The truth about greens grown in shade.

Once you realize you have more shade than you want, you are probably going to start researching what vegetables grow in the shade. And you are going to come across a million articles with greens topping the list. And how easy they are to grow in shade. But if you have ever grown in full sun and then have to switch to shade you are going to see a whole world of difference. Here are a few things I have found to be true and/or helpful.

They will be smaller.

I’m not going to sugar coat it, the leaves will be smaller. This means you have to grow WAY more plants to be able to harvest as much as you want.

Seed germination can be slower.

Less sun usually causes things to sprout at a slower rate. They WILL sprout, it’s just going to take some time. I get around this by starting seeds inside and transplanting out. That way they have a nice head start.

Slugs and caterpillars might be a problem.

At our home we use no pesticides of any kind. So depending on where you are on your journey of building up beneficial plants and animals, you may suffer from bugs, especially slugs in shady conditions. Our first two years it was incredibly hard to grow anything in the brassica family, like kale. But once we had flowers planted and growing, especially ones that attract wasps, they mostly became a thing of the past. I wish I was offered this encouragement at first because I definitely had moments I was ready to give up completely.

They will take longer to bolt.

Finally, a positive! My spinach and lettuce bolt weeks later than those planted in sunnier conditions. I can actually grow cilantro without it bolting immediately! Maybe the leaves are smaller but I’m harvesting longer. Kind of balances out, right?

Find what greens work for you.

My favorite greens to grow in shade are spinach, mustards, kale, Malabar spinach, sorrel, and nettles. I also enjoy tons of violet leaves and dandelion that grow on their own. Like everything to do with the shade this has come with a learning curve, but I am happy to say I now grow all the greens I want.

What greens will you be growing in the shade?

Spring is coming.

We have a small homestead but the chores are endless. The past week of warm days we have been working on getting everything ready for the growing season, even though this weekend will be dropping into the teens! Fingers crossed the Nanking cherry will still have a harvest after this.

What we have been up to.

We have a few small raised beds along our fence that grow air potatoes and whatever else I decide to throw in them that season. For as much shade as they get they always give a pretty decent harvest. The problem I have had is dirt seeping out of the cracks and the top of the beds moving lower and lower down. So this year I finally dug out the dirt and relined the beds with old pillowcases to hold everything in. This is no permanent solution, but at least it is a decent way to make use of something that may otherwise be thrown in the landfill.

Raised bed lined with pillowcase

I try to plant in every area that gets any sun so I love containers in the center driveway. I am now up to two greenstalks, which I absolutely adore, and tons of five gallon buckets I’ve accumulated over the years. Plus a few other large containers I’ve acquired or made, like the ones from a busted rain barrel I sawed in half. I have been topping all these off with dirt I dig up from the chicken yard, the best compost you will ever plant in, and throwing out any that have deteriorated to the point they aren’t usable. Some of the containers are not filled all the way because i will be growing potatoes in them.

The current hodgepodge of containers. More to be added soon

We have also added a few more birds to the flock, two more khaki Campbell and two blue Swedish. Ducklings really are some of the cutest baby animals I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around.

One of the new babies

And the seed starting. It is the time of year where we can not eat meals at our tiny table because it is full of seedlings and sweet potatoes. If you are low on extra space like we are then I suggest switching out some of your regular lamp bulbs with grow lights. The led grow bulbs have such low wattage you can put them just about anywhere ,which means you can grow just about anywhere, and don’t need a crazy grow setup to do it.

Seed starting

I’ve also done some bare root planting (raspberry and aronia), potato planting in the mountainside garden, and scrubbed the winter grunge off the sides of our home so everything is feeling fresh and new for the season ahead. It has been busy, but it feels good to be getting my hands dirty again.

What are you doing to prepare?

Save some money and plant a stick.

In most areas it is getting close to the end of bare root season. And your last chance to take hardwood cuttings. These are two ways of propagating plants that help make it possible to start growing on a tiny budget and I wanted to share before it was too late.

What is a bare root you ask?

It is a tuber, tree, or shrub in it’s dormant state. So basically a root with no plant or stick with no leaves.

Bare roots are awesome because

  1. They are cheap
  2. They are asleep so handle being transplanted extremely well.

Generally they cost half of what a fully leafed out plant would cost. I have saved hundreds planting bare roots.

And if you know anyone with a patch of sunchokes or air potatos I’m sure they wouldn’t mind giving you a few tubers.

Hardwood cutting?

This is my favorite type of plant stage because usually it’s 100% free or an absolute fraction of the price.

You can’t take hardwood cuttings from all plants, but lucky for us many berry bushes such as blueberry, elderberry, and Nanking cherry handle this very well.

