Gardening in Partial Sun and Poor Soil

Here’s a little photo update detailing our gardening endeavors. As I’ve indicated before, our rental property presents some challenges in that neighboring trees shade the only raised bed for veggies, and the side of the house has poor soil and a chain link fence. Without major digging and soil amendment, we’re still aiming for maximum productivity with minimum effort and space.

We may still add some hanging Topsy Turvy Tomato planters, making sure to fertilize regularly, since I learned last year that without regular compost or nitrogen boosters, the tomato plants yield very few good fruits. Good news, though: used coffee grounds make excellent tomato fertilizer. Just today, I arranged at our local co-op to bring in a bucket, in which they will happily dump all their used coffee grounds for a later pickup. Free and easy on the adrenals. 🙂

Anyway, here are some shots:

Backyard Raised Bed

Our shady backyard bed has volunteer broccoli from last year. We keep the greens active, rather than the full broccoli plants, primarily because I don’t want to deal with green broccoli worms. The leaves taste essentially the same without any extra maintenance besides the nearby marigolds. We’ve also got what appears to be a volunteer strawberry plant. We planted some bok choy and celery leftovers from store bought produce, both of which seem to be growing now. I have transplanted collard and kale that I started indoors from seed. Those are growing, but definitely not too quickly with all the shade. Nasturtiums and parsley seem to be doing well, though. In the back of the bed, we have asparagus roots from our landlord, and on the other side of the bed, we have green onions planted from the produce section, as well as some prolific nettles and chives that reseeded themselves from last year:

Nettles and Chives

I will be planting some Asian Greens known as “Tatsoi,” which are supposedly “fast growing and vigorous … popular as a baby leaf for salads.” I like the idea of speedy and hardy growers that can handle partial shade, because I really am a lazy gardener. That’s why I love my nettles and mints:

Apple Mint from David’s house where he grew up.

My new favorite smoothie is nettles, apple mint, strawberries, banana, water and lemon stevia. Super yum!

Peppermint I planted last year when I learned it would be illegal in the UK.

Another delicious smoothie is what we call Andie’s Candies: peppermint (or peppermint essential oil), carob powder, hemp seeds, spirulina, coconut water and vanilla stevia. Way yummy!

Garden Soxx with a Southern Exposure

I have partially planted these experimental Garden Soxx — some with my own plants grown indoors from seed, and some with seedlings from our co-op. Those compost-filled, black mesh bags heat up in the sun, so some of my less mature seedlings wilted. Without mulch, I decided that larger plants might fare better. We still may add some kind of mulch, but for now, this is what we have: two kinds of kale, ruby red chard, nasturtiums, Greek oregano, flat leaf parsley, tomatillo, green onions, garlic greens, all with marigolds planted at each corner of the bags. One of the more fun aspects of our gardening project involved my building a tomato “fort” with a large board to secure compost within the chain link fence and then logs and concrete castaways from our neighbors’ patio project. We filled the fort with compost from our backyard, and then I planted two tomato plants I had started indoors from seed, plus a relocated indoor basil starter. My indoor basil is still growing gangbusters!

Tomato Fort with Tomatillo in the Garden Soxx to the right

We have another experiment in the works soon. It involves me creating a few indoor starters of “Double Yield” cucumbers, and then transplanting them outside so that we know which are the right cukes to foster. According to Seed Savers Exchange, “Introduced in 1924 by Joseph Harris Co. of Coldwater, New York. In the words of the introducer, ‘The remarkable thing about this new cucumber is its wonderful productiveness. For every pickle that is cut off, two or three more are produced.’ Very early pickling type. Green 6″ long fruits are symmetrical, smooth, and uniform. 50-60 days … Can started indoors 2-4 weeks before the last frost for an earlier harvest.” We will be planting these little guys under our side steps, allowing the vines to snake up the steps, a tomato cage, and the fence chain link fence. I created a little brown bag and rock “path” between the tomato fort and the steps for easier harvesting. Good thing I’m tiny and do yoga!

Cucumber Spot between the steps and fence

Other things in the works include New Zealand Spinach, which will never bolt, even in the hottest summer weather. I may plant those in some Gardeen Soxx alongside the other greens. I’d also like to check out a few other starter plants at Whole Foods and see if we want to do the Topsy Turvy tomato planters again. We do have two elder trees growing out back from last year’s planting. I don’t know if we’ll get any berries from them this year, though. Our window boxes will only hold flowers this year, and we’ve opted for a moisture control, non-organic soil for those, just to keep them lower maintenance than last year’s two waterings per day extravaganza. We did get some yummy kale and chard from those boxes with our nasturtiums, but they required more babying than I’m willing to offer this year. It’s all about ease and the yield this year, growing the right things in the right microclimate. I hope this inspires you in your own small plots, and I’ll let you know how it goes!

