Northern-facing and shade-tolerant edibles

I’m currently planning planting for two shady areas: our front balcony and our front porch. Both of them are north-facing, so I’ve been researching north-facing and shade-tolerant edibles which will grow in containers. Most edible plants do prefer full sun; but if you’ve got shade, all is not lost.

Not all shade is created equal. Some people distinguish between open, medium, and deep shade. By that reckoning, I have open shade on the balcony (which is north-facing but very open and with little shade from the front) and medium shade in the porch (north-facing and covered). Another potential distinction is between partial and full shade. I have partial shade on the balcony and full shade in the porch.

Shrubs and climbers

  • Honeyberries look very interesting, are perennial (I like perennials), and apparently prefer partial shade. However, you need 2 plants for pollination. They can be grown in a half-barrel size pot, which is probably no good for my purposes as I’m not sure I want two of those on my balcony.
  • Kiwi vines are moderately famous for being a climber that will do well in partial shade. Again, you need both a male and a female plant, and something for them to grow along.
  • The Oregon Thornless blackberry will apparently also do well in partial shade, although again it needs a trellis to grow up and to be carefully trained. It flowers on one-year-old wood. In theory I accept that blackberries, as woodland plants, should cope well with partial shade but I confess I’m not convinced about how well they’d actually fruit. Your pot needs to be 2′ x 2′ x 2.5′ for this.

Lower/ground cover plants

  • Mint is one of the easiest things to grow in shade. I grew mint in a pot on the windowsill of a full-shade area outside our basement flat about a decade ago, and it did just fine. Mint is best grown in a pot even if you have ground available, as it is famously invasive.
  • New Zealand spinach is a shade-tolerant edible perennial, but needs to be blanched before cooking. Apparently it’s best started from transplant, so if anyone who’s reading has one and might be up for sharing a cutting, please let me know. Though to be honest anything that’s complicated to cook is unlikely to find much use in this household, so it may not be worth it anyway.
  • Apparently, swiss chard, peas, beets, and various leafy greens and salad greens are all shade tolerant too. This does fit with my experience of chard and leafy/salad greens as happy to grow through winter, when they don’t get much direct sun. It occurs to me too that planting in partial shade may inhibit bolting, meaning that we might actually have some salad greens to eat in midsummer. Similarly, I’ve had trouble in recent years with peas suffering in the unusually warm spring weather, so partial shade might help them. These can all be grown in pots, though watch this space for a roundup of which plants need deeper and less deep containers. The only problem for me with growing greens on the balcony is that they’re less harvestable for the kitchen, so cooking greens may not get so much use. Salad greens which can be nibbled while out there might be better.
  • Finally, in the fruit line, Alpine strawberries are shade-tolerant, perennial, and very tasty, and rhubarb is shade-tolerant (indeed, it dislikes full sun) and can be grown in a (large) pot. I have some down the shady end of my garden which I’m hoping will get themselves properly established this year.

Flowers

  • Pansies are tolerant of shade, are perennial, and are one of my favourite flowers (I already have some on the balcony, in fact), but aren’t edible.
  • Violets, on the other hand, are edible, perennial, shade-tolerant, and also lovely.
  • Other woodland flowers are also worth considering as they tend to be shade-tolerant.
  • Another option is plumbago: shade-tolerant, perennial, not edible, but butterflies love it.
  • I think nasturtiums should do reasonably well in partial shade, although probably not in full shade.

Other options

I found a list of other shade-tolerant edibles, which all seem likely to be a bit big for my purposes but might be useful for someone else, especially if you’re not limited to containers. There’s also a more general round-up of shade-tolerant gardening (not edible focused) at The Savvy Gardener. I’m very open to more suggestions if anyone has some, in particular for edibles although I’ll consider some pretty non-edible perennials as well.

Next steps: researching which plants need what depth of container (and in particular what will tolerate shallow containers), gathering my containers together, and constructing a planting plan for the spring.

Allotment plans for the next few weeks

I’m feeling a little unfocussed about a lot of things right at the moment.  For the food-growing, at least, one solution to this is to make a list of what I need to do before the end of November.

Allotment

  • Planting:
    • broad beans, meteor pea, early dwarf pea.  Probably one lot of each this week, and another lot in a fortnight.
    • more kale and mustard greens; the germination rate for the last lot was a little low.  In fact I may start these off inside, then move to the balcony, then plant out in the cold frame on the allotment. 
  • Harvesting
    • more raspberries!
    • dig up the rest of the damn potatoes.
    • sweetcorn and squashes.
  • Tidying up:
    • finish cutting back the blackberry.
    • cut back the autumn rasps, once they’re actually finished (still going at the moment!).
    • check for any seed that can be saved.
  • Infrastructure: 
    • build the cold frame for the mustard greens and kale.  I want to at least start this this weekend.
    • get more planks down for the raised beds.
    • finish deconstructing the pallets so they’re out of the way.
    • dig over the compost heap, incorporating some of the blackberry cuttings.
    • amalgamate the extra compost heap (mostly consisting of blackberry cuttings…) into one location.
    • go out to collect leaves from the park for mulching down (needs to happen soon; easiest way to do this would be to use one of my old compost bags & take it round the park when I go round with the dog!).
  • Planning:
    • keep reading the Permaculture Book and actually take some notes.

Balcony

  • Planting:
    • ? another batch of salad veg?  Don’t have any more room in the cold frame though!
    • maybe some meteor peas.
  • Harvesting:
    • keep eating the salad leaves.
    • dig up the potatoes.
  • Tidying up:
    • sort out all the old pots and work out where they should go.
    • work out where to put the salad veg cold frame that isn’t “on top of the wormery”.
    • bring the basil inside.
    • take up the dead peas.
  • Planning:
    • the best thing I could do this month, I think, is establish a routine of checking up on the balcony daily.
    • decide what to do about the wormery – the answer probably is “dig some worms out of the allotment compost heap and relocate them”.

Ha, turns out that that’s quite a lot of things to be going on with.

Cold frame from scrap (pt 2)

Last week I finished my small cold frame for the balcony.

It took very little extra work, in fact: I just had to cut an appropriately-sized chunk off one of the 2m2 pieces of polycarbonate I brought home on my bike trailer a fortnight ago:

(Another demonstration of the truth of my long-held belief that you can transport pretty much anything with a bike.  Six miles — albeit quite slow ones — from Dulwich to Bermondsey and I didn’t have to stop and retie it even once.  I was very pleased.   NB: the polycarb wasn’t touching the ground at the end when the trailer (a Carry Freedom Large — fantastic piece of kit) was properly attached to the bike.)

The jigsaw went through the polycarb with no bother at all, and I taped the edges up with gaffer tape.  To get some air into the frame,  I’m using part of one of the planks I cut up for the slanted top: the polycarb lid just rests on it at the back.  I haven’t bothered to make hinges; I’ll rethink that if the lid doesn’t stay put.

Next plans: slightly bigger cold-frame for the table of herbs outside on the balcony, and much bigger one for the allotment.  Currently in the allotment there are three rows of various sorts of greens under mini-cloches (cut the top off a one-litre juice bottle), so the cold frame needs to be built before they outgrow the cloches.

Greenery for the winter: cold frame from scrap (pt1)

In my ongoing quest to reduce food miles by growing more greenery I have spent an hour or so building a small cold frame for the balcony.  It’s not quite finished yet (I have a huge piece of clear polycarbonate that I need to saw into pieces so I can use part of it for the cold frame top), but the frame itself now exists.

The best bit is that it’s made from 100% reclaimed bits.  The base is a wine box that I got from my parents (sadly by the time it reached me it was empty of wine).

The part of the top that gives it a slope (so it’ll catch the sun better) is made from planks reclaimed from a pallet. The pallet was part of a very small pile of wood left after Climate Camp, part of which I took home*.  I saved the nails as I took them out when dismantling the pallet, and enough of them were straightish that I could use them for this project. The measuring, sawing to size (including sawing the diagonals), and nailing together took under an hour: much quicker than I’d expected.

I was going to use a couple of pieces of dowel to hold the two sections together, but it seems pretty stable without. An old compost bag is providing a lining. 

The picture shows it on the balcony in its temporary “on top of the wormery” location.  (I need to rearrange the balcony space a bit.) The pots have rocket and bronze arrowhead lettuce seeds in: the hope is that the cold frame will keep the plants going over the winter & I’ll be able to keep having salads.  We shall see!

Part 2: cutting the top and finishing the cold frame.

* Technically doop took them home, as he was the one towing the bike trailer all the way down Blackheath Hill with 30kg or so of wood on it.