seed Company. As you can see in the top photo, by the end of summer the raised beds were completely overflowing with plants in shady conditions which have less than two hours of direct sunlight per day.

A french potager kitchen garden success!

Shawna is the author of the critically acclaimed book, Gardening Nude, which is a guide for living a green lifestyle. She is the CEO of MAD 4 World Enterprises and Partner of 78 Pesos, which is a video production company that specializes in sustainable online content. Shawna is an on-camera spokesperson, newspaper columnist, internationally recognized keynote speaker, environmental and health correspondent. She is an experienced spokesperson with green lifestyle living, organic gardening, culinary, and eco content creation who campaigns for social good. You can learn more about her at http://www.shawnacoronado.com or follow her on twitter @ShawnaCoronado

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PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.

MEDICAL DISCLOSURE: The information included on this website is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. None of the opinions expressed here are meant to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. You should always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation or if you have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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17 Responses to How to Grow a Vegetable Garden in Low Light

  1. Brenna @ Almost All The Truth May 24, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

    This is fantastic information! We have a smallish garden now, but I have big plans. I can’t wait to use this next year!

  2. Kevin May 24, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    Thanks Shawna!
    Your article just totally changed the game in my backyard!!

  3. Jah-ne May 24, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    Great article, unfortunately, Burpee does business with Monsanto. I see it as an Organic Gardener’s duty to avoid supporting the ventures of Monsanto.

    • Good Girl Gone Green May 24, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

      Thanks! I had no idea! I will remember that when I actually start a garden! :)

  4. CarrieK May 24, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    Beautiful garden :) I did a potager too; but I did not dig out my grass. Too much work for me! I just put the (bottomless) beds on top of the grass and then added organic soil. I have a pretty shady yard too, and get my seed varieties from Territorial Seed Co. They have a great selection of seeds that do well in the Pacific NW.

  5. All Natural Katie May 26, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    Thank you for sharing. This is a great list!

  6. Susan May 30, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    Great post! I’ve shared it on my facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Learning-and-Yearning/229256057187940.

  7. The Nerdy Farm Wife June 11, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    This is great information! I happen to have a sister whose house has a very shaded yard, but she wants to start gardening more. I’m going to pass this list along to her for reference!

  8. val June 11, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    Don’t forget about root veggies like carrots! They do just fine in the shade!!!

  9. Betsy June 11, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    I have grown tomatoes in a part of the yard that gets only around 4 hours of direct sunlight a day, so it can be done. Nice to know other veggies that have traditionally been known as “full sun only” plants can also be done in a shady yard. In fact I have a volunteer green bean plant growing in my compost pile and it gets only a couple of hours of filtered sunlight a day.

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