2018 Highlights; 2019 Goals, Strategies, and New Beginnings

It is that time again to reflect over the year’s ups and downs, an exercise that has become cliché but that can still be quite helpful. It was a busy year! So busy, I rarely found time to post updates on the blog (something I hope to change in the coming year). Here is a quick summary of what went down (or up, as the case may be) at Barbolian Fields, along with a few goals and strategies for the coming year.

Infrastructure

I like to think of our garden as a series of rooms, identified according to sun, soil, and water parameters. I counted nearly 30 different garden rooms around the 2-acre property. Yes, we have a mansion, and as the housekeeper, I now understand why I am often overwhelmed! Keeping on top of the watering has always been a challenge. This last year, I spent quite a bit of time setting up a drip-line irrigation system. The old soaker hoses sprang so many leaks so often, I finally gave up on them. We shall see if this new system works with our new piped irrigation ditch that puts everything under pressure. The idea is to be able to turn a faucet and – presto – everything gets slowly watered at ground level all at once – or at least on a schedule. No more dragging hoses all around and no more finding out something didn’t get watered or something else got flooded after it’s too late (we hope).

Willow trellis for peas
Willow trellis for peas

Also in the infrastructure department: trellises. I built a lot of them! All the willows really came in handy. Beware, though – they can sprout even several months after being cut! I may have more willows growing than I bargained for this coming year. Uh oh. 

2019 Goals and Strategies: Water availability is going to be even more of an issue in the years ahead, so optimizing the water we have (and mulching to keep it in the soil as long as possible) will be important water conservation strategies. The goal is to eventually get all the main areas connected with drip lines, which will free up a lot of time for doing other things (like mulching).  

Bees

Honey bee on oregano blossom
Honey bee on oregano blossom

Also a highlight – a new colony of bees moved into an empty hive, and by early summer, I had 2 hives back up and humming, although I never saw them swarm. Watching them come and go from the hive and how they all work together is always so exhilarating! Hooray!

2019 Goals and Strategies: Plant more bee-loving herbs and flowers! Ensure they have plenty of blooms in early spring and late fall. Plant in every nook and cranny to take up a space where a weed might otherwise grow.

Harvests

Sea buckthorn berries, aka sea berries (Hippophae rhamnoides)
Sea buckthorn berries, aka sea berries (Hippophae rhamnoides)

The berries and other fruits this year were just astounding (thank you, bees). However, keeping on top of the harvesting can be a real challenge! Sometimes it seems that everything gets ripe at once (because it does!). I keep planting more shrubs and berries, realizing all the while that I am making more work for myself. What’s wrong with this picture? (nothing!)

I realize, though, I could have done better in the vegetable-growing department. We did manage to get quite a few squashes, peas, and greens, so I am not complaining. The greenhouse provided us with an abundance of passion flowers, basils, tomatoes, and an assortment of plant starts. For such a small space, I was very impressed. But I could be more efficient. I could better optimize what I grow in the greenhouse (and in the rest of the garden, too). I obviously need to give more loving attention to the berries. Strawberries, for example, were overwhelmed by grass invasion last year, as were the blueberries and lingonberries.  

Cornelian Cherries (Cornus mas)
Cornelian Cherries (Cornus mas): We had a huge harvest!

2019 Goals and Strategies:

  • Scythe more often! Pile on the mulch.
  • Call in the grandkids to help with harvesting!
  • Let go of the idea that I have to harvest every last little berry. After all, some were planted with the idea of sharing with birds and other wildlife.
  • Don’t bother planting as many veggies, which tend to need a lot of attention and nutrient inputs. Just focus on a few niche plants that you love fresh (which is pretty much all of them, so this is not much of a strategy.) Buy more fresh veggies from the young farmers down the road; they do a much better job at growing annuals than we do! It’s good to support their efforts.

Working Together Amidst Chaos

Bald-faced hornet nest in medlar tree.
Bald-faced hornet nest in December. Bees are gone. Medlar fruits are ready to harvest.

To be honest, the garden was pretty much out of control all year long and I was barely keeping up with the harvesting and preserving, but I keep telling myself that is just how I like it. I also tell myself I’m going to find an easier way.

Despite my neglect, the plants somehow managed to survive. Perhaps it’s that with all that diversity, a mini-ecosystem has developed that is able to support itself. Perhaps the garden is achieving all by itself what I originally set out to do; I just set the wheels in motion. Obviously, I am still learning. Mother Nature continues to amaze me.

I will say, the bald-faced hornets coming and going out of the huge nest in the medlar tree kept the aphids and many other insects at bay. We just gave them room and they seemed too busy to care that we were nearby; they were gone by medlar harvest time. Also, snakes. SO many snakes! Seemed like I was always startling them! Oh, and the birds! Grow them a habitat, and they most definitely will come! I have never experienced such a daily chorus in the early mornings! And it is wonderful to see the quail again. And last but certainly not least – f r o g s. When the County piped the open irrigation ditch that had been there for over 100 years, I thought sure we had lost them. They have, indeed, returned.

I figure if we all work together, we can share the wealth. I appreciate the help of all the garden creatures.

2019 Goals and Strategies:

  • Plant more plants! This is always the answer, is it not?
  • Strategically place poles around the garden where the birds may perch.
  • Possibly build/dig out another water feature to encourage more frogs and snakes.

