25 May 2010

How Much Shade is Too Much? Growing Vegetables and Herbs in Tropical to near Sub-tropical Lowlands


Tropical to near sub-tropical lowland climatic conditions such as that of Cayman not only offers an endless palette of year-round growing opportunities but it also produces two distinct growing seasons. These seasons may be classified as the cooler and drier season (November – April) and the hot and humid rainy season (May –October).

Cayman enjoys 300+ days of sunshine annually and reflected sunlight (particularly from driveways, terraces and houses) often times create micro-conditions whereby shady spots can be converted into vegetable and herb gardens for specific plants.

The dappled shade of tall trees also provide similar conditions around the tree bases that may be used for edible gardening instead of the obligatory impatiens, vincas, and calendulas that many landscaping companies quite readily offer up.

Such is gardening that general rules are always tempting to offer but hard to defend. Nonetheless, as a practical gardener, I am always seeking out rules to live by and rule to break, so here goes….

3 General Rules for Sunlight:

1. Vegetables that produce flower and fruit such as tomatoes and eggplant require full sun. Full sun is defined as greater than 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. Please note however that ‘ultra-tropical’ root-crop such as yam and cassava and Mediterranean leafy herbs such as rosemary and sage are notable exceptions.

2. Vegetables that produce root-crop such as beetroot and turnip can get by with 3-4 hours of direct sun daily. Actually, in our conditions they prefer dappled mid-day and afternoon shade.

3. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce and swiss chard are happy with 2-3 hours of daily sunlight (preferably morning sun).

Flower and Fruit:  Tomato, Tomatillo, Cape Gooseberry, Eggplant, Melon, Pumpkin, Corn, Okra, Cucumber, Papaya (yes, it’s a herb and so are) Plantain, Banana and Botler, Squash/Zucchini/Courgette, Cassava, Yam, Sweet Potato, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Oregano, Marjoram.

Root-crop:  Beetroot, Radish, Carrot, Turnip, Parsnip, Onion, Spring Onion, Leek.

Leafy:  Lettuce, Swiss Chard/Leaf Beet, Arugula/Rocket, Spinach, Pak Choi, Bok Choi, Chinese Cabbage, Kale, Kohlrabi, Florence Fennel, Broccoli, Cabbage, Coco/Malanga/Taro, Parsley, Mustard Greens, Mint, Parsley, Celery, Culantro, Cilantro, Strawberry, Pea, Bush Bean.

Of course, for every set of general rules there are a set of caveats and every gardener will move to his/her own beat. Nonetheless, these generalisations might help those gardeners to get started who might not know what to plant where because they don’t know how much shade is too much.

Happy Gardening!

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