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Leafy Planting Days in Late Spring – Don’t be Afraid of Shade

Today we pass the point on the day-length bell curve where it flattens right out.  The days are now nearly as long in the southern hemisphere, and short in the northern hemisphere, as they will ever get.   In the northern hemisphere,  Halloween is the traditional festival marking the beginning of the season of short days, and long evenings of storytelling and remembering.  But here in Australia, it’s the beginning of the long days of summer.  In the last six weeks, my days have gone from 10½ hours long to 13½. In the next six weeks they’ll only gain another hour, and there’ll be around 14 hours of sunlight a day for the next three months now.

All this light makes it a bit hard to grow leafy greens. Many of our leafy greens evolved in climates where photons were in short supply and it was important to capture every bit of available sunlight.  They evolved big leaves with a big surface area of chlorophyll for photosynthesizing, and lots of water filled structural veins to hold them open to the light.  It makes them crunchy and tasty, and grow fast, and full of nutrients, but  they didn’t count on being carted half way round the world on a sailing ship. It isn’t a fantastic survival strategy on a big island much closer to the equator and much drier.

Ideally lettuce and silver beet and endive and mizuna would like long days, but much cooler, wetter, and less bright.  I can’t do a lot about the cooler.  For wetter, I build up the organic matter in my soil, mulch heavily, and water in the evening and early morning. For less bright, I try for a summer garden that is dappled shade.

In autumn and winter plantings, I’m careful to plant climbers like peas only around the fencing on the southern side of beds. Then, to the north side of them the taller plants like broad beans and brussels sprouts and dill, then in front of them the next tier – things like broccoli and and parsnips and celery –  then in front of them the onions and garlic and silver beet, then in front of them the lettuces and radicchio and parsley and finally round the north side of the bed the strawberries.  That way nothing ever shades anything else. In permaculture jargon it’s called stacking (and the same principles and ideas apply with trees too, on a taller scale).

But for spring and summer plantings, there’s too much light for many plants, especially the shorter ones.  I plant the climbing beans and cucumbers right round from the south east to the south west side.  On the north east and north west I plant less densely, but still climbers like indeterminate tomatoes and  tromboncino, and I let the nasturtiums climb the fence. I even let the odd snake bean have a bit of fence on the northern side. Tall plants like amaranth and capsicums and basil are scattered over most of the bed.

Nestled in the jungle, I can find a spot for lettuces and rocket that gets dappled shade for much of the day.  If I give them plenty of compost and mulch, and enough water so there is plenty to share with bigger neighbours, they all get along fine.  This leafy planting break, I am planting out seedlings of wild rocket (aragula) cos, brown romaine, royal oak leaf and  2 Star lettuces, and sweet basil, lime basil and Thai basil.  There’s plenty of amaranth self seeded, and some self-seeded rocket that I’ll harvest as baby leaves before it bolts.  And I’m planting another round of seed of all of these.  It’s been a cooler and wetter than usual year this year, a good year for lettuces. I might actually get Christmas salads based on lettuce this year, for a change.


{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Gillian October 31, 2011, 11:26 am

    oh those lettuces look very yummy. We are just too hot and humid so I grow the more tropical veggies like yakon, snake beans, loofah and sweet potatoes.

  • Elaine October 31, 2011, 12:49 pm

    It’s always a struggle to get enough greens for Summer, just the time when you want them! Linda I love the idea of stacking, would that I had designed my gardens differently ;-( Anyway, I grow Lettuces in wicking bins under 30 percent shadecloth. In the winter, they last 3 months, in the summer about 1 month so I add to them with summer growers like Aibika, Sweet Potato tips, Ceylon Spinach and whatever else I can find at the time. There’s nothing quite like Lettuces though, especially when you’re used to them from very young but I’ve taken to the more tropical cousins and enjoy them too.

  • Casey Lewis October 31, 2011, 2:01 pm

    I’m going to give up on asking for a care pack and just leave that to child services to sort out but I am keen to get a garden going at some stage so next time you come visit if you bring me some mulch and some compost or cow poo I promise I’ll drag myself away from the text books and we can do some garden building, I’ll swap you for hard labour when I come down there. That’s right everyone, Linda’s own child doesnt have a garden… Name and shame. xox

  • Linda October 31, 2011, 3:01 pm

    One of my children. Jedda has a gorgeous garden. Need some sibling rivalry. 🙂

  • Alison October 31, 2011, 6:07 pm

    He he, that’s funny. My children are obsessed with growing carrots, they really like pulling them out when the times comes. However they are 4 and 6, and think everything is fun.

    I am glad you say shade is good, because I have a lot of dappled sun in summer from an enormous deciduous tree in our yard. I try to keep the leafy greens in the shady beds, and it seems to work really well. I think one of my front beds is inadvertently stacked. Or perhaps packed would be a better description.

  • Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial November 1, 2011, 7:23 am

    Casey has lives to save and muffins to bake. 🙂

    Our lettuces are thriving this year – the oak leaf really seems to like our backyard, as do most of the non-heading varieties. We can’t eat them fast enough. I’m glad to hear the longer days are approaching – the damp weather has been playing havoc a bit, and some of the plants are getting a little fungus-y (is that a word? :)).

  • Linda November 1, 2011, 7:42 am

    Yes Alison, my kids are 24 and 27. They still like growing things but as young adults there’s lots of other fun competing for attention.

  • kim November 2, 2011, 6:03 pm

    Great ideas for planting leafy greens. I was thinking of setting up a shade cloth area this season just to try and get some lettuce for Christmas.

  • MeganK November 7, 2011, 2:28 pm

    Love how you’ve described the stacking Linda. I’m so new to growing veggies, but have intuitively been “stacking” as I plant in my little beds. I’ll try the dappled shade idea for salad greens too as we share the same hot climate – great tip.


    p.s Laughed at your daughter’s comment 🙂

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