Fruits and veggies for a cold, shadowy place
April 12, 2012 2:15 AM   Subscribe

This year I'm trying container gardening for the first time. I've planted some indoors stuff (peppers, physalis, chervil) and am waiting for the shoots to come up. Tomato seeds are on the way (hopefully). I live in Amsterdam (think NYC climate) in an apartment, and I've got a teensie tiny (30cm by 2m / 1' by 7') french balcony facing southeast that I'm going to try to make the most of. At the back (southwest), I've got much more space (about 3m2/27 sq ft), but due to the surrounding buildings it's almost always shadowy and drafty there. I'd really like to make use of this space though, seems like a waste not to. Any ideas what plants I could try growing there? (Please don't say salad. I hate salad.)
posted by Skyanth to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It depends on what you mean by 'almost always shadowy.' If it doesn't get at least in the neighborhood of 6 hours of direct sun every day, then forget growing any sort of fruit (tomatoes, peppers). If it's more like 4 hours of sun then maybe leafy stuff -- herbs (or salad). If it's basically always in shade, then... mushrooms?

I'd really like to make use of this space though, seems like a waste not to.

If it's really shaded all the time, then don't think of it as outdoors. Think of it as a very drafty and sometimes damp part of your living room.
posted by jon1270 at 3:01 AM on April 12, 2012

Seconding jon1270 - if it's really dark and damp, mushrooms are your only option. They're a good option though. They just grow and require almost no maintenance.

You can get logs infused with spores (a quick google gave me this website) Soak'em for a bit, put them outside and that's it.
posted by Sourisnoire at 3:15 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Herbs could work, but ultimately every plant needs sunlight.
How about a window farm? It's vertical hydroponic gardening. This way you could make more use of the windows/balcony facing southeast. Here they show what plants work best. It's a neat diy idea for apartments and there are tutorials on youtube and building plans online.
posted by travelwithcats at 3:31 AM on April 12, 2012

Response by poster: (Um... by 'salad' I meant 'lettuce' of course... sorry, false friends brainfart there :( )
posted by Skyanth at 3:36 AM on April 12, 2012

Best answer: a lot of lettuce types will grow even in your darker balcony, as will parsely, and some tomatoes. Google varieties that grow well in Eastern Europe as they have been selected for lower sunlight amounts. (get the giant flatleaf parsely variety, by next year you'll have pots of the stuff, if you allow it to dry out fully in November, wrap it in cloth in a basement over winter and just put it back out once the worst of the frosts have stopped)

Only sow small amounts of lettuce seeds every 2 weeks to avoid glut. I tend to sow them on a warm windown sill in just 1 inch of soil [a plastic take-away food container with no drainage] I don't allow it to get too sodden but also it never completely dries out (spray it) and once the little lettuce plantlets are about an inch high I transplant them onto the balcony into pots.

I would be concerned about peppers even in the bright balcony, basically a lot of effort for a container plant that (if it is a pretty glum summer like last year) might give you 10 small fruits. Also in enviornments like ours in Northern Europe the sunlight means peppers outdoors are never as sweet and/or spicy as the bought variety (amateur third year growing my own everything)

Also if you're growing peppers indoors you have to keep them near some fresh air supply once they have grown to about 2 inches high (about 6 proper leaves). Circulating air is important for most plants to strengthen their main stem so in sunny weather stick them outsode for a good blowing about. But the probelm with that is they tend to attract all kinds of fly that you must pick off by hand as soon as they start. Examine the underside of the leaves every morning in good light. Especially around the veins. pinch off any little suckers feeding on the plant. if it gets worse wash them off with washing up liquid (Not safe in USA where they tell me the washing up liquid is different).

I believe there are lots of books on container veg gardening but can't recommend one as I haven't read them, but the best source on growing anything has to be the RHS!! see here:
posted by Wilder at 4:56 AM on April 12, 2012

Best answer: You can grow berries in shady areas. Anything that would grow in woods. Strawberries, currants, etc.
You can also try leafy greens like kale and chard. Perhaps beans. Some herbs.
posted by leigh1 at 4:59 AM on April 12, 2012

lookie here
These are edible or otherwise useful perennial plants for shady areas.
posted by leigh1 at 5:35 AM on April 12, 2012

Mint does really well in shady moist areas. Make sure it's in its own container though, or it will take over everything else.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:04 AM on April 12, 2012

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posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 6:06 AM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You're not a fan of lettuce, but how about spinach or arugula? They will need some sun, but they grow fast and you can keep re-sowing over the season. And they're not just for salad.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:45 AM on April 12, 2012

Best answer: I find Bok Choy or asian style greens grow pretty much anywhere lettuce would and are nice in stirfries. Spinach likes it cooler in summer and might grow there too. Peas, brocoli or cauliflower would probably grow their OK too. Though Caulis and headed cabbages take up lots of room.

Peas raw fresh from the pod taste better than anything from a freezer and don't take up much space as they grow upwards, or you can grow snow peas and eat the pods too if shelling peas sounds too much like hard work.

Swiss Chard and New Zealand spinach are pretty hardy and can be eaten anyway you'd eat "normal" spinach.

Basically I'd pick any plants that prefer to grow just before or after the summer heat and try them, they'll actually prefer the cooler location and you'll have fresh veggies when everyone elses have bolted to seed.
posted by wwax at 7:36 AM on April 12, 2012

Response by poster: Hi! Thanks so much for all your replies so far!

First of all, I meant to say this spot is on the west-northwest side of the building, not the southwest. Not sure if that makes any difference.

I could probably get a more accurate count, but I'm thinking a strip of it would probably get about 2-3 hours of light a day, some in the morning, some in the afternoon. Think 2 hours, just to be on the safe side.

EmpressCallipygos: I do like arugola a lot. Will that work with 2 hours?

Not that psyched about the mushrooms, I have to say. :) Love eating them, but growing? Eek.
posted by Skyanth at 7:41 AM on April 12, 2012

Best answer: That's very little sunlight, but my friend grows potatoes in containers very successfully, and posted about it here. They don't mind a cool place, and she recommends tall, deep containers rather than wide, shallow ones - so they could be great for a balcony.
posted by peagood at 7:56 AM on April 12, 2012

Response by poster: Berries and potatoes seem like a wonderful idea, though I read potatoes need quite a bit of sunlight. Still, seems fun to try!
posted by Skyanth at 1:50 AM on April 13, 2012

If it's a root or a leaf, not a fruit, you might be surprised at what actually will grow in the shady area, especially if it gets some light from your lamps at night. Onions, carrots, radishes should grow eventually, though it will take longer. You won't get a full-size onion--pick it for a salad.

Try the arugula! Why not? All this stuff is programmed to grow.

Just don't overwater in the shady spot. The sun is not evaporating that water as much as it would elsewhere.
posted by skbw at 2:33 PM on April 30, 2012

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