Stickin’ it Where The Sun Don’t Shine! Homestead shade gardening

Well there it is. My 24/7 shade line, as illustrated by 3 inches of snow on a 60* day. Are more words really needed to illustrate how shady it is? Straight as a ruler down my fence line, that is where I would stick the proverbial it, if told to stick it where the sun don’t shine. In this case I have decided that “it” is a shade garden. I have a compost pile in this shade line that I am about to move (if it ever thaws!?) and it will be a nutrient-rich locale. Vegetables don’t grow well there, you see. Too much shade. So of course a shade garden is all there is to be done. And on a homestead, all deliberate plantings should be at least a little bit useful, right?

So in this case, I have decided that my shade garden will also be a BEE garden. Because I don’t have enough bees in my lawn, clinging to dead flowering shrubs at the end of fall and stinging me as I try to pull dead stalks… But I digress. Bees are important. Not just honey bees, but all bees. Native non-honey bees need food and are Important too. And they’re dying. http://www.beesfree.biz/CCD
Don’t think bees are important? Consider this handy list;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_crop_plants_pollinated_by_bees
Wave goodbye to all those plants if bees disappear. Further more, looking at this list we see many major sources of FEED for LIVESTOCK on the list, including almost all clovers, vetch, alfalfa, safflower, sunflower, cow peas, turnips and beets. Not only are you waving goodbye to your favorite things like almost every fruit and nut, your chocolate supply (cocoa and oil palms), canola oil (rapeseed) and coconut oil, and your morning coffee… But you are also saying goodbye to the cotton and flax that produces the very clothing you wear. So not only do bees effect our “vegetable” supply, they also effect our meat, our clothing, our couches, our curtains, our cooking oils, our luxuries, our very way of getting up every day. Did you have an ordinary morning today? You have a bee to thank for it.

So a bee garden it is. Since it’s not feeding me it has to be low maintenance (perennials please!) and the plants need to stick it out through cold and shade. But, of course, flowers don’t really “thrive” in the shade very much so one has to be choosy. I’ve made a few choices of my own!

Astilbe

These shrub-like flowers are partial to full shade and very bee-friendly! They produce lots and lots of beautiful cones of flowers, over winter in cold as low zone 4 and are nice and fluffy! Getting up to 2′, this is a really robust plant that SHOULD do well in my area. I found some started plants at Costco of all places and bought them. They’re now sitting sadly in their bags for their first day of fresh air, sunshine and a bit of water. I have high hopes for these plants as one of the higher rated plants for bees and butterflies!

Sad looking, huh? I sure hope they’ll perk up!

Hardy Geranium

These pretty flowers are hardy geraniums. The come in several different colors but a very nice lady said she’d send me some of THESE ones as a gift! These are lower shrubby flowers that bloom profusely. They make a nice ground cover and are known for choking out weeds. They produce a LOT of flowers and can bloom from early spring right through the fall. If these particular ones fail, I will find some more suited to my climate. The huge number of dispersed blooms should make the bees pretty happy!

Hostas

Hostas are a cold-hardy shade tolerant plant that produces flower high up, above all the rest. These can only be grown behind my fence as deer and rabbits LOVE them! These are human-edible and rabbit edible plants and as such as very useful in a shade garden, besides providing some great pollen and flowers especially suited to attracting native bees! My mother grows tons of these… And if I can’t get some of hers they are very inexpensive at the local garden centers!

Bluebells

The common bluebell is a cold (zone 5-7) and shade hardy bulb plant that is a nectar and pollen powerhouse. Since they don’t grow well in heavy soils, a bit of sandy garden soil and wood chips will be worked into the bed as I plant it, further down in the clay. This worked surprisingly will in my double dug beds and the clay in those is still loose and easy to move. Bluebells have some minor medicinal properties, but are mostly there for the bees! Their beautiful flowers attract especially Bumblebees, a native species of bee.

And lastly I’ll be trying to throw in some Dandelions! These plants DO grow in the shade, although rarely blooming. They are one of my favorite plants and the huge leaves the shade dandelions produce makes them worth considering for a shade garden. If some of them bloom, even better as dandelions are well renowned for their huge amount of pollen that can dye your nose orange with one little sniff! They have deep taproots that can help break up the soil in the area. If I can get them to grow we’ll also see about putting in some wild carrots! I will also be trying to grow some henbit deadnettle there, a low to the ground min-family weed I have found a few times on my property. Being edible, chicken edible, rabbit edible and one of the first flowers of spring… It seems like the right call to grow!

There are many other good shade flowers even for bees, such as Foxglove, or my favorite, Lilly of the Valley. However, these plants are extremely toxic, and I have two dogs and the occasional roaming chickens or rabbit, having those plants actively on my property is a liability to the homestead. I may try to plant some and see them grow OUTSIDE of my fence line.

So there’s the dirt on my bee garden I will be implementing as soon as I get that darn compost moved! I hope you find some plants to benefit bees and your homestead that you, too, can shove where the sun don’t shine!

Happy gardening!

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2 thoughts on “Stickin’ it Where The Sun Don’t Shine! Homestead shade gardening

  1. Pingback: Flowering | quarteracrehome

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