9 responses to this post.

  1. awesome! we have only planted a few things so far because first we need to get a new wall up and sprinkler system then can concentrate on landscaping and gardening. we’re thinking of putting in a lily pond too, for peaceful meditational energy. but at least we already have our fruit trees that yield quite a lot and our corn (which we planted) has really taken off and about mid-thigh high on me! step by step. 🙂



    • Posted by laurabruno on May 29, 2012 at 10:39 pm

      Oh, fun! We had considered corn, but WI has such a short growing season, and if we planted corn, we’d have nowhere to plant anything else. I’m hoping to forage some berries nearby, and we have friends with great blackberries and raspberries on their property. Our raspberry bushes didn’t take last year, but that’s ok, since it’s not our yard, and we don’t want to overplant it with too many invasive things. Stinging nettle and mint are probably enough on that front! A lily pond sounds lovely. 🙂



  2. Wishing you a high yield, Laura! I’m in the same boat with the shade situation from neighbor’s maple trees. Every year, my sunlight hours dwindle – I’m down to about three at this point. Herbs do thrive in my garden, and though they don’t grow as tall as “other people’s,” they are very happy: comfrey, oregano, chives, all manner of mints, lemon balm, horehound. The thyme is struggling, parsley as well, but I got it in early this year, so fingers crossed. I also planted cilantro in a pot that I can move around from one pool of sunlight to another, and dared to put in two tomato plants: one Black Cherry, and one Purple Cherokee (my absolute favorite heirloom!), from which I’ll be grateful to get even one juicy beauty. Ever thankful for the farmer’s market, but there’s nothing like eating your own sweet, warm, fresh-picked tomato.



    • Posted by laurabruno on May 30, 2012 at 2:12 pm

      ALL of my thyme has died, too! I keep joking “it’s the end of time,” but seriously, something is up. I had thriving thyme indoors until recently, and now both indoors and outdoors thyme keeps dying off, even though the rest of my plants seem pretty happy. I’m grateful for the challenges in this gardening spot as it will make me more aware in looking at future homes. Container gardening does help with the light issues … last year, I moved my pots around a lot. This year, in addition to ease and yield, it’s also about saving my back. I can finally do a little yoga again after last summer’s sacrum injury that brought out all earlier back injuries for required treatment. I’ve made huge progress, and hauling around my pots is less enticing than being able to haul around myself w/o pain. Last summer was a doozy! Tons of inner processing, but this year, I intend to enjoy myself more actively. Glad you have your fresh herbs. They do make a huge difference, especially in the winter! xoxo



  3. Nice garden projects! I like the use of the socks. Thanks for sharing!



  4. A rather off-the-wall idea, but have you considered mirrors to increase your light? You can get special plastic ones for the garden and decorate them so they fit the style of your garden – they might make a big difference for your shady area.



  5. Posted by laurabruno on May 31, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Thanks for stopping by, Bill!

    @Snail of Happiness, yes, I have considered mirrors to increase light. I also looked into white rocks as mulch to reflect more of the light upwards. We do get some light back there, especially early morning and late afternoon. I opted for no mirrors, because I am afraid the mirrors will make the afternoon sun way too intense. It’s the hottest part of the day already, and to have that light amplified may be too much. It’s something I’m keeping in mind for a new place, though, in case we ever move and have a challenging yard again. Thanks for the suggestion. 🙂



  6. Posted by Brauna on June 1, 2012 at 3:52 am

    Have you seen EarthBoxes before? I haven’t tried them myself but a friend at work has. They are plastic boxes with an aeration cover that lets whatever type plant you have to grow through. Virtually no weeding and there is a reservoir to hold water. They also have boxes that come with casters so they are easy to move around. My friend just mounted his boxes on flat dollies and moved them that way. He even planted some corn in his and it worked very well!



    • Posted by laurabruno on June 1, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      Very cool! No, I hadn’t heard of those, but we saw a mobile garden two days ago. I mentioned that would be one solution: just chase the sun! Thanks for the tip.



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