Barbolian Fields Blog – Welcome to the Ramble in the Brambles

Seed Order Madness – and Indications that You Might Have ISOD

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Alternate Title: Garden Visions and Realities: Creating a Practical Seed Order – or not.

Seed Order 2016

Do we have enough seeds yet?

I originally wrote this post shortly after Groundhog Day, when we were just praying for a ray of sunshine and a shadow – and here we are now caught in the middle of March Madness, aka the Ides of March, which is called that for good reason. Winds have been howling at 65 mph (I kid you not) and the rain hammers us in torrents. This is how winter quickly melts into spring.

The pre-spring storms give us a bit of time to flip through all the new garden catalogs that have arrived since the beginning of the new year. It is, indeed, the perfect time to create this year’s garden vision and a concrete plan to make it happen, if you have not done so already.

So – tell me – have you placed your seed order yet? Read More »Seed Order Madness – and Indications that You Might Have ISOD

Spring Garlic Woes

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Dear Readers:

I have been receiving letters lately from folks worried about their garlic. It is understandable. With great anticipation, we insert these naked little cloves in cold soil, just as the season takes a downturn; we stress throughout the snows and storms of winter as to whether they can possibly survive; come early spring, we are elated when we see their tender tips emerge, apparently unscathed; then we plunge into worry and anxiety when, despite their rapid growth, they show signs of yellowing tips; we scrutinize them for other diseases, insects, “issues;” we feed them, water them, murmur soft nothings of encouragement; we marvel at the beauty of their gangly scapes, waving in the wind; and then with a certain amount of apprehension, we begin digging the bulbs, 9 months in the making, one by one; we cradle them gently, inhale the fragrant aroma as they hang to cure in gentle breezes, and then we, sometimes with great flourish and ceremony but without apology, devour them.

Who needs this roller coaster? We all do! Obviously. But it’s a slippery slope, my friends, very slippery indeed.Read More »Spring Garlic Woes

Cracking the Seed Germination Code

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To get your seeds to germinate, you might have to “think like a seed.” Many folks in the Pacific Northwest are starting seeds indoors this month for transplanting later, but some seeds germinate better with a period of cold or fluctuating cold/thaw cycles. They might be better planted directly in cold ground.

Crocus, Frogs, and Bees! Oh My!

LOVE the “firsts” that happen in January! First crocus, alder catkins, croaking frogs! This warm weather has brought out the bees, and they are returning with pollen! And look! The garlic shoots are up! Farewell January. Bring on Spring!

Blooming Rosemary in January!

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Rosemary! Blooming in January! You gotta love this herb! It is a great cullinary plant, medicinal herb, insectary, and more! You gotta grow it!

willow winter

Fruits of December

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Why isn’t the Winter Solstice the beginning of the New Year? Where are the birds & the bees? How many different fruits can we find in the garden in mid-December? Pondering these questions and more…and wishing everyone a season of light and hope!

It’s Your Day

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"It's Your Day" Early December already! I realize I have not posted anything on here since May, and the picture of those creepy-crawly caterpillars greeting me every time I went to the blog site was enough to make me turn away. I was starting to feel guilty. I had let down “my people.” I watched the site visit statistics drop precipitously.Read More »It’s Your Day

Caterpillar Slaughter

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Large tent caterpillar nestI have squished them with my bare hands, blasted the nests open with a power hose, sprayed them with vinegar, burned them alive with a blow torch, and for those that survived all that, drowned them in soapy water. If you, too, have stood aghast at the havoc they have wreaked in your beloved fruit trees, have vowed to take action, if not declare outright war, and have been somewhat taken aback by their tenacity – yes, we are talking about tent caterpillars – read on. But fair warning: this post is not for the faint of heart!Read More »Caterpillar Slaughter

Bee Swarm Saga

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cherry blossomsThis Bee Swarm Saga is, as some short stories are, rather long. If you want to skip to the lessons learned, go ahead to the bulleted items at the end. If, however, you want to grab a beverage of choice and hear a true tale of determination, courage, against-all-odds survival, instinct over reason, fate, and loyalty to the point of willing to give up one’s own life for the protection of one’s brethren, then this is the story for you.Read More »Bee Swarm Saga

Earth Day: Plant Something for the Bees!

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Earth Day Beach Cleanup

Beach cleanup on an earlier Earth Day.

Earth Day! Such an opportunity to do something positive for our planet! Whether you recycle, upcycle, bicycle, reduce your footprint, make a footprint, go for a simple walk, plant a tree – so much we can do to celebrate another day of living on this incredible planet that supports life as we know it.

