Like humans, plants need (and love) the sun in order to survive and thrive. Most vegetables require a full day of sunlight (at least six hours) for nourishment, which can be tricky to provide if your yard doesn't get good southern exposure, or if you're limited to shady areas for growing.
Luckily, some plants out there are less needy in terms of light, so you can plan a kitchen garden around the space you do have. If all you can spare is a side yard with morning sun, or the only plot available rests in the shade of a tall tree, you have enough light to grow some leafy greens this summer!
Leafy greens, such as lettuce, chard, kale, and mustards, actually prefer a little shade from harsh all-day sun. A slight dapple or a wash of indirect light offers relief from soaring summer temperatures, which often cause leafy greens to bolt (in other words, to flower and set seed) early.
By planting these kinds of vegetables in partial shade, you'll have more success in growing them through the heat of the season. The best time to plant them is now, before temperatures rise too much.
Asian greens, such as bok choy (also called pak choi), komatsuna, and tatsoi grow with as little as two hours of direct sun per day, plus some dappled or ambient light.
Salad greens, such as lettuce, arugula, and spinach, do well with three to four hours of sun per day, and need protection from the harsh midday sun. Grow them in an area with full morning light and filtered afternoon light.
Sturdier greens, such as chard, kale, and collard greens, like at least four hours of sun per day. Keep them well watered and shielded from midday sun so they don't flower too early and turn bitter. Cabbage will grow in partial shade as well, but takes a while to form a head; it's most productive as a "cut and come again" crop, where you harvest the outer leaves as needed.
Any leafy green can be grown and picked as a baby green, which needs only three hours of sun per day and about a month to start producing. Some seeds (such as daikon radish and Asian mustards) can also be grown as microgreens, meaning they're picked in the sprouting/seedling stage; they can be harvested as soon as one to two weeks.These tender greens fetch a pretty penny at the market for what they are, so growing them at home is a great investment.
With all leafy greens, the more sun they have, the faster and larger they'll grow. While the guidelines above will produce a sufficient crop, especially if you have no option as far as sun and space are concerned, your plants will thrive with as much dappled light as you can give them. Sometimes it can be as easy as growing them in containers and moving them around as needed; and sometimes the solution is to grow them against (or across from) a white wall, where additional light can be reflected back on to them.
If you want to try your hand at starting your plants from seed, check out our favorite California seed companies.