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Gardening in the Shade
Fruits, Vegetables and Perennial Foods that Grow in Shade
One of the things you learn really quickly when living on a woodland homestead is that sunlight is precious. Most families living in on small suburban lots (or gardening in urban balconies) feel the same way. There’s always a fence in the way, a shade tree just over the fence in your neighbor’s yard, or simply the shadow of your own house or building to contend with.
In our first years here, growing food was all about growing what would thrive in part or full shade, and harvesting what the woods could provide.
We grow mushrooms like shiitake and winecaps, tap maples, birch and other hardwoods, forage for dozens of different woodland wild plants, mushrooms and nuts, raised pigs, chickens, rabbits and goats on woodland pasture…the list goes on.
But one of our main goals was to incorporate perennial food sources into the existing landscape, and to make walking through the yard like a leisurely stroll through the park. Shady, sweet smelling…and absolutely brimming with food that you could just reach out and harvest.
It was a dream, but in the past decade, we’ve come a long way toward realizing that potential.
Most annual vegetables require full sun to produce fruit, and that makes sense. They need lots of energy to give some back, as tomatoes, squash, and corn.
Still, there are plenty of vegetables that grow in the shade, mostly things like lettuce and other greens, that don’t need to produce fruit to be useful to people. We plant those wherever we can, but since they’re annuals…it’s a new job every single spring.
What I’m most excited about is perennials of all kinds. Perennial vegetables, things that you can plant once, and they’ll produce for a lifetime.
And, more specifically, perennial vegetables that grow in shade. There are quite a few.
But what really brings on the smiles, from this mama and her littles alike, is learning just how many sweet fruits grow in shade. Some fruits, like currants and gooseberries, actually burn in full sun and will only truly produce in heavy shade.
Every single fruit in the bowl below is a shade-grown fruit, either in part shade or full shade. You’ll notice there are no apples in that basket, but there is plenty of diversity to keep you satisfied.
There are enough varieties to keep you in fruit from spring through fall without batting an eye.
And the best part is, once they’re planted, all they need is a bit of mulch every few years, and you can harvest for a lifetime. Weeds hate the shade, you see…and these well-adapted plants know that growing in the shade has its own unique benefits.
Permaculture Growing Guides
Beyond plants that grow shade, I’ve put together quite a few permaculture growing guides for y’all over the years. Here are some of the most popular ones:
60+ Unique Fruits & Nuts for Cold Climates (Zones 3 to 5)
How to Grow Hardy Kiwi (Hardy to -40 F)
Things You Might Need This Week
Making Maple Syrup at Home - It’s peak sugaring season in Vermont, and a single backyard tree will produce about a quart of syrup.
Dandelion Tincture - We’re a ways off from our first dandelions up here in the north, but I know most of your yards are covered in yellow blooms by now. Preserve them for medicine year-round!
Planting Sprouted Garlic - If your garlic is starting to sprout in your pantry, now’s the perfect time to plant.
Recipes to keep your larder full all year round…in season now:
Salt-Cured Egg Yolks - Our ladies are laying like crazy right now, and these are one of the more creative ways to preserve eggs at home.
Beef Bacon - Pork’s not the only thing that makes good bacon! You can make this easily at home; no smoker required.
20+ Flower Jellies - You can make homemade jelly from any edible flower, including dandelion, wild violet, lilac, and more. If you have spring flowers growing in your yard, they might well make a tasty jelly!
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Things I’m Loving
What is Money? ~ Greta from Love off Grid just posted a really thoughtful piece on the nature of money, and building, storing, and bartering with real wealth. It’s timely, considering the current state of bank turmoil.
Meaningful Fiction for Children ~ Slowdown Farmstead started a thread inviting her readers to recommend meaningful, impactful books for children from their own childhoods. The recommendations are amazing, and if you haven’t read these books, they’re worth a look even as an adult.
North Spore ~ Mushrooms are perfect for shade gardening, and this is where we get our mushroom cultivation supplies. Based out of Portland Maine, they’re one of the best sources anywhere. They sell easy tabletop mushroom kits for beginners (great for gifts), outdoor log kits for intermediate growers, and both sawdust spawn and plug spawn (which are what we use to grow wine cap mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms). Use coupon code “SELFRELIANCE” for 10% off your order.
What are you harvesting, preserving, building, or exploring on your homestead this week? I’d love to hear about it!
Leave me a note in the comments…
(Comments only, please. Emails tend to get lost in my inbox, and as much as I’d love to get back to each and every one, my screen time is very limited…and things fall through the cracks, and emails get buried in my inbox. If you comment here, they’re all in one place, and it’s much easier to get back to every single one.)
Until Next Time,
Ashley at Practical Self Reliance