Sometimes I just have to step back in amazement that any of this exists at all!Read More »Earth Day: Plant Something for the Bees!

Early Spring Blooms to Welcome the Bees

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Do you keep a record of what is bloom throughout the year? Since we started providing homes for bees, I have become much more aware of what is blooming when – particularly during those months on either end of the warm season, when the weather is unsettled and food for them can be scarce.

It seems many of the first to bloom are some of our natives. Perhaps it is Nature’s way of taking care of her own. Read More »Early Spring Blooms to Welcome the Bees

Identity Crisis 101: The Niche-Diversity-Resiliency Equation

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I’d like to share a little identity crisis I went through recently that ended up being quite useful.

It started in mid-January when I signed up for a booth of my very own at the Soroptimist Gala Garden Event.  It was the first time I had ever done such a thing, and it was one of those after-the-fact flashes:  “OMG – what have I done?” Nothing like laying out cold hard cash to make you feel committed!Read More »Identity Crisis 101: The Niche-Diversity-Resiliency Equation

Spring Equinox: A Tipping Point

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Honeybee on CrocusAhhh! At last! Whether it looks like it outside or not, we are assured that warmth is on its way! We have reached that tipping point: the day of the Vernal Equinox – when day and night are held in equilibrium. Symbolically, it provides a moment to think about balance in our own lives, too – and what we might do to bring tipping scales back into alignment.

Not to worry – I won’t delve deeply into the woo-woo here. Read More »Spring Equinox: A Tipping Point

What Worked – or NOT – in the 2013 Garden

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Winter Garden, Vincent Van Gogh: Buy through affiliate link at Art.com

Winter Garden, by Vincent Van Gogh (it looks like a dark and twisted place, does it not? You needn’t go there.)

It’s Garden Planning Season, and you know what THAT means: deep introspection to determine what worked and what didn’t, because unless you incorporate what you’ve learned into this year’s garden, you will be going forth with an impending sense of doom….

The winter is not that dark. Seriously. Lighten up already!Read More »What Worked – or NOT – in the 2013 Garden

Good Fungi vs Bad Fungi, Molds, Mildews, and Blights

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A reader from Texas posed some very good questions relative to my recent post on the importance of building the soil and, in particular, the essential role fungi play in the process. (Read: To Convert an Orchard to a Food Forest, Start with the Soil)

Specifically – How do you differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys?

She asks, “Don’t we always seem to be spraying trees against fungus?” “What about all the mildew, fire blight, early blight, and other diseases that can take down tomatoes, squashes, and cucumbers seemingly overnight?”

Where do you start?

How do you help one without helping the other?  Or the converse, destroy one without harming the other?

Can you introduce good fungi? And can good fungi fight off the bad ones?

My response started to get a bit lengthy, and I decided it would be better as its own blogpost. Maybe some of the other readers out there can shed some light on this as well.

Rust on Quince Leaves

I am definitely going to try to be more on top of spraying this plant this year with nutritious compost teas, and maybe even something with baking soda. I have a lot of mulch around the base, but maybe it hasn’t had time to break down and feed the soil yet?? I believe this was the Quince. Hope it makes it!

Because I couldn’t agree more on how confusing some of this is! Read More »Good Fungi vs Bad Fungi, Molds, Mildews, and Blights

Solstice, Suntracks, Supermoons, and a Happy New Year!

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Full Moon Rise
Dear Friends,

I thought I might write you all sooner. At the time of the last full moon of the year, for example, would have been appropriate, but the great white orb managed to boldly rise in the cold night sky and then set in quiet serenity the following morning without any website fanfare on my part (although I admit to a certain amount of cavorting in song and celebration, which is usually what happens when I whip out my harmonicas under a full moon….). (Not to draw correlations, of course.)Read More »Solstice, Suntracks, Supermoons, and a Happy New Year!

Favorite Garden Photos of 2013

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The problem with getting a new camera for Christmas in 2012 was trying to sort through over 1000 garden photos! I see I am attracted to symmetry, contrast, and bees! Here are a few of my favorite shots, that STILL can’t begin to capture the beauty and perfection of Mother Nature!

To Convert an Orchard to a Food Forest, Start with the Soil

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Orchard path at Barbolian FieldsWe have this old orchard on our homestead – how old is anybody’s guess. The house is over 100 years, so perhaps the trees are as well? How long do they live? It comprises 9 trees (apples, pie cherries, and an Italian prune), and despite its age, produces more than we can use, but not really enough for any kind of commercial enterprise.

