Small gardens may not sustain your needs entirely, but they can still provide a generous supply of fresh vegetables. Growing vegetables in Tampa can be challenging; the soil often lacks nutrients. The sun and wind can be harsh but the long droughts can be even harsher. On a positive note, the mild climate allows for Tampa gardeners to enjoy favorite crops practically year round that gardeners in other states can only enjoy a couple of months each year. With a little forethought, you can make the most of your space and enjoy a bountiful harvest.
Look up the recommended planting dates for the vegetables you want to grow. Most vegetables are planted in the fall or winter.
Find a location that gets at least 8 to 10 hours per day of direct sunlight. Mark off your plot with a rope or spray paint. Make a diagram of it on graph paper so you can decide how to divide your space.
Make a list of the plants you want to grow. Check how much space each plant will require and map it on your graph paper diagram, ensuring each plant will have enough room. You may need to prioritize if you can't fit everything. Include paths in your diagram, and include a space between rows every four feet so that you can reach to the center of each plot.
Test your soil quality at least three months before planting time. Use a soil testing kit so you can get a lab report. This report tells you the pH level of your soil and what nutrients it might have or lack.
Start seedlings indoors at least two to three months before you plan on transplanting them out in the garden. You may prefer to sow seeds directly in the ground, or to purchase seedlings later instead.
Check your soil's drainage. Dig an 18-inch deep hole and fill it with water, allowing it to drain away. Fill the hole again the next day with water and put a yardstick in the hole. If the water is draining at a rate of 2 to 3 inches per hour, it is suitable. If it drains faster or slower than that, you can add organic matter to improve it. If the water drains less than an inch an hour, consider building raised beds to improve drainage.
Dig up and turn your topsoil at least two months before planting time. Dig down to a depth of at least 12 inches and remove hard matter such as rocks and twigs.
Install a drip irrigation system or sprinklers for easy watering if desired. Build raised beds if desired.
Amend your soil as recommended by the lab report from your soil test. Do this at least one month before planting time. Work in at least 1/2 to 1 pound of compost per square foot of gardening space into the topsoil.
Harden off seedlings (either purchased or home-grown) at least a week to 10 days before transplanting. To do this, set the pots outside on the spot they will eventually go, starting with an hour and increasing the amount of time they spend out there each day. Hardening off the plants gives delicate seedlings the opportunity to adapt to their new environment.
Break up the soil just before planting seedlings or setting in transplants to loosen and aerate the soil. Transplant your seedlings, or sow seeds directly into the ground, according to your diagram. Install trellis systems, cages or stakes with plants that will need them at this time.
Water your garden thoroughly. Once seedlings are well established and 6 inches tall, apply a layer of organic mulch to reduce weeds and help retain moisture. Keep your garden consistently watered through the dry season, and apply a food safe pesticide only when necessary.