Seven Ways to Make Use of Your Shady Spots

(Photo Source)

Post by Contributing Writer, Jill

I really admire anyone who desires to use what they have to its fullest potential and takes the time to work around their area’s unique qualities. Some of us have plentiful sun, others not enough. Some have ample rainfall or ponds, while others struggle with near desert-like conditions. Recently, when one of my readers asked for suggestions for the shady portions of her yard, it really got me to thinking…

I know many folks must deal with the issue of too much shade, which can make gardening difficult, if not impossible. Since our part of Wyoming seems to have a shortage of trees, this is not an issue we personally struggle with. (Though the dry conditions, grasshoppers, and hailstorms make up for it!)

But, I have been brainstorming and have come up with some ways you can utilize every part of your homesteading area, shade and all.

1. Keep a chicken or two. Last month, we discussed some of the benefits of keeping chickens. Chickens don’t need much sunlight, and would probably appreciate the shade if you live in a hot climate. Of course, this idea is dependent on where you live and what regulations are in place. However, keep in mind that more and more cities are allowing for small numbers of chickens, even in your backyard. Consider putting up a small coop or chicken run under your trees or in your shady area.

2. Raise goats for milk, meat, or fiber. Again, this depends on regulations and zoning laws, but, if you live in a rural or semi-rural area, this may be an option for you. Goats need access to shelter and could easily thrive in a pen or pasture that is mostly shaded. If full sized goats aren’t quite your style, consider mini or pygmy goats! They also can help to “mow” (just be sure to protect your trees!) and provide valuable compost.

3. Build a garden shed or potting table. If your shady spot won’t support living things, then use it as a workstation. Construct a small garden shed or lean-to that can store your pots, tools, hoses, sprinklers, and mowers. Or, put together a potting table from scrap lumber and have an organized workstation where you can pot, sow, and transplant.

4. Start Composting. If your shade is in an out-of-the-way part of your yard, consider building a composting bin there. Bins can be frugally constructed from scrap lumber or even old palettes. Compost your kitchen scraps, yard waste, or animal manure and turn it into organic gold for your garden. Compost piles appreciate some warmth to increase the speed of decomposition, but will still compost in cooler temperatures. It will just take slightly longer. {Michele’s Note: We’ve found that vermicomposting systems are a good option for shady spots; our worms don’t like to get too warm!}

5. Sow shade loving veggies. If your shady area is spotty or has occasional sun during the day, consider planting vegetables that appreciate cooler temps. Salad greens, lettuce, and spinach all thrive in cooler climates, as well as things like broccoli, cauliflower, and radishes. While they won’t thrive in total shade, they can grow and even flourish without requiring full sun.

6. Become a Beekeeper. This is an area that I personally have zero experience in, however, it greatly interests me! Imagine fresh, raw honey from your very own hives! Plus, having a hive can provide beneficial pollination for your yard and surrounding areas. Much like chicken keeping, more and more folks are becoming interested in bees. Clubs are popping up rapidly and more information is available than ever before. What an incredible way to utilize an “unusable” spot!

7. Dig a root cellar. I know this may be a little far fetched for some of you, but it is an idea that my husband and I are starting to consider. Root cellars are a wonderful way to store vegetables and items that need cooler temperatures, without requiring electricity. A shady spot would be ideal to maintain the coolest underground temp possible. This is a very informative website that can answer many of your root cellar questions, as well as offer some different construction ideas.

(Photo Source)

I firmly believe there are ways to work around each of our unique landscape issues as we work toward improving our yards, gardens, and homesteads. It just takes a bit of creativity and sometimes a little sense of humor as well. 😉

How do you work around the “challenges” in your yard, garden, or homestead? Any other shady spot ideas?

Jill writes from the homestead she shares with her husband, baby daughter, and an ever-changing assortment of animals. When she’s not in the kitchen preparing traditional foods, you’ll find her outside riding her horses, growing vegetables, milking goats, and killing rattlesnakes. She shares homesteading tales and kitchen tips at her blog, The Prairie Homestead.