The trees, like a lot of neglected orchards, are fraught with a tangle of suckers and twisted branches growing contrary to common sense. Gradually we have been pruning them back into shape, opening the centers to more light, and mowing the grass around and around. We are not ones to spray copper, sulfur, and assorted pesticides; nor have we added any fertilizers. In fact, we have rarely even watered them (they have obviously survived quite well on their own thus far, being situated alongside an irrigation ditch). It has been a learning process for us, too, and sometimes there is only so much you can do. The apples have a lot of scab. Pill bugs and earwigs enjoy them a lot. I think 4 of them are heirloom Gravensteins. They taste great.

And then one day, in reading Michael Phillips’ “The Holistic Orchard – Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way,” I began to realize that the typical orchard, planted in rows and surrounded by grass, produces in spite of the conditions we put them in. The descriptions were painfully familiar. It struck me that with a little help, this orchard could be so much more. Toby Hemenway’s book, “Gaia’s Garden,” was another eye-opener. Obviously, there are simple things we can all do to work with Nature, rather than against her.

Thus began the mission to let Nature “reclaim” the orchard.Read More »To Convert an Orchard to a Food Forest, Start with the Soil

Thanksgiving Connections

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sunchokesThe end of November! How did this happen?  It appears that we were so busy during the flurry of harvest activities and making sure things were getting tucked in before the coming chill, we forgot to look up! The days are not as long, you know; they are gone before you know it! We hardly noticed just how swiftly one turned into another while the sun skated low across the sky. What happened to high noon?Read More »Thanksgiving Connections

Garlic Planting Conundrums – Part 3

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This is my final post in this Garlic-Planting Conundrum series – and by now you probably think I am beating this whole thing into the ground. But I wanted to share a few practical things about figuring out your space needs and preparing the planting area, particularly under less-than-ideal conditions. Now is the time to think about next year, and with some forethought, you can save yourself a lot of work!

In this post I talk about

  • Figuring out how much garlic you should grow and how much space you will really need
  • Mulching and tilling – or not
  • What kinds of tools will help you get the job DONE (and which ones can you throw in the brambles)
  • Alternative planting methods, and do they work?
  • The nitty-gritty of building beds.

Read More »Garlic Planting Conundrums – Part 3

Garlic Planting Conundrums, Part 2

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Garlic Planting Conundrums, Part 2, in which we ask, where can you fit garlic in a permaculture landscape, what about companion planting with garlic, and what is the most efficient way to grow really great garlic?

So, in my earlier post, we talked a bit about figuring out where to plant the garlic from year to year, and how it can be a lot of work to break new ground and turn it into something soft and loose enough to grow a well-rounded, firm, disease-free, long-lasting, ultimately flavorful head of garlic, which is what we’re all after, right?Read More »Garlic Planting Conundrums, Part 2

October Spiderwebs

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On the Eve of All Hallows… when according to the ancient Celtics, we enter the dark half of the year…
…spiders cover the world with glitter… (a garden gallery at Barbolian Fields)

Garlic Planting Conundrums – Part 1

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I’ve written several articles about planting garlic, growing garlic, miserably failing at growing garlic, harvesting & curing garlic, and yes, eating garlic – and I have wanted to use the word, “Conundrum” in the title of every one of them. True.

Garlic SignBut here’s what happened: I stopped by our local farm store the other day to pick up some bone meal, and a big sign on the door proclaimed (see sign to the right) …

“You’re tellin’ me! I need to get my act together,” I thought, as I pushed through the door. Read More »Garlic Planting Conundrums – Part 1

Garlic for Barter and Trade

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What do 3 dozen eggs, 3 bottles of honey, and a beautiful handcrafted dish have to do with garlic?

In trade for garlic: pottery, honey, eggs

In trade for garlic: pottery, honey, eggs. Yes! We love all these things!

Barter Fare!

This picture is of my three most recent trades: a pottery dish made by Linda R. Hughes, three bottles of raw, unheated honey, and 3 dozen fresh eggs. Quite an assortment! And each one special in its own way.Read More »Garlic for Barter and Trade

Insect Hotel

Building an Insect Hotel

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When we ended that last blogpost, we were returning from the Bee Walk, excited about seeing honeybees up close (they’re very gentle, especially when they are foraging, you know), along with an assortment of other pollinators and numerous little green frogs. The sunshine helped!

