We're really anxious to get our spring garden in the ground, as I know many of you are as well! It could take volumes of text to go into great detail about gardening how-to, especially for those of you out there who might be doing your very first garden this year. So, I'm going to provide some links instead for great gardening resources that are already out there for you to use.
Getting the "perfect" garden spot going can take years of working the soil to get it nutrient-rich for your area of the state or country. But there are things you can do even if this is your first attempt at gardening that will make the job easier and still allow you to see some yield from your efforts.
You don't have to own a tiller, a lot of land or tons of gardening implements to get started. We've done traditional garden plots, square foot gardening, raised bed gardening, container gardening and had good yields and bad in all of them. Some of it is beyond our control - like drought, but usually just a little hard work and TLC will yield a nice little bounty for you and/or your family.
I'll be setting up a "gardening" section in the tabs at the top of this blog soon and will be adding great gardening links as I find them. Meanwhile, here are a few to get you started:
Know your climate zone: Tennessee hardiness zones range from 6a to 7b. Knowing your hardiness zone will help you determine which plants will grow in your area during what times of the year. Here's the USDA Hardiness Zone Map for TN - this one is interactive for your location using Google Maps.
Know your frost-free date: The frost-free date for my area of West TN is April 8th-15th. That is the date that it is considered "safe" to plant outdoors without having to fear a frost will come in and kill tender young plants. The past 2 years running, we've had a hard frost / freeze around April 13th - so it pays to know this information. Here's a handy little chart from Victory Seed Company for the First and Last Freeze Dates for TN.
Know what you'll eat: It really doesn't do much good to plant a whole slew of squash or zucchini if no one in your family will eat them. So take some time first to decide what you want to eat and how you want to use it. Are you going to freeze any of your harvest? Are you going to home can any of your harvest? Are you going to dehydrate any of your harvest? Do you want to have enough to eat fresh plus plenty to put away for the winter? Do you want to grow extra to trade for other fruits or veggies you don't have the ability to plant? Do you want to grow extra for extended family members? Spend a little time thinking this through so you can take the next step and determine how much you need to plant based on how much you'd like to yield.
Some links relevant to the above:
If you want to home can, freeze or dehydrate and never have - I recommend this book as a complete guide to get you started. It covers everything you need to know about canning, freezing, dehydrating and includes fabulous recipes. I use this every year and have never had a recipe fail. Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving.
Know how much you need to plant: Once you know what you want to plant and what you want to do with your harvest, you can determine how many seeds / starter plants you'll need to reach your yield. Much will depend on your gardening method. You can get more plants in a smaller area if you use the square foot gardening method; you'll need a lot more room if you are using traditional row gardening, so take all of that into consideration. Here are some handy calculators:
Backwoods Home - you can go to the link, type in "gardening" in the search box and read many articles about gardening basics.
How to Plan a Farm and Garden to Feed a Family
About.com: How Much To Plant
Virginia Cooperative Extension - has a handy chart, but you'll need to use the TN planting dates if you are in TN instead of the ones on that website.
What kind of seeds? Most people trying to become more self-sufficient and grow a substantial garden to supplement or completely provide for their family's food needs will work hard to use only heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds gathered from this year's harvest can be saved and used to plant next year's harvest. With hybrid seeds (like most you buy from any "local" stores or nurseries) the seeds from your harvest cannot be saved and used for future planting, requiring that you constantly buy new seeds. Yes, heirloom seeds might be a bit more expensive on the front-end, but once you learn the easy art of seed-saving, you'll always have the seeds you need right at hand! Here are some links - do your research and make your own decision on the company you think best deserves your business and is most dependable:
Bountiful Gardens - we've purchased lots of seeds from this site and they've always been dependable.
Marianna's Heirloom Seeds - right here in TN
New Hope Seed Company - another right here in TN
Seeds of Change
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Amishland Heirloom Seeds
Keeping it going: Once you get everything planted, you'll need to take steps to make sure your plants thrive. Watering guidelines, using mulch, natural fertilizer, weeding, bug control, composting and knowing how to start companion and rotational gardening will help you get the most from your vegetable garden for your entire growing season and those to come. More links:
National Plant Board List of Noxious Weeds
Guide to Selecting A Garden Mulch
Environmentally Responsible Gardening Products
Chemical-free pest control and garden fertilizing - Jerry Baker, Master Gardener
Dave's Garden - gardening tips
Neptune Harvest - all natural organic fertilizer
How To Compost
Conserving Water In The Vegetable Garden
Organic Garden Pest Control
Attracting Beneficial Insects to Your Garden
Natural Garden Pest Control
Companion Planting - Secrets of Organic Gardening
Carrots Love Tomatoes - companion planting book
Companion Planting - So Happy Together
Okay - time to get started! We're working this weekend planning out our first rotation of gardening that will start this week and the rotations that will follow throughout the summer and into fall. Our primary method of gardening this year will be tire gardening - and we'll show you how we're doing it every step of the way.
I'd love to hear your comments or share with me other links that gardeners here in TN might find useful!
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