Prepare potato kitchen gardens by cutting seed potatoes. Have two eyes/sprouts per piece. Plant each one about 3 inches deep.

Some news media articles claim a small investment in seeds and equipment will produce thousands of dollars in grocery savings per household. Save a fortune by replacing store-bought vegetables with those grown in a first-time kitchen garden project — is that realistic? Probably not. However, those who eat out most days of the week could change their lifestyle, replacing those costly restaurant meals with home-cooked family dinners made using home-grown vegetables and herbs. The savings would really add up.

No false hopes here for folks struggling with this bad economy, but there are real benefits in raising your own fruits, vegetables and herbs. Money saved is only one. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is healthier. Serving up food you’ve grown yourself is satisfying. Gardening burns energy and may help you lose weight. Exercise also reduces stress. That means garden activities can contribute to both a trimmer frame and a better frame of mind.

Those new to growing things probably need to learn gardening basics before achieving the plentiful harvests veteran vegetable gardeners do. “Intensive Gardening” and “Succession Planting” help maximize yields per square foot of garden space. Get free University of Tennessee gardening information at “Growing Vegetables in Home Gardens PB901” is one of the best all-in-one publications. It has everything from garden site selection to harvest. Small-space gardeners should read “Raised Bed Gardening SP291-N.” Learn how to grow vegetables in raised beds using closer plant spacing. This efficient planting method works better for small vegetable gardens than the row spacing used in big fields or large gardens. 

Know life cycles of edible plants you want to grow. That’s important for planning planting/transplanting dates. For example, spinach, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes and many greens are “cool season” vegetables. Sow seeds or set transplants outdoors for them in late February or during March. They can stand up to freezing temperatures. Some, like lettuce and spinach, tend to “bolt” (quickly flower, set seed, then die) if temperatures get too hot. Save cool season seed to do a second planting of these vegetables in summer for a fall harvest.

I raise red skin potatoes in a wooden half-barrel. Potato leaves sometimes get nipped by cold, but the plants survive. Those put in as late as the end of April or early May seem to produce just as well, so it’s not too late to plant potatoes. Prepare by cutting seed potatoes. Have two eyes/sprouts per piece. Plant each one about 3 inches deep. The secret to lots of potatoes at harvest is building the soil level up during the season.

The “warm season” vegetables mentioned in last week’s column need both warm soil and warm air temperatures to sprout and reliably produce the fruits, roots, leaves and stems we eat. Charts for timing seed sowing, setting out transplants and harvesting, normally relate to our local frost date. Cool, cloudy weather and cold overnight temperatures during March and April have kept soil temperatures too low. Delay putting warm season transplants and seeds in the ground about a week after our typical frost-free date to let the soil warm up.

There are start-up costs but gardening expenses can be reduced by re-using and recycling. See next week’s column for tips on starting seeds indoors economically.

Plateau Gardening is written by Tennessee Master Gardeners about home landscapes and gardening in our state’s Upper Cumberland Region. Contact UT Extension Cumberland County, P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (phone 484-6743) for quick answers to specific questions, free publications, or to learn about becoming a Master Gardener. E-mail comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae at