Tag Archives: spinach

Shade Gardening in Northeastern Ohio

A shade covered yard shouldn’t keep you from growing your own food.

Snarky Acres in the shade
Snarky Acres in the shade

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a sunny plot. Trees are great to climb and sit under, but not so much if you want grow vegetables. The first question you should ask yourself is “How much and what kind of shade do you have?” Not all shade is the same. Dappled shade under a tall tree is not equal to total shade on the north side of a building. There are several ways to determine how much sun you have on a given site.  If you are more technological, there are devices that will give you an exact reading, like the Suncalc Sunlight Calculator.  Just pop it into the ground in the morning on a sunny day (which isn’t always available here in Northeast Ohio), and by evening, it will tell you how much sunlight you have at that specific spot. I would recommend setting a phone alarm on your phone to remind you to pick it up at the end of the day. I once forgot about it for several days and thought a mushroom had popped up in the yard until I had a flash of memory.

Here is Suncalc’s definition of full sun through full shade:

Full Sun 6+
›Partial Sun at least 4 hours up to 6
›Partial Shade 1.5 to 4
›Full Shade less than 1.5 hours

Stick it into the ground at your site in the morning, and by evening you'll know how much sunlight you have.
Stick it into the ground at your site in the morning, and by evening you’ll know how much sunlight you have.

Another way to determine how much shade you have is to observe the current plants growing in your yard (including weeds). Both violets and ground ivy (shown below) are indicators you have at least partial shade (if not more sunlight). If the spot in question has issues even growing grass, you probably don’t have enough sun. Just remember that different times of the year will have different amounts of sunlight. For instance, in the spring before the trees leaf out will have much more sun than in the summer.

If you don’t have the time or patience to just observe the site, try some limited trial plantings in pots first. I’d also advise starting with the 2 to 4 hour veggies listed down below, especially the leafy greens.  If those are successful, you can then try plants that need more sun.

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Violets
Ground Ivy or Creeping Charlie
Ground Ivy or Creeping Charlie

›Front Yard Herb Shade Garden

My shade perennial herb garden receiving its one hour of direct light of the day
My shade perennial herb garden receiving its one hour of direct light of the day

2 to 4 hours
Herbs – Chives, Cilantro,Garlic,Lemon Balm, Mint, Oregano,Parsley,Thyme
Asian greens – bok choi, komatsuna, tatsoi
Mesclun
Mustard/Turnip Greens
Scallions
Arugula
Lettuce/mache
Kale
Spinach/Chard

4 to 5 hours
›Peas/beans – bush
›Root veg – beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes, turnips
Swiss chard with stalks

More than 6 hours per day
Tomatoes
Peppers
Eggplants
Corn
Squashes

Identify and Utilize Your Current Weeds

One possibility you probably didn’t think of is identifying and eating your yard weeds (of course only if you don’t spray chemicals on your lawn). Many of the “weeds” we despise are actually edible and good for you. Dandelions are an excellent example of this. The leaves (in the spring), flowers,  and roots all can be eaten. I have a complete list at “Northeastern Ohio Edible Garden Weeds

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are another solution you may not thought of. There are plenty of kits on the Internet that allow you to grow mushrooms under your trees, in your yard, on logs, or even inside your house!

Building Raised Beds Using Hugelkultur

The Snarky Gardener built raised beds using hugelkultur

The new bed joins 3 previously prepared beds.  The green plants are a cover crop of turnips with a volunteer dill plant in the foreground.  South is to the left of this picture.
The new bed joins 3 previously prepared beds.  The green plants are a cover crop of turnips with a volunteer dill plant in the foreground.  South is to the left of this picture.
Same beds a month later.
Same beds a month later.
Same hugelkultur beds the following March. This is the first area in the garden to shed its snow mulch and will be planted with peas, onions, and spinach before anywhere else.  Note: the south is to the right of the picture.
Same hugelkultur beds the following March. This is the first area in the garden to shed its snow mulch and will be planted with peas, onions, and spinach before anywhere else.  Note: the south is to the right of the picture.

Hugelkultur is the German term for garden beds made with buried wood. The wood breaks down over time, providing garden vegetables with nutrients and moisture (as in you don’t have to fertilize and water as much, if at all!). The wood does not have to be brand new as rotted wood is actually better is some ways.

This fall, I decided to utilize this technique to build four 8 foot long by 4 foot wide by 3 feet high raised beds.  In general raised beds are beneficial as they warm up earlier in the spring, keep humans (but not my dog) from compacting soil, and allow plants better drainage. Usually raised beds are built with a frame around the soil, but my beds have no borders. After completing each bed, I planted cover crops (turnips, spinach and clover) to minimize winter soil exposure. My long term plan is to convert more of my garden into hugelkultur beds, but wanted to perform a trial first, as putting these beds in is labor intensive, with all the wood gathering, moving, and burying.

Started with a dug out bed
Started with a dug out bed
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The middle of the hole is filled with heavy logs
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Branches, and bark fill in over the logs
Dirt from the surrounding area is put on top of the wood
Dirt from the surrounding area is put on top of the wood

Many thanks to Paul Wheaton for his inspiring and detailed hugelkultur article – http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/

A cool related podcast about hugelkultur – http://www.permaculturevoices.com/podcast/hugelkultur-what-it-is-when-is-it-appropriate-and-when-isnt-it-with-javan-bernakevitch-pvp082/

Wintersown.org Revisited

WinterSown
WinterSown.org last year

Last year, the Snarky Gardener discovered wintersown.org, which gives away seeds that can be used to grow plants outside during the winter.  The idea is to sow your seeds in milk jugs (or other recycled objects) and then put them outside until the temperatures are correct for germination.  I had mixed results with the WinterSown system but I believe I made several mistakes that I am pledging not to make this year.  First of all, I tried plant too many seeds at once – 8 different varieties in just one carton!.  This time, I’m using my new 2” square soil blockers to keep the number of plantings to a minimum – just 7 starts per carton.  And only one variety per carton with identifying labels (what a concept!).  I’m also keeping the choices to those I know well, and that I have too many seeds of already – Red Russian kale, spinach, cilantro, parsley, and leeks.  All of these are cold weather hardy, so they are perfect for being winter sown.

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4 cubes per squish

 

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7 2″ cubes per milk carton

 

Another issue I ran across last year was watering.  The instructions explicitly said to open the milk carton to water but I got lazy and sprayed into the opening at the top.  The one carton I didn’t put bottom slits in did the best as it didn’t go dry like the others.  For me, putting my seed starting efforts outside leads to the “out of sight, out of mind” problem.   This time around I’m putting them right outside my back door, which I will pass everyday on my way to work and back.

How to Succeed with Your First Garden

Want to garden but don’t know where to start?

The Snarky Gardener is here to help!

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A nice sunny spot with just a little afternoon shade and lots of leaf mulch

1.  Chose a nice sunny spot

Spend some time to observe your chosen spot.   You are going to want at least 3 hours of direct sunlight a day with more than 6 preferred.  If you can’t get the minimum 6, then look for plants that will be OK with a little shade, like lettuce, herbs, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, and mustard greens.  Another option is to plant in containers and move them to the sunny spots throughout the day.

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Next to the house, a small shade herb garden (mint, chives, etc)  which only receives a few hours of direct sunlight a day.

2.  Start small

Don’t go hog wild with a giant garden first thing out.  Keeping it small will allow you to learn what grows best in your area without a lot of investment of time, money, and effort.  Containers or a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed would be a good place to start.

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Zucchini, corn, and beans (around the corn) – three of my favorites to eat
3.  Grow what you like to eat

Sounds straight forward, but I’ve known a few snarky gardeners to grow things before they know how they taste (like me with my sunchokes).  If you think you want to grow it, buy it from the store first.

snowpeas
Easy peasy peas

4.  Grow easy stuff

Some vegetables are easier to grow than others, by a significant margin.  Talk to people in your area to learn what grows well in your area.  For instance, in Northeastern Ohio (my neck of the woods), cherry tomatoes, beans, peas, onions, zucchini, potatoes, and turnips do well with little trouble.  Broccoli, watermelons, Brussels sprouts, peppers, and eggplants are much harder to grow, to the point I’ve given up on some.

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The lawn sweeper makes gathering leaf mulch simple

5.  Mulch a bunch

Mulch is anything that covers the ground around your plants.  Straw, grass clippings, newspapers, wood chips, and leaves (my favorite) all make good mulch.  You can also use plastic mulch, but it won’t make your soil better over time like organic materials will.  Covering the ground is important as it will keep weeds from overtaking your edible plants plus it holds in moisture which will keep you from having to water as much (or at all!)