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12 comments to Seven Ways to Make Use of Your Shady Spots

  • What advice do you have for those of us on a lot in town with LOTS of shade? We have three old shade trees in our front yard, two in the back, plus two big fir trees – and four old shade trees in the neighbor’s yard that we don’t have any control over?

    I really want a veggie garden, but hate to sacrifice the energy benefits of all those shade trees. Any suggestions?

    [Reply]

    Michele Reply:

    @Amanda Z, My parents live in an area with shade & a short growing season, and at one point, I remember my mom have a “grow lamp” to put over potted plants that she grew in her kitchen, such as herbs. I’ve also grown small veggies, such as thumbelina carrots, and lettuces in indoor pots. Check with a local garden center to see what they suggest. :)
    Blessings,
    Michele

    [Reply]

    Jill @ The Prairie Homestead Reply:

    I have to say that I’m a bit jealous of your all your beautiful trees out here in tree-less Wyoming… :) But, I know that the shade issue can be very frustrating, too! I would echo Michele’s ideas. Otherwise, I guess a person would just have to get creative with a combination of the other ideas listed above. Good luck!

    [Reply]

    Amanda Z Reply:

    @Amanda Z, Thanks for the suggestions, ladies! I will definitely look into those options =)

    [Reply]

  • Kelly Welch

    As far as your bee keeping thoughts go—-my sister and her husband got some hives for FREE from someone who was retiring from it. Her husband totally takes care of them (with the help of an adventurous older child or two—all in protective gear) and I LOVE to go to her house for some tea and homegrown honey. (She also makes little gift baskets that include jars of her honey, as well as homemade goats milk soap—she has the goats and chickens as well!!!—and other delightful things she and her children make from their little “farm”)

    [Reply]

    Jill @ The Prairie Homestead Reply:

    Kelly- what a perfect situation for them! Someday I would love to be able to have a homestead-based business like that. What fun!

    [Reply]

  • Jen

    If all else fails, you could plant some shade loving flowers and ornamental plants, and at least enjoy a beautiful shady yard. :)

    [Reply]

  • What a great post – a myriad of ideas for shady yards.

    I love the beekeeping idea. I also don’t know anything about it, but I think it would be a really neat hobby. I like the idea of having my own naturally harvested honey.

    Also, as far as landscaping plants and flowers, many people assume that hostas and ferns are the ONLY shade-loving plants. That is simply not true. There are lots and lots of plants that tolerate or even thrive in shady areas:

    1. Hostas
    2. Ferns
    3. Astilbes (many color varieties)
    4. Jack-in-the-Pulpits / Cobra Lilies (many crazy and neat-looking varieties)
    5. Corydalis (shades of purple or blue blooms – “Blackberry Wine”, “Blue Heron”, “Purple Leaf”, etc.)
    6. Heucheras (50-ish species and many color varieties)
    7. Foxgloves (many color varieties)
    8. Bleeding Heart (SUPER cool looking flowers)
    9. Brunneras (e.g. “Looking Glass”, “Jack Frost”, etc.)

    We live in the middle of the woods, so I’m always on the look for shade-loving plants.

    [Reply]

    Michele Reply:

    @Holly @ Your Gardening Friend, Great suggestions. Thanks! :) Much of our property is wooded, too, and bleeding hearts and foxgloves are some of my favorites. :)
    Blessings,
    Michele

    [Reply]

    Jill @ The Prairie Homestead Reply:

    Wow Holly! Thanks for these suggestions! I am not a flower expert and really had no idea that so many flowers liked shade!

    [Reply]

  • OMG – did you say, “goats?!” I swear I heard it from 27 miles away and rushed home to read all about it. 😉 Yes, you might say I am still in the midst of my goat obsession, and am trying to plan for them next spring. \o/

    Thanks, as always, for getting me thinking about how to make the most of our land! Other veggies that appreciate some shade are lettuce and spinach – I’ve read it will keep them from bolting as quickly in hot weather. With the inSANE spring we’ve had here, my spinach started bolting this morning during the first harvest! So irritating. My collards and mustard have all bolted, as well.

    Climate change is not a myth, folks!

    [Reply]

    Jill @ The Prairie Homestead Reply:

    Erin- my spinach bolted way early last year, too… So frustrating!

    [Reply]

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