Of course search the internet to see if the plant can handle this first, or you can always go for it and see what happens, but the general way you do it is take about a six inch cutting from the plant right above a leaf node, and then shove the stick in the ground. That’s it. The plant has to be dormant or barely budding leaves for this to work, but I’ve had about a 95% success rate in doing this.

These are two simple but very effective ways I have saved tons of money and been able to plant loads of edibles. So go plant some sticks before it’s too late!

The mountainside garden.

Last year, in our mountainside garden, we grew enough Yukon gold potatoes to feed our family from June through December.

That was our first year growing in our three terrace garden. Yes, some crops didn’t fare as well but the wonderful thing about gardening is how easy it is to learn from your mistakes. AND, you don’t know if it will work until you try.

This garden area maxes out at 5 hours of sun. Some of that sunlight I’m accounting for being dappled through tree canopy. We have taken down quite a few trees over the years to get to this point.

The final goal we would like to achieve with our mountain would be taking down about 30ish more trees, building more terraces, and planting up fruit and nut trees in the old trees place. Possibly a few mountain goats fenced in somewhere and maybe a couple woodland pigs.

It has been hard work. Besides hiring an arborist for a couple large trees, everything has been done by hand. Terraces were dug with ho and shovel. Trees cut down by Drew, who is now pretty darn good at dropping a tree exactly where he wants it to go.

Hand digging some of the terraces. We used logs with old sheets as retaining walls to hold in dirt.

When we initially moved in we never considered the steep slope as a growing option until I stumbled upon Joe Hollis of mountain gardens and this video

I felt very inspired by both and after showing Drew he felt the same and our work began.

So this is where we are today. A few terraces and some big dreams.

Can I see the baby chicks?

My daughter woke me up at 3:54 this morning. 3:54.

It is not December 25th. We have no exciting pre-made plans for the day. And we are fortunate to not be experiencing a middle of the night stomach bug. So why?

So in asking Rockie why she was up so early she answered my question with a question and asked, “can I go see the baby chicks?”

Oh yeah. In my short sleep I forgot we purchased a small addition of seven baby buff orpingtons.

Buff orpingtons are those big yellow chickens with the absolute sweetest demeanor. The first batch of chicks I ever had included one buff we named Minute Maid who we loved on for years.

My husband and I can’t come to a solid decision on raising a giant flock of meat birds or not so I thought I’d start adding on slowly with a good multi purpose one. We are also at a point where we need to cull a few of our egg layers so I thought they could also fill that hole.

Our diy brooder made from pallet wood

But back to being woken up at a ridiculous hour. I can’t get mad about it.

She woke me up because she is excited about this new life at our house. She wants to help care and raise something and I don’t even have to force her to do it. Maybe it is going to add a small inconvenience to our life until the newness wears off, but how cool is it that she gets to experience this and watch them grow and be part of it all?

A certain quote comes to mind

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”
-William Martin

We are going to get some eggs and meat from our purchase. Probably some really early mornings. But also a lot more.

If it’s too cold plant a Pawpaw.

I feel like I’m waking up from a long winters nap.

I live in zone 7a borderline 6b and we have started to have little bursts of warm air. The birds are going crazy and plants are starting to bud. I feel alive again.

If you garden you know what I’m talking about.

The hardest thing about this season of the garden is not rushing. Starting seeds six weeks too early might sound like a good idea, but I’ll tell you from experience it is more trouble than it is worth. And you really don’t get much of a head start compared to just starting when recommended. So what is a girl to do?

Start those perennials.

Living on my shady slope I have found edible perennials and herbs to be much of the way to go. They generally handle much tougher conditions than your average annual. And added bonus? Many of them love to be planted in the colder weather.

So that is what I’m doing. Planting seeds in pots to give them their little bit of chill time before they warm up and bloom.

One of my favorites is the good old Pawpaw. They are super trendy now, but I still remember the day my husband introduced them to me on his great grandmother’s property. They taste just like a banana and a mango had a baby. I still like to gather seeds from that tree, cold stratify in the fridge a few months, and then plant them out when spring fever is hitting.

So it’s early, and it’s not spring yet, but it’s getting closer.

What do you do when spring fever hits?

Marvelous mulch

I recently read a book about a couple who gave up their city lives to live in the desert. They were trying to learn and do as much for themselves on their own as they could. Sustainability was a major goal and the author talked about always trying to use resources that are near and abundant.

Her resources were much different than mine since she lived in the desert and I in a temperate rainforest. And I thought, “what is my resource?” Duh Julia.

Y’all. It’s wood. I am talking about wood again.

