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Grow what you know

Juicy, plump red tomatoes. Crisp onions. Aromatic green basil. Fresh-cut lettuce.

These sound enticing on the pages of seed catalogs, but many people may feel intimidated by the idea of their own garden and the tilling, weeding and work that comes with it.

Patrice Powers-Barker, an educator on family and consumer sciences for the OSU Extension in Lucas County, Ohio, works with community gardeners and encourages people to reap the benefits of gardening, even if it’s on a small scale.

That’s where the idea of a themed garden comes in — sometimes called a menu garden or recipe garden.

The idea is that people don’t have to invest in a huge vegetable garden to feed their families — they can just grow a few vegetables that they like to eat and will use in a recipe, such as tomatoes and peppers for salsa.

“Maybe people don’t have a lot of land to grow gardens, or didn’t grow up with gardening, so it’s a nice way to add it into family activities,” Powers-Barker said. “People can fit some gardening into a busy schedule.”

The key ingredient to a recipe garden? Plant the most-used produce and herbs from your most-used recipes.

Planting a recipe garden also can help get kids eating healthier. Research shows if kids help grow food, they’re more likely to taste it, Powers-Barker says.

Going to a local farmers market or farm stand, even being a member of community supported agriculture, is a way to learn about what plants grow in your area that you might not even be familiar with. And if you’re buying directly from farmers, you can ask them questions about growing conditions. If you buy (seedlings) from a local greenhouse, then you can ask them all sorts of questions.

For Ohioans, their county extension office can be a great resource for gardening, whether you’re a novice or a master.

“Maybe people have a memory of growing up, and there’s a large garden in the backyard. Maybe you did home food preservation, but it seemed like a very big project,” Powers-Barker said.

“I look at the recipe gardens as helping people understand it can be much smaller scale. It doesn’t have to be a large vegetable garden to enjoy all the benefits.”