We encourage & assist folks to grow food for self and neighbor

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Man in Overalls - Back to Basics: What You Need to Know to Grow, Part 1

Sunlight, y'all. You need sunlight to #GrowYourGroceries. 

Sunlight, like this:
This, on the other hand, is not a "nice spot" for your food garden:
Photo courtesy James Willamor
Yes, I jest, but only because I've encountered, truly, countless people for whom either hope springs eternal or who, honestly, struggle to understand the connection between food garden productivity and sunlight. Namely, food crops (with, noted, a few exceptions) do not yield without at least 4-5 hours of direct sunlight.

Let me give you the scenario. It's the same story every time. It happened years ago when I launched my food gardening business, and it happened, literally, last week. I show up for a food garden consultation or dream session to take a look, offer edible ideas, and answer questions. Or, then again, maybe I'm there to install a raised bed or simply to deliver a load of my Magic Mix. I knock on the door, and I'm warmly welcomed. Then, promptly, either through the house or around the outside via a side gate, I'm shown to the back yard. The front yard had adequate sunlight. Immediately outside their backdoor, the sunlight was still, at least, marginal, but we don't stop there. "Here!" they say, "Right here!" we've walked into the dark recess of their backyard, a forest more or less, often under a giant oak tree. "I want to put the garden here because I can't get the grass to grow."

To be fair, often the spot they select does get some direct sunlight, an hour or two, maybe, through the gaps between several trees. Or, perhaps, their pecan tree hasn't leafed back out in the spring, and so, temporarily, it seems the spot will have plenty of sunlight for their garden. So, perhaps it's not the lack of understanding that food crops need sunlight to produce. (Okay, probably :). But, maybe, folks don't know how to calculate how much sunlight will shine on a spot without having to hang around all day and take notes. If that's your situation, keep reading.

To check your available light, track the arc of the sun from horizon to horizon, then divide it into 12 segments. Each is roughly one hour. Along the arc, how many clear segments are there? Another way to think about this is to “guesstimate” the fraction of the sun’s arc that’s open to the sky, then multiply by 12.  For example, if the eastern horizon is entirely clear, but there's a house to the west, that's half a day's sun: 1/2 x 12 = 6hours. Or, more likely, you have trees or shrubs on both sides of your lot, so only one third of the sun’s arc is open to the sky above your garden site: 1/3 x 12 = 4 hours of sunlight.  Note: the sun always dips towards the south (moreso in winter, less in summer), so trees, tall plants, and buildings will cast a longer shadow (to the north) in December than in June.

If that still doesn't make sense, call me, and, if you're in NE FL, I can come out for a Food Garden Consultation to help you choose a spot for your garden, offer edible ideas, and answer all your other questions while we're at it.




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