Spring is a time for many to make plans for the summer and while this year may look very different from others I’m guessing many of you may think this might be a time to try a garden. There are many reasons to grow your own produce that we’ll talk about today, but let me assure you there are many variables to consider. So let’s start with a list of questions to ask yourself, and your family if they are going to join you in this adventure.

What is your intent? If we are doing a container garden on the porch that’s much different from a large garden to supply food during the winter by doing some food preservation this summer. Am I doing this for a hobby or to assist with my food supply? If you are planning the garden to provide fresh produce this summer and preserve the rest, consider consulting charts to see how much you need to plant so you are not overwhelmed with too much produce. Gardens are a great classroom for children, everything from reading the seed packets and estimating time to harvest to planning and soil depth are great examples of math and science.

Maybe one of the reasons is to enjoy the outside sunshine and see the plants grow and produce. Remember, there’s a fair amount of work involved in planting, weeding, watering and harvesting any size garden. While it’s good physical exercise and rewarding to see the outcome it can also be stressful if upkeep and planning for harvest is not done with care. Ask yourself, "How much time do I want to invest?" Consider planting times along with any special events so your harvest doesn’t occur at a time when you won’t be available.

Gardening can be a form of family traditions as well. We can work together to see how our efforts blossom as we share in conversation. It is also one of the best ways to carry on some of the family favorites as you can grow the variety of beans, corn or tomatoes you and your family like best. For me, one of the best examples is okra. I know, not many people may have this at the top of their list but nothing reminds me of a summer meal at my parents or grandparents like okra, sweet corn and fresh sliced tomatoes.

Probably one of the most common answers I get when I ask "why are you growing a garden?" is that I know how the plants are cared for and when I can or freeze the product, I know what’s in the food. There’s great satisfaction to this, but remember with the garden comes insects, disease and other critters that may enjoy sampling your hard work. Ask yourself the question "what do I already know and what do I need to learn?" You don’t have to be an expert to get started but knowing what area of the yard gets the most sun, which way the wind blows, how far the spot will be from the water source and how well the soil drains will enhance the overall outcome of your efforts. General recommendations are not to plant until soil temperatures are above 60 degrees so we have time to ask these questions and make some plans. We also encourage keeping a journal from year to year so you remember what plants are located where and can be rotated for best productivity.

Lastly, realize that growing your own fruits and vegetables, while satisfying, is not always a way to save money. While most of the time for every dollar invested we can reap about 10 in product, there is your time and equipment to consider. Freezing is usually the most economical way to preserve most items, but canning provides shelf stable foods.

Stay tuned for an upcoming article to examine the costs and benefits of food preservation and ways to learn how if you’d like to give it a try. While we are not currently in our office, know that the Wayne County Extension office is working hard to provide information and resources to you. If you have questions please contact us at 330-264-8722 or email me directly at hill.14@osu.edu.

Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.