Most instructions for growing vegetables state that they should be planted in full sun, six or more hours per day, but plots with only a few hours of sunlight daily can grow quite a few edibles. In fact, some of the plants that like cool weather are more successful in the summer if they get a half day of shade, particularly ones grown for their leaves such as kale and lettuce.
Some of the most shade-tolerant vegetables are those grown for their leaves, especially lettuce, which prefers cool weather and tends to send up flower shoots in warm weather. At that point, the leaves become bitter. Shade will delay flowering and prolong your harvest. The leaves will also grow larger and more tender if they get less sunlight.
Spinach is another cool-weather crop that enjoys a bit of shade. Choose a variety that tolerates warm weather and is slow to send up flowers just in case. Give it some lime in the soil if your ground tends to be acid.
Mustard greens are a tangy, quick-growing crop that will sprout in cold soil. If you want to keep the harvest coming through August, sow a row every few weeks in the shade after the beginning of May.
Kale and Other Cabbage Family Crops
Kale, a cold-hardy plant grown for its edible and often ornamental leaves, is a staple of the winter garden but will produce through summer with only an hour or two of sunlight each day. Some of its relatives, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts and cauliflower, need more sun, four to six hours' worth. But they do appreciate the cool soil temperatures, and you can put them in out-of-the-way corners that otherwise might go to waste.
Root Vegetables and Their Relatives
Beets should do well with three to six hours of sun, and their leaves make a tasty cooked green. A close relative, Swiss chard, is grown strictly for its leaves and tolerates shade well.
Onions and potatoes will produce crops under partial shade, especially if they get an early start in the spring to allow them to build up good root systems before producing bulbs and tubers. Try green onions and leeks too. We use these onion relatives for their leaves, and so sun is less important.
Carrots need at least six hours of sunlight to grow strong roots. They are slow to sprout, so plant a few seeds of mustard greens or radishes among them to mark the rows. As the carrots grow, you'll remove the faster growing plants, leaving the carrots at the proper spacing.