by Sharon Dent
Having a successful, high-producing vegetable garden is dependent on locating it at the best angle in relation to the sun. The ideal spot for a year-round garden is a sunny, south-facing, gently sloping space with deep, rich, loamy soil, protected from strong winds, and with a good, close-by water source.
Most vegetable plants need eight hours of full sun. Rarely is this ideal situation possible, but we are fortunate to have good levels of sunlight in the Hot Springs area. Our rocky, clay soil, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. It needs so much amendment that most local gardeners resort to raised beds and containers and such.
Sun requirements vary by plant type by roughly four hours. Fruiting plants such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash need the most light — eight hours and more. Root crops like potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, radishes, beets and turnips can get by with five to six hours of sunlight. Leafy plants like lettuce, kale and spinach, can make it with only four to five hours. The leafy vegetables can thrive with more than five hours of sun if the area is shady or slightly filtered. That is true of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, garlic, onions, and green peas.
March to September has the most sun and the longest days. That is why most of our produce is grown during this period. October to February has the shortest days, and the sun tracks lower in the sky. This latter fact has an important impact on the selection of a garden site, particularly if there will be a winter garden.
It is important to be cautious about the impact of tall trees, as they block the sun’s path even in winter. That is true of buildings and other structures too.
When the day length drops to less than ten hours, most growth grinds to a halt. If a winter garden is to be successful, planting should be done between August and mid-September so that plants will mature by early December. To repeat, plants need to be mature when the days have less than ten hours of sunlight. Some plants like cabbage will be fine overwintering where they are planted. The same goes for turnips allowing for harvesting throughout the winter.
For people who want to harvest and eat from their gardens almost all year round, cool weather plants can be planted again in early spring, February and March. Examples are snap and sugar peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
Although my yard has more shade than is optimal for vegetable gardening, I still manage to overcome some of the obstacles. I garden in large pots that can be placed on the front patio for good sun. I use my small backyard garden for crops that can get along on five to six hours of sun, and I mix vegetables like okra in sunny flower beds. I am conflicted because I need to cut down four or five trees to get more sunlight on the garden plot in the backyard. If I cut the trees down, it would have an adverse effect on my shade garden in the nearby woods, though. Consequently, the trees will stay. Life is full of compromises, so I live with an attractive, but less than optimal producing vegetable garden.