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Snarky Acres in the fall

6.  Visit often

Gardens are probably ruined by neglect more than anything else.  Visit a few times a week to keep up with the weeds, watering, and ready to pick food.  Think of it as that exercise your doctor keeps telling you need to do.  I find the garden as a quiet place to get away from it all.  Also, try to plan around the weather (early or late on hot summer days, etc).

7.  Learn about food seasons

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Turnips love the cold.
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Turnips at Christmas in Northeastern Ohio

Some plants can tolerate and sometimes prefer cold (like spinach, turnips, onions, peas, potatoes) but don’t like heat and others can’t handle frost (tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, okra) and love warm weather.  It still surprises me that this isn’t common knowledge (it wasn’t for me when I started).  Your frost dates (last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall) are the most important gardening times.  They tell you when you can plant certain vegetables and when they need to be reaped.  Too early or too late and you’ll be sad, sad gardener.

Rivertime
The wild and allusive Toy Fox Terrier digging up my garden
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Groundhog making a run for it.

8.  Watch out for critters

If you notice animals in your neighborhood, know that they may think of your garden as a free meal.  A small fence (2 or 3 feet tall) will keep out rabbits, but you will need a taller fence (6 feet or more) to deter groundhogs, raccoon, and deer from invading your space.  There are also garlicky sprays and fence clips that will deter them some.  Most animals don’t like strong smells, so planting herbs and garlic/onions on the outside of your garden is not a bad idea.  Also, keep an eye on your plants for damage, as even the best fencing can be leaped over or dug under.

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Cherry tomatoes inside the house – 12/22/2013

9.  Think outside the box

There are a lot of different ways to garden besides the standard “till up the backyard and plant in rows”.   Indoor gardening can be done with systems like the AeroGarden. Containers or individual planters work well for situations where you can’t plant into the ground (apartments, limited sun, etc).  If you don’t have a tiller or want to go to the trouble of tilling, you can build gardens on top of your grass, whether it be raised beds, straw bale gardening, or lasagna mulching.  And don’t be limited to your backyard.  Front yard gardens, if done tastefully, are a possibility as long as there are no prohibitions where you live (like city ordinances or home owner association rules).

Good luck and happy gardening!

Have any questions about your first garden? Please leave a reply.

Let It Snow (twice)!

This fall we’ve had serious snow twice so far (several inches each time) here in Northeastern Ohio. While most people have not even thought about their gardens since the first freeze back in October, the early snow had me worried. Many of my fall duties were incomplete, including digging up and bringing in my rosemary herbs (they died out there last winter – sniff). Also, the fall leaves I gathered into big honking piles did not get as distributed as I would have liked. I found out this summer that some plants (lettuce, spinach, kale, turnips, peas, corn salad) could be covered with mulch 5 or 6 inches deep in the fall to “overwinter” them. Then in mid-March, you just pull off the leaves and viola, they will start growing again. Nifty trick having food producing plants when other unsnarky gardeners are still planning for the summer.  Anyways, I was finally able to finish these tasks on 12/4/2013 with most of my fall babies no worse for wear.

If you look at the pictures below, you will notice some of my plants didn’t do as well by December (especially the sad Swiss chard in the middle foreground). In the back left, my mustard is going to seed, which is good because I needed more for cooking and next year’s crop. But you will also see that there’s quite a bit of green considering it’s December in Ohio. On the right foreground, my purple top turnips are looking great. I will thin these out (yum) and mulch the rest in the next week or so. Also, near the Swiss chard, you should be able to make out bright green areas near the ground. That’s my corn salad and onions, all ready to eat. We used them plus mustard greens, carrots, and kale to make a wonderfully fresh salad (again, in December in Ohio).

P.S.  I don’t think “unsnarky” is a word, but with use it will soon become one.

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Snow on 11/12/2013
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Snow on 11/12/2013
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Melted snow on 11/16/2013
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Snow melted on 11/16/2013
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Snow again on 11/30/2013
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Snow again on 11/30/2013
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Melted snow again on 12/04/2013
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Snow melted again on 12/04/2013