Home gardening is a popular way to stretch your budget and provide fresh, healthy foods for your family in Tennessee. With more than 40 percent of the land being used for cropland, according to the USDA Research Center, Tennessee's fertile soil is ideal for even the most novice gardener. When planning a home garden, consider the veggies your family loves to eat and what you want to do with your yield. You may wish to provide just a few fresh veggies for your table and those of your friends, or you may wish to can sauces and salsas for year-round use. Plan your garden accordingly.
Cut down into your garden area with a hand trowel, retrieving a 3-inch sample of soil for testing. If your garden area is large, consider taking multiple samples and mixing them together for a more accurate reading of your garden soil. When getting a sample, avoid areas with decaying matter such as leaves as they may construe the test results. Place your sample in a clean plastic container. Testing is best done in early spring before planting begins. Take separate tests for different garden plots for best results. Take your sample to your local cooperative extension office or full-service garden center for testing. The test may cost as little as nothing to just a few dollars and will provide you with such information as drainage issues, pH level of the soil and any nutrient deficiencies your garden may have. Purchase amendments such as compost, sand, peat moss, manure and lime as suggested by testing.
Turn amendments one at a time over with a spade into the garden soil, 12 to 18 inches deep until the soil is a loose, powdery consistency. Be sure that any fresh manure is mixed well or left to "cure" in the garden for a couple of days before planting; fresh manure can burn tender plants, but is an excellent source of nitrogen and other nutrients plants need to grow.
Plant any cool-season vegetables as per the instructions on the seed package or plant tag in early spring; vegetables such as kale, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, lettuce, mustard greens, collards and cabbage are all examples of cool-season vegetables. In Tennessee, you can also plant cool-season vegetables in late summer and fall for a fall/winter harvest. Water cool-season vegetables regularly, as they have shallow root systems.
Plant warm-season veggies such as cucumber, tomato, pepper, corn, squash, zucchini, peas, beans, okra and melons after the threat of frost has passed, usually in early April in Tennessee. Check the USDA growing zone hardiness map for a closer estimation for your particular area. Follow seed packaging instructions and plant tags for planting your particular selections.
Add trellises for pole beans and peas, stakes or cages for tomatoes and other support systems needed at the time of planting to allow for the growth of the plant without damaging root systems later.
Mulch your garden with straw for best results. Straw is excellent at retaining moisture and suppressing weed growth, and its slow decomposition means that no nitrogen is going to pulled from the soil away from your growing plants.
Water during dry spells. Fertilize plants with a slow-release fertilizer, if recommended for your particular choices, as instructed.