How to Design a Community Garden

It’s only been two weeks since we moved in, but I’ve already been put in charge of designing community gardens at our co-op. I have a 7k Canadian peso budget and a copy of sketchup at my disposal.

After a few iterations, I have this.


I’ve designed the different sized beds to appeal to different levels of competence. Gardeners just starting out can take a 4×4, and experienced gardeners who grow a lot can spread out into a 12×4. In addition, the 12x4s can be split in half to accommodate more gardeners.

Culinary herbs grow in the tall planter behind the bench.  Any resident of the co-op can take herbs from here. Its psychological ulterior motive is to trick residents into signing up for plot of their own.


The Solar Audit

I came up with a method to design for the sun. In food gardening, sun hours is critical. Without sun, you can’t grow anything with calories in it.

Every hour on the hour, I took pictures of the area. Here it is at 11 AM.


And here it is at 2 PM.


By counting hours of sunlight in various places, I know what can grow where. I only put beds in the areas with a minimum of four hours.

Unfortunately, that’s still very little sunlight to work with. With the four and a half hours of sun we get on this part of the property. We can grow Broccoli, Peas, Beets and anything that’s a leaf – kale, salad and other rabbit food.

In my opinion, most people want a garden to grow tomatoes. And for tomatoes, six hours is bare minimum, and really you need eight for adequate results.

Here’s a chart Mother Earth News came up with that lists a number of low light plants that would still work here.

Crop Shade Notes Growing Tips
Arugula At least three to four hours of sun per day. Arugula welcomes shade, as this crop is prone to bolting as soon as the weather turns warm if in full sun.
Asian greens At least two hours of sun per day. Asian greens such as bok choi (also spelled “pac choi” and “pak choi”), komatsuna and tatsoi will grow wonderfully with a couple hours of sun plus some bright shade or ambient light.
Chard If you grow chard mainly for its crisp stalks, you will need at least five hours of sun per day; if you grow it mainly for the tender baby leaves, three to four hours of sun per day will be enough. Expect chard grown in partial sade to be quite a bit smaller than that grown in full sun. Baby chard leaves are excellent cooked or served raw in salads.
Culinary herbs At least three hours of sun per day. While many culinary herbs need full sun, chives, cilantro, garlic chives, golden marjoram, lemon balm, mint, oregano and parsley will usually perform well in shadier gardens.
Kale At least three to four hours of sun per day. You’ll notice only a small reduction in growth if comparing kale grown in partial shade with kale grown in full sun.
Lettuce At least three to four hours of sun per day. Lettuce is perfect for shadier gardens because the shade protects it from the sun’s heat, preventing it from bolting as quickly. Often, the shade can buy a few more weeks of harvesting time that you’d get from lettuce grown in full sun.
Mesclun One of the best crops for shady gardens. Grows in as little as two hours of sun per day and handles dappled shade well. The delicate leaves of this salad mix can be harvested in about four weeks, and as long as you leave the roots intact, you should be able to get at least three good harvests before you have to replant.
Mustard greens At least three hours of sun per day for baby mustard greens. Mustard grown for baby greens is best-suited for shady gardens.
Peas and beans At least four to five hours of sun. If growing these crops in partial shade, getting a good harvest wil take longer. Try bush and dwarf varieties rather than pole varieties.
Root vegetables At least four to five hours of sun per day for decent production. Beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes and turnips will do OK in partial shade, but you’ll have to wait longer for a full crop. The more light you have, the faster they’ll mature. Alternatively, you can harvest baby carrots or small new potatoes for a gourment treat that would cost an arm and a leg at a grocery store.
Scallions At least three hours of sun per day. This crop does well in partial shade throughout the growing season.
Spinach At least three to four hours of sun per day. Spinach welcomes shade, as it bolts easliy if in full sun. If you grow it specifically to harvest as baby spinach, you’ll be able to harvest for quite a while as long as you continue to harvest the outmost leaves of each plant.


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