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  • Writer's pictureBrad DeBroux

It's just a jump to the left!

In March, we decided to have a little fun with the sun as it lingered low in the sky, teasing us with the promise of warmer days. Inspired by the lively chorus from the cult classic, "Rocky Horror Picture Show," we gathered together. We took a synchronized leap to the left, hoping our collective energy would nudge the Earth just enough to bring us closer to that coveted sunlight. As we laughed, embracing the spirit of camaraderie and whimsy, we couldn't help but feel the magic in the air. Though we knew our attempt wouldn't change the Earth's position, the shared experience brought us closer and reminded us that sometimes, the simple, lighthearted moments could make even the coldest days feel slightly warmer.

Sun or artificial light is essential for growing and developing vegetables and herbs, as they play a crucial role in photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert light energy into chemical energy, which is used to fuel their growth and other metabolic activities. I outline the importance of sunlight and light for vegetables and herbs:

  • Photosynthesis: Sunlight provides the energy required for photosynthesis, which enables plants to produce glucose (sugar) and oxygen. Glucose is a source of energy and a building block for other organic compounds required for growth, while oxygen is released into the atmosphere.

  • Growth rate: The amount and quality of sunlight a plant receives directly affect its growth rate. Insufficient light can lead to slow growth, weak and leggy plants, and poor yields. On the other hand, providing adequate sunlight can promote robust growth, strong stems, and healthy foliage.

  • Flowering and fruiting: Sunlight is necessary for many vegetables and herbs to trigger flowering and fruiting. Without enough light, plants may not produce flowers, so that they won't produce fruit or seeds.

  • Nutrient uptake: Sunlight also affects nutrient uptake in plants. Adequate light encourages healthy root development, which in turn helps plants absorb water and nutrients from the soil.

  • Taste and nutrition: Sunlight directly impacts the flavor and nutritional content of vegetables and herbs. Plants grown in optimal light conditions generally have better taste and higher levels of vitamins and minerals.

  • Disease resistance: Adequate sunlight strengthens plants' natural defense mechanisms against pests and diseases, reducing the need for chemical interventions.

It's important to note that different vegetables and herbs have varying light requirements. Some plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, and basil, require full sun (6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day), while others, like lettuce, spinach, and parsley, can tolerate partial shade (4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day). When planning your garden, consider the specific light requirements of each plant to ensure their optimal growth and development.

Understanding the sun's position in your garden is crucial for the health and productivity of your plants. In USDA Gardening Zone 5a, the growing season is typically from late April to early October, with the first frost around October 15 and the last frost around April 24. Here are some steps to help you evaluate the sun's position in your garden throughout the year:

  1. Observe the sun's path: Start by observing the sun's path through your garden at different times of the day and during different seasons. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but its path changes slightly throughout the year. In the summer, the sun is higher in the sky, resulting in longer days and more direct sunlight, while in the winter, it is lower, providing less sunlight. What do you think if all jumped to the left at once?

  2. Determine hours of sunlight: Track how many hours of direct sunlight each part of your garden receives. To thrive, most vegetables, herbs, and flowers need 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Some plants, such as leafy greens and herbs, can tolerate partial shade, while others, like tomatoes and peppers, need full sun.

  3. Identify microclimates: Your urban farm likely has microclimates or small areas with different temperature and sunlight conditions due to structures, trees, or other factors. For example, south-facing walls and patios can create warmer microclimates, while north-facing areas may receive less sun and be cooler. Be mindful of these microclimates when selecting plant locations.

  4. Consider shadows from structures and trees: Shadows from your house, porch, trees, or other structures will change as the sun's position changes throughout the year. Be aware of these changes and plan accordingly to ensure your plants receive adequate sunlight. You may need to prune trees or move containers to maximize sunlight exposure.

  5. Plan your planting layout: Using your gathered information, plan your planting layout to take advantage of sunlight and microclimates. Place sun-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, and most flowering plants in areas with the most sun exposure—plant shade-tolerant plants, like lettuce and spinach, in areas with partial shade.

  6. Adjust your planting dates: In Zone 5a, the growing season is shorter than in warmer zones. Start seeds indoors and transplant seedlings to the garden after the last frost to maximize the growing season. Some plants, like kale and peas, can be sown directly in the garden earlier in the season as they tolerate cooler temperatures.

  7. Monitor and adapt: Monitor your garden's sunlight conditions throughout the year and adjust your planting plan as needed. Some plants may need to be moved or rotated to maximize sun exposure, while others may need more shade as the seasons change.

By understanding the sun's position and how it changes throughout the year, you can make better decisions on where to plant your vegetables, herbs, and flowers, maximizing their growth potential in your Zone 5a garden. Integrating sustainable practices like crop rotation, succession planting, and no-till or no-dig gardening helps optimize sun exposure for your plants. It contributes to soil health, biodiversity, and overall garden productivity. By paying close attention to the sun's path and incorporating these eco-friendly techniques, you can create a thriving and sustainable garden that yields bountiful harvests throughout the growing season.


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