A resource we make use of most weeks is a giant mulch pile that is currently looking more like a mountain. From what I understand it is generally trees done through private contractors hired by the state and/or county. It is completely free. Many areas have something like this. You can also find free mulch through getchipdrop.com

This pile saves us hundreds of dollars each year. If you are keeping animals on a small homestead, or even just a garden, and have not used mulch you are missing out.

It smothers smells and helps turn poop into rich soil, retains water around plants, and if nothing else, improves the overall appearance of your place. All the while using something that was harvested and created with all natural materials within miles from your area.

What resource are you making good use of?

Enjoy the work.

The focus the past few days has been wood.

Sounds exciting right?

But it is. I feel as if my batteries have been recharged.

That van full of candy for kids I talked about? Well it has been absolutely loaded down with reclaimed wood. And there is more we have to go back for!

In the wrong frame of mind stripping large pallets and hauling wood could simply be seen as an arduous task. But when your head is right, it is abundance and exercise.

When choosing to live a debt free lifestyle you must always be open to opportunity.

Opportunity presented itself as free wood.

So rather than view it as the chore it could so easily be mistaken for, we embraced it.

We got to get a little arm and back workout, stripping boards, lifting and carrying.

We rescued building material from the waste stream.

And we got to enjoy each other’s company all while doing so.

Boredom never entered the picture.

We were happy.

The calm in crazy.

It is raining.

After two weeks of having melted snow turned ice covering the ground and making it impossible to be productive outdoors.

Huge downside of the slope- when it’s slick, it’s really slick.

Besides one day of wood splitting, I have been inside.

Locked up. In a small home.

I start to feel crazy after so many days, dreaming of what all we will do and change on our petite homestead this year. New goals we will set.

And it is in these thoughts and daydreams and feelings of wanting to climb the walls that I am thankful.

Thankful that five years ago we did not take on more than we can handle.

Thankful I drive a car that is very close to my age.

And a van that may or may not look like I’m going to offer your kid some candy.

Thankful we have said no to new gadgets and yes to simplicity.

For our animals and plants that nourish body and soul.

For our single wide trailer, that is not a trendy tiny home with a not so tiny price tag.

Thankful my girls will grow up to appreciate the small stuff.

And know how to do things with their own two hands.

Thankful that moments of crazy gave me peace.

.

My favorite edible and medicinal vines to grow in the shade

Madeintheshademinifarm can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

We are deep into winter now and I find myself daydreaming of warmer days. Ready to get my hands in the dirt and see what the spring garden will bring.

I have many shady nooks that I have been able, through trial and error, to increase their productivity with vining perennials. Ornamental plants are wonderful and can add so much beauty to the garden, but what is even better is a plant that is not only beautiful but helpful to your well being.

Akebia

Akebia quinata, also referred to as chocolate vine, is an interesting looking five leaf vine that can thrive in the shade. It is semi evergreen and an aggressive climber so it is listed as an invasive in some states.

What I love about the Akebia is how it can vine and grow just about anywhere AND supply me with an interesting fruit. It also smells delicious when in bloom.

Akebia vining up a diy trellis on our porch mid winter

The fruit is a purple to blue color and sausage like in shape. When ripe it will start to split and reveal white flesh with black seeds. In my experience the taste is pretty bland, something you would want to eat possibly in a smoothie with other fruits, but I prefer food growing over not. Especially in the awkward places that this plant can shine.

There are many different cultivars and when buying fruiting plants such as this, One Green World nursery is always my go to.

Jiao-gu-lan

Gynostemma pentaphyllum, also referred to as immortality herb, is one of my can’t do without plants. It is a five leafed vining plant and loves the shade.

Everywhere the vine touches the ground it will shoot down roots. I don’t find this aggressive, just helpful in the way it is very easy to create new plants. It will happily climb a trellis or become a useful groundcover.

The plant is used as a longevity herb and has many of the same benefits as American Ginseng. I like to dry mine and enjoy as a tea all year long.

Dang-shen pilosula

Codonopsis pilosula , or Poor man’s Ginseng is a flowering vine that, you guessed it, is used similarly to Ginseng. We live such high stress lifestyles that deplete much of our energy stores, so I am a huge fan of using herbs to help our body cope.

The root is the part of the plant used so you want to allow a few plants to grow before harvesting any.

I love how delicate this vine is and it’s ability to flower in shadier conditions.

“First they creep, then they sleep, then they leap. “

There are a few more vines worth noting that I have been recommended or found through research, but since they have not hit the ” leap” stage with me I do not feel comfortable giving my full recommendation yet. They are Russian kiwi and Schisandra vine. I am hopeful this will be the year they come into their own.

