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