Sunlight: An important component to a successful garden

Here Comes the Sun

In less than two weeks we will all be celebrating the first day of spring! Gardeners all over are waiting with anticipation for the first two inches of soil to be warm enough and friable to allow cold crops to be directly seeded outside.  Some, like myself will have to wait until the winter snows stop and then the three to four feet of snow blanket to melt away by the warming sun. While others who have the space and patience have begun to start seeds indoors to get an early jump on the growing season. But what if you are new to gardening and you read things like this and get overwhelmed at the thought and begin to think that the effort required is actually greater than what needs to be put in?

Before, Mark and I started up Homegrown Harvest we talked to a lot of people about gardening and quickly discovered that although many people wanted to have a garden but didn’t. When asked why they didn’t they said they honestly didn’t know where or how to start and the idea of even beginning would get so overwhelming that they just never moved forward to make it happen.

It was hearing this repeatedly from people that made us want to provide people with simple solutions to gardening. Building a garden doesn’t have to be the time consuming or daunting task that some people imagine it to be. That’s why all our products we offer we have installed repeatedly ourselves and can attest to their ease of use.  If it isn’t easy to use and durable, then we don’t offer it.

Understanding the sunlight and the types of sunlight your space has is very important when initially setting up a garden. Reviewing some of the terminology – there’s full sun (6+ hours), partial sun/shade (3-6 hours), and full shade (less than 3 hours). These are the terms of sunlight recommendations on seed packets or plant start tags. But the sunlight in your garden may not be so clear cut. You might have some trees that during part of the day create a dappled sun (inconsistent light) or plan to put your garden near a reflective light source such as some vinyl privacy walls which bounce light off, providing an indirect source of sunlight to your garden. 

Beside the material you select for your raised garden bed, one of the biggest considerations is location. Where is the best place to put the garden? If you want to grow food successfully, then you have to put your garden in a spot where it will receive 8 – 10 hours of sunlight, 6 hours minimum of solid unobstructed sunshine, otherwise your tomato plants will be thin and spindly. Sunlight is important to your fruits and vegetables, helping to provide the energy needed for growth. Flashback to middle school science class when we all learned about the process of photosynthesis. The diagram should shed some light on the situation – ha, ha, ha! I couldn’t help myself.

If you are trying to figure out where to put your garden, take the time to go out and spend some time in the space where you imagine it to be.  On a nice day, put on your sunscreen and hat, have with you a pad, pen and a lawn chair and sit exactly where you plan to put the garden. Draw a rough sketch – it can be circles and squares it doesn’t have to be a Monet. Sit out sometime between 10-2pm during the heat of the day. If you are doing this in the springtime, make note around of the trees whose leaves will come in and cast shade during parts of the day as the sun rises higher in the sky as spring melts into summer.

When I used to install gardens and would visit our clients’ yards of course I couldn’t just set up camp and study the light, so I would draw a quick sketch, snap a lot of photos and then would do something I learned while becoming an Accredited Organic Land Care Professional. Wherever the prospective garden was going I would stand and look directly up, my left hand would extend towards the edge of any obstruction visible (tree, shrub, building) and repeat the same with my right hand.  Ideally what you are striving for is an angle of 45º or greater or unobstructed blue sky about you. Or you can always buy a sun meter kit if you want to be sure.

Once you have your spot, the best position for your raised bed is to run north to south, lessening the chance of crops shading one another. The right light for your garden can and will make all the difference between having a garden which produces healthy, strong plants which produce bountiful harvests throughout the growing season and a garden whose plants are spindly and don’t produce as much if at all. Enjoy gardening.

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