Do you have a favorite shade vine?

Our Ducks.

Before I get into future projects, or what animal additions, or more in depth on how we do things, I want you to be familiar with all of our herd.

Today I want to tell you all about our ducks, and why ducks are such a great addition to the flock.

If you have never sat in the company of a duck you are missing out.

We have four Khaki Campbells. Three females we hand raised and one male who just showed up one day. Weird and wonderful right?

Even though we handled them as much as possible when young, they still are quite shy.

It does not keep them from being entertaining.

The ducks only move around the yard in a squad. They are never alone. And they constantly harass you when they see you, chattering and quacking for treats. Bananas are their favorite.

They love fruit treats but are excellent foragers. The feed bill is much lower with the ducks than chickens. We always have organic feed available, but unless it is very frozen outside to where much is not available they will always choose to scavenge for food first. I feel like they treat the feed as worst case scenario supplementation.

They are very inquisitive. You won’t be outside long before they come and check what you are up to.
SometImes they latch onto people or things. One time we watched a friend’s shitzu and for some reason they just followed him around the whole visit like he was the gang leader.

Ducks are messy, especially when it comes to water.

They will throw every ounce of water out of any bowl and just leave mud behind so definitely something to keep in mind. We get around this some by putting their water through the fence so they can drink but not splash it out. We also keep a kiddie pool of water for them to splash and play. We tried a deeper pond but it just became too much of a hassle to keep it clean. With the kiddie pool we are able to dump and fill it very quickly, always filling it from the rain barrels.

We have wasted hours watching the ducks play in the pond. It sucks you in and you don’t even realize it. “Hippie tv”.

Oh and the eggs! They are huge! And you get one just about everyday. They taste a little different than chicken but still good. Also, supposedly if you have sensitivities to chicken eggs you don’t to duck.

So now you’ve met the ducks. Are you ready to hear about the new additions?

Duck prints in the snow

Some of my favorite shade dwellers.

The birds enjoying their layer of straw over deep snow

Okay, not everything I write is going to have the word shade in it. But seriously, if you are going to have shade than animals are an easy way to boost the productivity of a space. And chickens are one of the easiest animals to have on a small scale and not give up your prime garden area.

On our old property our hens were located in full sun. Their new location is under the trees butted up against the woods. And guess what? If I moved tomorrow and it didn’t matter where I placed them, I would put them even deeper in the woods.

The ancestors of most chicken species today lived in the jungle. So that tells me they could potentially thrive there now. And oh how they do.

During the heat of summer my chickens (nine and one rooster) always seem relaxed. We don’t have those days anymore where they just hide out undercover all day until the weather cools. They are busy hunting grubs in the leaf mulch under the trees. And when they escape from their area, which is more often than I like to admit, they run up the mountainside, not into the sunny grass.

Now I’m not saying this is the only way to do it. Chicken tractors are amazing, and if you have the right setup for it then you are entering into a whole system that doesn’t always work for those of us with slopes and trees. But if this is sounding more like your setup than I invite you to give it a try. Our egg yolks are orange. Our hens our happy. And those we have allowed are living into ripe old ages.

Chicken of the woods is not just a mushroom.

Planting in our “Sun Spot”

As long as you don’t move onto your property in the dead of winter, you should be able to locate your highest sun area pretty easily.

The best permaculture practices recommend watching for a year before doing anything, but I am impatient and am of the thinking that you can always move it if you need to. The best time to plant a tree was yesterday, right?

My high sun area ( approximately 6 hours) is where I have planted most of my fruiting plants and built raised beds.

The first year on the property with my first two beds. Gardening is serious business, must be why I have such a stern look 🙂

This area was here originally even before we removed any trees. We have more “sun” areas now but that is in our sloped forest garden and that deserves it’s own post.

Because we are Northwest facing we also had to keep in mind the shade anything we planted may cast in the future.

This spot is also in the center of the driveway on a slant so raised beds were a must if I was going to grow as much as I wanted to, especially any annuals. I started out with two beds but now have six. I have grown many plants here including hundreds of pounds of Jerusalem artichokes and some of the biggest butternut squash I have ever seen.

The rest of this patch is planted with strawberries, blueberries, a pear tree, columnar apple trees, rhubarb, nanking cherry, chocolate mint, groundnut, Chinese mint root, green grape, raspberry shortcake, lemon balm, asparagus, roman chamomile, and fig.

