Sunday, December 19

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Knowing vegetables that grow in shade doubles your gardening space.

Many people do not consider putting a vegetable garden in the shade but there are plants that grow well in the depths of winter and require only 4-5 hours per day of light. It is those same plants that grow well in the unlighted greenhouse mid-winter that can tolerate a shady spot during the heat of summer.

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There are a variety of vegetable plants that cannot only survive in the shade but actually produce better with only 4-5 hours of daily light.

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Brassicas are a great warm and cold weather choice that will nutritionally benefit the household long term: Bokchoy, pak choy, the wide varieties of kale, swiss chard, cauliflower and brussell sprouts: Steam and eat or freeze. Brassicas have a unique character due to the many nutrients they offer to the dinner plate. Kale has protein as well as a boat-load of calcium and vitamin A. A cup of day will keep the doctor and Father-time away. Its a great anti-aging plant for the daily diet. Steam it with a bit of brown sugar, real butter and pepper. Create the brown sugar and butter sauce first and then pour over the kale to offset the bitterness. This is especially helpful for children and adults who can't palate the sometimes bitter taste. Just a small bit of this sauce changes the taste so don't over do it.

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A quick note on sugar substitute grown in the garden. Buttercup (not Butternut) squash makes a terrific thickener substitute for soups, stews, and gravies as well as a prime sugar substitute for tomato sauces and other sweet sauces. The main root base must be grown in the sun while the tendrils that travel east towards the sun, can tolerate partial shade. Plant on the east side of the garden so they have room to roam further east and develop the many fruits along the vine.

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Root vegetables are another pleasant tasting solution: radish, carrots, beets and the plethora of beet greens during warm weather, turnips and greens, parsnips (let them freeze hard for sweetness) and a variety of potatoes interplanted with horseradish which protects the potatoes and other root vegetables from pests.

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Beans have very few varieties that can tolerate shade but fava bean is one that can tolerate dappled or partial shade. As with most beans they are nitrogen replacements for the soil when tilled into the soil at the end of the season. As with any vegetable grown in the shade, the leaves and pods may be bigger when grown in the shade but the beans may be fewer. The advantage of shade is the number of pods produced in shade number far more than what are produced in sun. Since this bean can tolerate shade and cold weather, when the leaves fall from the trees that are producing shade, the bean will still produce and fill those pods with beans as the colder weather sets into the garden.

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If you want instant gratification, trellis some peas of all kinds: steam and eat or freeze for winter stir frys. You can also eat the tendrils from the tops of the plants: steamed and seasoned with an olive oil and lime sauce with cinnamon and a touch of clove or horseradish.

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Other instant gratification plants are lettuce, spinach and radish. There are colorful varieties that bring nutrition to the table in a cheerful way. The Spinach Fiorana variety is a terrific choice for containers that can grow outside during reasonable temperatures and then be brought inside and put under a 4 hour per day light for fresh eating in winter. Malabar spinach is a vining spinach that can be started in containers, top-harvested before frost and brought inside for the winter as well. Spinach takes very little light (like lettuce 4 hours per day) to grow well.

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Let us not forget celery, calendula and cress. All are able to withstand partial shade in your vegetable garden and can be used not only as interplantings with sun loving vegetables but can be put aside into the partial shade area of your gardens. These vegetables can also tolerate a bit of cold weather. Use your celery in soups and stews; cress in sandwiches, and calendula in salads or softening cremes for those gardening-hands of yours.

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Keep in mind that most of these vegetables need to have sun when first breaking through the soil as seedlings, but after they get their third leaf they are ready for the partial shade area of your landscape or gardens.

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Financial advice? What your family eats now is what you should plant in the garden. A small spaced garden is not where you should experiment with new foods. Taste them from the grocers first and then determine the space you need to provide for them in your garden. If no one likes them, then save the space for what everyone likes to make sure your vegetable garden is providing what is popular and necessary for your household. In this way your vegetable garden will provide financial benefit to the household as well.