Let's get this straight: In a vegetable garden, the glass is almost always half full. Even though vegetables are not flooding into the kitchen quite in the way I'd expected from my new garden, there is still plenty of beautiful food out there for dinner every night.
This garden, however, is shoehorned into a city yard. Painful experience has taught me that the single most important factor in siting a vegetable garden is full sun. Maybe I'd feel differently if I were gardening in Phoenix. But in the Northeast at least, vegetables tend not to grow properly without a full day's sun, and now I am gardening in spot where there are barriers that cast shade.
At the south boundary of this garden is a viburnum shrub, viburnum juddii, maybe six and a half feet tall and absolutely too beautiful to be gotten rid of. Also an arch with sweet autumn clematis climbing it, and ditto. I made a vegetable bed at the skirt of the viburnum, and have been pleasantly surprised at how well my cutting celery and chard both did there with very little light.
The northern boundary is more of a problem. There is a line of six ridiculously tall Norway spruces, and two of them have branches that overhang the garden. I'm assuming that these trees were planted at the same moment the house was built, 1885, and they are a real feature of the neighborhood. When I see them from my neighbors' yards, they take my breath away–they are by far the tallest things in view. Sixty feet tall? A hundred? I'm guessing. But two of them at least gotta go if I'm going to do vegetables here. They not only steal light, but also moisture and all the nice fertilizer the worms are manufacturing for me out of my compost and mulch. Brussels spouts planted beneath them, usually such a reliable crop for me, are just not forming sprouts. The collards I planted there, which should be hip-high by now, are barely grazing my shins. Of course, getting rid of obstacles like this costs thousands of dollars, so I'm unsure when they will go. Maybe I'll go first.
On the western side is a five foot tall solid fence. I tied my tomato plants to this fence on the theory that they'd grow tall enough to catch the afternoon light over the top. They have. The problem is that pruned and staked tomatoes form fruit at the bottom first, top later. So the lower crop, which actually stands a chance of ripening before fall, is a little stingy.
And there is the insoluble problem of pole beans, which have been growing magnificently in the middle of the garden on a row of bamboo structures–and shading the cabbages behind them. I can live without cole slaw and sauerkraut, but I can't live without pole beans.
I've moved a vegetable garden once before because of lack of light. In that case, there were really big white pines on the south side, far enough way that the garden sat in full sun in summer. But by fall, with the sun lower in the sky, the trees made the shortening days much shorter. So, the spring crops that ripened at the summer solstice or just after, were great. But the fall crops did nothing.
That's what's happening in this new garden, too. The first set of cabbages were beautiful. The second set of cabbage seedlings, planted just a few weeks later, are still tiny. My chrysanthemum greens, instantly spectacular in spring, are thin and stingy now. Fall is, however, very important to me. It's when I get the beautiful things that usually bolt in spring: radishes, turnips, fennel, escarole, kohlrabi.
Next year, I'll experiment with the timing of my fall crops and maybe stick them in the ground earlier in July, when the light is still good. Or else win the lottery and take out a few trees.