Some of the plants have not reached maturity but those that have have provided us with an abundance of fruit. The only questionable plant is the celeste fig, but this seems to be more a problem of the low temperatures in the winter and dying back to the ground every year than a sun problem. I will most likely move it to a large pot and try to figure out a new more protected spot for it this year or rehome it where it can have a 12 hour day of sun and get all the energy it needs to grow back and produce figs. I knew the fig was a gamble.

Our sun spot, like most of our property, is less than ideal. But every year I am amazed at how much is thriving in this space and always look forward to a new year of growth to see what gifts it may bring.

Do you have any spaces with a few hours of sun just begging to be planted?

First thing you should do when buying shaded land

No, it’s not cut down trees.

Take a look around and find out what you have growing that you can take advantage of.

In my experience some of the most beneficial plants either grow in the shade or create a ton of shade.

Here are a few of my favorite plants that were already growing when we first moved in.

Black Walnut Trees

We have two GIANT black walnut trees. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard about what terrible trees they are and how I should get rid of them because they create toxic soil. Some of this is true, they do excrete juglone, I’ll talk more about that in another post, but they also offer a lot and I consider them a very valuable crop.

From our two trees we harvest bushels of nuts that when dried and stored properly can keep for a few years.

drying in the greenhouse

The husks of the black walnut can be turned into a tincture that traditionally has been used as a very powerful medicine.

If your tree trunks are over 14 inches in diameter you can tap them for a spring tonic water or take it one step further and boil it down to make a delicious syrup.

Hostas

The previous owner hadn’t planted anything but hostas. We had hundreds and quite honestly I hated them. I found them to be a useless plant until I did a little bit of research.

Always consult an expert and do everything at your own risk but – almost all hostas are edible. And not survival style where you eat it if you have to, but truly enjoyable where I look forward to the spring when they are in their prime for eating.

To harvest them you wait until early spring when they send their shoots up and cut them before they begin to unfurl.

I enjoy them fried up in bit of oil with garlic and salt. The taste is comparable to asparagus.

Just make sure to leave enough stalks to grow in the summer so the bees can enjoy their flowers. I have read hostas can survive being cut all the way back and they will send more shoots before summer but I’ve never been brave enough to try.

Chickweed

Chickweed is my favorite edible “weed”.

In my area it tends to pop up in spots with rich soil and a bit of shade.

It has a taste similar to the sprouts that you would throw on a sandwich.

I enjoy it raw or use it to make an herbal infusion. For the infusion I use one cup of dry chickweed to one quart of boiling water steeped overnight.

It has such a mild taste even the kids love to eat right from the garden.

Mushrooms

*Wild mushrooms should only be consumed if you have had an expert help you with their identification.

Most shaded properties will have an edible or medicinal mushroom pop up at some time during the warmer months.

Every year we have a huge crop of chanterelles pop up. Not only do they taste good but they come with many health benefits as well.

Some of the other plants we have growing in shade without any help from us are black cohosh, blue cohosh, cucumber root, mayapple, ginseng, wild blueberries, pine, the list goes on and on.

So don’t be discouraged when buying a shaded spot, it may have more growing on than you could imagine.

How made in the shade came to be.

Why would you decide to start a homestead on a shaded slope? Simple. Because it was the best that we could get.

A little backstory.

Almost five years ago Drew (my husband) and I were living in our camper turned tiny house with our six month old daughter on rented land. We realized very soon she was going to be walking and as much as we loved our very simple lifestyle, we realized life was going to be a lot easier with a little bit more space. Also we were dying to put down roots, quite literally, in the form of perennial plants.

We live in the mountains of North Carolina. It is a beautiful place to live. A lot of people realize that. So the real estate market is insane. A home or land comes up for sale and first day on the market it has five offers thousands over asking price.

We had been searching for properties for months and we had a tiny budget. I was not going to have a thirty year mortgage so options were slim. We had given up our search and then one day post morning run I had the urge to check the market. And there it was. An old trailer on two mountainside acres. Every girls dream right?

The land had a pretty steep slope and a lot of shade. I knew growing would be tough but the second we got out of the car we knew this was our place and we had to have it. Luckily we had the highest bid (yes there were multiple offers the first day) and as soon as we closed we moved in our chickens, started planting perennial food crops and building raised beds. Our home is old and we have slowly been renovating that as well but, the garden and farm is always going to take precedence over aesthetics.

So here we are almost five years later and Drew and I still feel so incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful place. There has been quite a learning curve to trying to grow in shady sloped conditions but I feel like it has really caused us to think outside of the box and go down new paths we wouldn’t have originally. I can’t wait to share our experiences and projects and hopefully inspire those of you who find yourself in a similar situation. Maybe you couldn’t get the ten flat acres with sun for days but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a dream property.