Challenges

Of course, there were also many challenges in 2018: a water line break and necessary repair; later finding out we needed to drill a new well and install all new water lines; house renovations and more chaos; some health issues… we get through these things. These are first world problems. I try to keep perspective.

2019 Goals and Strategies: Stuff happens; we cannot know what awaits. Fear and courage walk hand in hand. Do not let minor setbacks overwhelm us. Breathe deeply. Hug our loved ones as often as possible. Stop and smell the roses.

Additional Highlights of 2018

Rhubarb umbrella and kid
Grandkids in the garden – there is nothing sweeter under a rhubarb umbrella!

There were so many other events outside the garden that made the year very special: a family trip to Hawaii and a new granddaughter among them. Spending time with grandchildren, playing music and sharing stories with friends, going for hikes in the mountains and kayak rides on the ocean – these are always the things that make life worth living.

2019 Goal: Accept that there will always be more to do in the garden. Let it go. Get out more in this beautiful world we live in. Make time for more artistic endeavors. Truly, without creativity, I would not be breathing. Family, friends, creativity, music, reaching out – these are the things that keep us grounded. They need not be garden-exclusive. They all augment one another.

Living in Gratitude

As we close out this year, my heart is full of gratitude. Thank you, friends, for hanging in there with me. I hope to post more often in the coming year, and I hope you will join me.

I especially appreciate those who purchased Solexx materials from our little outlet, as that has been our main source of garden income. Your support is very much appreciated. I believe it will be ever more important to grow our own food as much as possible in the years ahead. That independence will be empowering. Greenhouses provide a whole other layer of possibilities as to what we can do. They easily pay for themselves.

Coming Together for Positive Change

Passion flowers in the greenhouse (Passiflora spp.)
Go forth with passion! (Passion flowers in the greenhouse; Passiflora spp.)

I am glad to be making changes in the coming year and I believe 2019 will be pivotal. I am making lists (I am always making lists), figuring out how to prioritize my time, reading a lot about our very unique planet and the world we live in. It has become critical to turn the trajectory of our climate around, and I believe it can be done if we all do our part. Sustainability is no longer just a philosophy or an overused buzzword, but a necessary approach to life. We at the grassroots level, by our sheer numbers, have the power to make a huge difference. Supporting local economies will make us all the stronger.

What will 2019 bring? What will we be able to do to make the world a better place? How will we help one another? How will we heal our planet? I’d like to explore some of that in upcoming pages. Let’s all work together in the coming year. We will share the wealth.

We can start by getting back to the garden.

Thank you for tuning in. I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

~blythe

Sweet pea trellis; abundant garden
2019 Motto: “You can solve all the world’s problems in a garden.” ~Geoff Lawton
(Note to Self: Plant more sweet peas!)

4 Comments

  1. Beth C

    Blythe – Happy New Year to you! I have thought about next year’s veg garden and have decided we need to to pare down in seed-planting when Spring comes. The problem: the scrumptious photos on the seed packets paired with a winter-long hunger for fresh garden veggies – makes me buy way too much! You bring up a good point in that all those veggies need weeding, watering etc. Then there’s always more than enough vegetables, too much really. Next year we’ll grow less and buy more from the local farmer’s market.
    You’re lovely in the photo and your granddaughter is a darling!

    1. Hi Beth! Great to hear from you! And boy, do I hear ya! The seed companies definitely hit us at our most vulnerable. These rainy days are perfect for slobbering over catalogs with a highlighter in hand. And the Internet just makes it so darned easy! Apparently, I write about this almost every year, as shown by a quick search on my site for “seed catalog.” It is so easy to get carried away. But you are right, you succumb, you toil and baby these things all summer long, and then you have all this great food (that was the idea, right?), BUT – if you don’t figure out how to preserve it (read that, find time to preserve it), you have to deal with all this guilt for wasting it, not to mention the grief of all that work for nothing. We are so fortunate to have so many good farms around us. I figure they are way cheaper than a psychiatrist. The real trick is in the self-restraint required in the first place. I still plant way too much anyway. It gives me an opportunity to give the surplus to neighbors and food banks and to practice being ok with putting back into the soil what came out of it. LOL.

      Thank you for your kind compliments. My little granddaughter is definitely a little sweetheart 🙂

  2. Nice post, Blythe, thanks. I too had sooo many snakes this year- it was a little intimidating. They creep me out. Do you think it was a weather condition, or do you think the population is on the rise? I liked it better when I didn’t see them!

    1. I think they are a GOOD thing. They eat a lot of bugs and also SLUGS, which puts them very high on my friend list! I figure my garden is developing a healthy ecosystem if I find snakes in it. I even pile up rocks and bricks here and there to give them places to hide. I am very careful in turning the compost pile (which tends to be a bit dry), because they are often just under the surface. I also find them under any black plastic lying around. Course, we just have little garter snakes, so I might feel differently if they were the venomous kind, but some can get rather large and can really startle when I suddenly find one almost underfoot! I read that they can tell each other apart and communicate with pheromones; their communities can be quite complex. For me, when I learn more about a creature, the creepiness factor is replaced with awe and respect. In some places, some species are becoming endangered, so if you have a haven for snakes, that is awesome!

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