It was Sunday night. I was overlooking the 200 sq. foot vegetable garden that my mom and I had just planted. Soy beens and string beens. Honey dew melons and cucumbers. Broccoli and cauliflower. Summer squash and zucchini. Onions and peppers. And eight different varieties of tomatoes. Oh, yeah. Okra. How could I forget the okra? It was all there. Carefully placed in just the right spot to utilize the space most effectively. I wanted to plant more, but I don’t have the room for it. I thought corn would be fun to try. I really like eggplant, but didn’t have the space. I would love to have a separate bed for pumpkins and gourds, but that’s not going to happen this year. After all, I only had 200 sq. feet to work with.

So there I was enjoying a peaceful moment of reflection when a thought crossed my mind. “I’m in way over my head!” After a few moments of stunned panic I was able to slow my thoughts down and think through exactly what was creating this worry in me. I had come up with three things.

1. I’ve never tended a garden for a whole season before. I’ve done my fair share of planing annuals and perennials. I’ve even planted more than my share of trees and shrubs. I have done enough weeding to last a lifetime. But I have never had a plot of land that is my own like I do now. As I was standing and looking at my garden I thought, “Well, now what?” I know that I’m not going to see things growing right before my eyes, so what am I supposed to do now? I know I’ll need to weed, but there aren’t any weeds right now. Do I put mulch down to suppress the weeds and hold in moisture now, or do I need to wait until the plants get established first? Am I supposed to fertilize everything? What kind of fertilizers should I use for each plant? Oh, crap! Are those bugs? What am I supposed to do about that? The questions continue to fill my mind.

2. I want to garden organically. I would feel very hypocritical if I stepped down from my “organic soapbox” just long enough to spray some Miracle-Gro on my veggies. I want to enjoy the sensation of eating a tomato directly from the plant. I cant wait to snap a bean off of the bush and pop it right into my mouth. I don’t want to have to worry about what chemicals I’m ingesting when ever I eat something. (I know that some of you don’t care or want to know about the chemicals on our foods, but since I’ve learned about it I couldn’t blindly go back down that road.) How do I go about “organic gardening?” I mean, what is organic anyways? Are “organic pesticides” any better than conventional ones?

3. I’m using mostly heirloom seeds and plants. This probably doesn’t mean much to any of you who don’t garden, so let me give you a short explanation. There are essentially two types of seeds used when growing anything, hybrid or open pollinated. Hybrid seed are seeds that are altered in a way that allow them to be disease resistant, have a shorter or longer growing season, have specific color or size traits, or any other number of specific things about the food it will produce. For instance, Red Delicious apples were hybridized to have a shiny red coating and that trademark shape, but because the hybrid focuses on the color and shape, the taste of the apple is bland. People buy Red Delicious apples because the apples look like what people think an apple should look like. The problem with hybrid seeds is that the offspring from the seeds will never be the same as the parent. So if I plant a “Super 100” variety of tomato and try to save the seeds to plant them again next year, the plants grown from the seeds of the hybridized tomato will not be the same tomato. Hybrid seeds beget worthless seeds. It is a way for the seed companies to patent their seeds. Open pollinated seeds, on the other hand, beget the same seeds. Open pollination is the natural process of plants. If you take the seeds from a “Black Krim” tomato and plant them the following year, you will have a new “Black Krim” tomato plant. Heirloom seeds are open pollinated seeds that have been carefully passed down from generation. By planting heirlooms I am joining myself to the generations of gardeners. I will be tasting the true flavor of a tomato that my great-great-great-grandparents enjoyed. The difficult part about choosing heirlooms rather than hybrids is that for the most part the open pollinated seeds offer little disease resistance. Hybrid seeds are bred to fight against the more common plant diseases, and I opted against that little extra help.

A few days have past and I’ve been able to calm down a bit. I am still trying to figure out what to do about the flea beetles that are after my tomatoes, but I feel better about my options. The thing that is increasingly reassuring to me is that I am finding a wonderful network of people who love to garden and are passionate about passing their knowledge on to whoever will listen. When I was struck with that moment of panic on Sunday night I was standing before my garden by myself, but I am realizing that I am not as alone as I thought.

May your harvest be abundant.