To the Baby Gardeners

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by Adobestock/fotoduets

Hello! My name is Marissa Ames, and I’m the new editorial director for Mother Earth News. In January, Ogden Publications merged with Countryside Publications, where I served as senior editor for four agriculture magazines. As our newly joined enterprises evolve, Hank Will has handed me the editorial baton, and I’ve accepted with zeal. Hank will continue to serve the Mother Earth News audience in other important ways. As for me, I come from a long line of farmers and homesteaders, and I’m excited to work with a magazine that shares this focus.

This past weekend, I showed my compost to a new gardener. As my hands delved deep into the black gold, critters crawled across my wrists. Pillbugs, tiny beetles, and little gray spiders. My friend cringed.

Twenty years ago, I would’ve cringed too. All garden life alarmed me, because of my ignorance. It’s different now.

Back then, I kept an arsenal in my cupboard: Miracle-Gro 24-8-16 to keep food plants going. Carbaryl, Triazicide, and permethrin to kill what I didn’t think should live in that space. Plastic mulches, flimsy tomato cages. All products were bought from the end caps of big box stores because someone told me that’s what I needed.

If my tomato leaves looked a little yellow, I grabbed the Miracle-Gro. I panicked if I saw one hole appear in a basil leaf, and I pulled out the insecticide. Though I believed organic gardening was the best way, I didn’t yet have the knowledge or skills to make it happen, and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing even a small part of this food garden that would feed my family.

I was a baby gardener. We all were, at one point.

Now, I garden 100 percent organically, though I stand behind Integrated Pest Management. Because sometimes, we need to choose between a massive pest infestation and our family’s food. Sometimes, as baby gardeners, we use what we can until we learn a better way.

Each year we garden, we understand more. I used to pull my plants from the ground every fall; now, I let them decompose to improve next year’s soil. And after each new garden bed has been established with a base amount of organic material, I keep it mulched and never till it, so I don’t lose any subterranean life to my intense desert heat and sun.

And the predators! The beautiful garden predators. My current layout is controlled where it needs to be, wild where it doesn’t. That wild portion is what harbors the predators, such as the desert spiny lizards that sleep on rocks and then come into the vegetation in search of bugs. New gardeners often don’t understand how I choose new walking paths so I don’t disturb orb weaver webs. Or how I find praying mantis pods and gently set them on a wooden fence to hatch in peace. Baby gardeners may not yet understand the balance of predator versus prey in a home garden. But that’s OK. We’re all learning.

How has your understanding of garden biomes increased with each year that you cultivate the land? What was that “aha” moment when you realized how it all fit together? And how has your gardening changed to reflect your new knowledge?

As I start off this journey as your new editorial director, I would love to discuss one of my favorite topics: food gardening, and how our knowledge and relationship with the earth help us nourish our bodies.

May your garden be fruitful,

Marissa Ames

Tell me about your experiences at

  • Updated on May 4, 2022
  • Originally Published on May 3, 2022
Tagged with: Marissa Ames