How to set yourself up for success if you want to grow food
The organizer of our Self Reliant Community group, Wayne Cooke, recently lamented to me that he doesn’t have very much success with growing food. “Well, how do you expect to be able to grow without much sunlight,” I told him. Wayne lives on a Northeast facing hill and his lot is surrounded by trees belonging to neighbors. In such a situation, he could be content with growing a few berries, or he can put in a lot of effort to grow just a few veggies. The best advice I could give him is to find a plot that gets full sun and grow his food there. The three most important things to remember if you want to set yourself up for success in growing food are: location, location and location.
Occasionally I’ll ask a young person to point to a particular direction, and am amazed by how frequently our young people have failed to notice even where the sun rises and sets. My neighbor was just telling me how her teenage daughter was taught in health class that it is a healthy practice to eat at McDonalds a few times a week and that consuming diet sodas laden with aspartame is perfectly OK, but the children don’t know the path of the Sun and how it varies through the seasons. While I’m somewhat amazed by the ignorance of our young people, I was even more amazed when our friend, Jerry, brought over his Pathfinder, a handy gadget that shows a person where the sun will be at any hour of the day in any given month, and we were able to see exactly which trees blocked the sunlight where we wanted to grow food on our property.
The Pathfinder is basically a crystal half-globe that reflects the area around it in such a way that the reflection can be seen (and photographed) on the crystal. A chart for the latitude being analyzed (in our case 47 degrees). The chart shows the path of the Sun for each of the months and is vertically labeled for the hours of the day. Here is a picture of the Pathfinder sitting on the location where we eventually built our greenhouse:
You can see from this picture that the trees, seen on the edges of the globe block the Sun for a good portion of the day. Although it distressed me to cut down the trees, we had a choice to make: beautiful trees or the ability to grow food on our property. On the plus side, we’ve had plenty of firewood to keep us warm when the Sun isn’t heating the greenhouse which in turn heats our home.
If you don’t have access to a Solar Pathfinder, you can approximate the path of the Sun by understanding that if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the Sun will rise in the Southeast in the Winter and set in the Southwest. Here in the far north, during the height of Winter, the Sun barely reaches 20 degrees above the horizon at noon, while at the Summer solstice it is directly overhead. So choose a location that is in the open as much as possible and either level or slightly sloping to the South. With your sunny site selected, you’ll be set up for success in growing food.