“But where do all these critters usually live? And where will they spend the winter? Or will they just all d-i-e???” I saw a few sad faces in the crowd when I asked this question. Read More »Building an Insect Hotel

Let’s Do a Bee Walk

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Bee Walk? What does that mean? I mean, bees don’t walk much. Some say they “march,” as in marching up into the hive. But they don’t really march, either. Rather, they follow, which is interesting, considering they have the option of flying.

A Bee Walk sounds like a Moon Walk, Michael Jackson style, with a slight buzz. Hmmm. I like that idea.

See Annie's Flower Farm, Sequim, WA

Sid, aka Annie, of Annie’s Flower Farm – always cheerful and as beautiful as her flowers!

So I was kind of doing some creative moves in the Willow Room when my friend, Sid Anna, who runs Annie’s Flower Farm, called to ask me if I would like to do a “Bee Walk” through her gardens. Read More »Let’s Do a Bee Walk

What’s to Eat?

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Bee on Leaf
“What’s to eat?”

It’s a phrase that brings me back to when my teenage kids would hang for long periods on the open door of the refrigerator

As we approach late summer, I, too, have to ask, “What is there to eat – for the bees?” (And for that matter, what’s to DRINK? Are their water sources still available?)Read More »What’s to Eat?

2013 Garlic Crop Is In!

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garlc harvest 2013Yes! The garlic is IN and hangin’ in the shed! It looks great!

With this announcement, I have another – the short version is, there is not much there.

No – it’s not another infestation disaster. Simply, I scaled way back on the number and varieties of bulbs I planted (and scaled way UP in the permaculture / food forest plantings).

What this means is that although, yes, of course, I am still willing to share (how could I not?) – supplies are limited.Read More »2013 Garlic Crop Is In!

Yellow Tips on Garlic and Other Growing Dilemmas

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Garlic in Early June

June 4: The garlic is standing tall and looking strong, despite a few yellow tips.

…or, Good Grief! Give the Bees a Break!

My 5-year-old grandson gave me a special letter the other day. Inside the envelope was a carefully folded (multiple times) picture he had colored of a rad dude on a motorcycle. (Nice job!) But more revealing was the  envelope on which he had scrawled in his very best handwriting “GRAMMA,” along with a little happy face, below which was a large letter B. He explained to me that the face was a bee, because he knew his grandma loved bees. More pointedly, he had earlier told his mother, “All Gramma ever talks about is bees….Read More »Yellow Tips on Garlic and Other Growing Dilemmas

A Gentle Way to Install a Swarm

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Round 3 – or is it 4…

It was Mother’s Day. We were headed to our son’s house for a celebratory feast for a room full of mothers. As the matriarch of the group, or at least, the oldest, I had made a kick-A potato salad of grand proportions. I was considering a rhubarb-cooler-sort-of-drink and headed out to the garden to pick some stalks, when I couldn’t help but notice a LOUD buzzing. The air sure was full of a lot of bees! They were flying every which way. And I thought, Oh. My. Gosh. They are swarming AGAIN! Read More »A Gentle Way to Install a Swarm

The Morning After….

Ok. Mass chaos yesterday in catching the swarm that was wrapped around a steel fencepost & in installing them in a new Warre Hive, but at least they are in there. But what’s this? ANOTHER swarm in the garden? NOW what??

The Bee Saga Continues

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…The bee saga continues…. Where did the swarm on the cedar go – in the bait box in the tree or in the hive on the ground?
And what’s this? MORE excitement the morning after? Adventures in backyard beekeeping…

Swarm Alert!

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We noticed the little cedar tree over by the beehives looked a bit odd yesterday – and as we got closer, we realized, Holey Moley! a swarm of bees was almost completely covering it! Now for the hard part: how to persuade them to move into our hive!

Avoiding Shaken Bee Syndrome

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Does anyone else out there see the utter impossibility of shaking 15,000 bees through a small hole in the center of a box DOWN into another box without them all just flying UP into your face??? There has to be a gentler way. In my attempt to avoid Shaken Bee Syndrome, I managed to completely botch this bee installation. Learn from me and avoid. Or follow. The choice is yours.

Willow room in spring

A Quiet Place for Peace

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The Willow Room in spring takes on a life of its own. Individually, the reeds are supple. They bend with the forces that shape them. Together, however, they are strong – forever interlocked. Recent events in Boston remind us how together we are stronger, and, too, how each of us needs an inner garden sanctuary in which to find peace and make sense of this world.

Urgent: Weed Your Garlic!

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It’s officially spring and that means the beginning of Panic Season! So much to DO! Here is one more urgent task on your to-do list: WEED YOUR GARLIC. Early Spring is the most important weeding you will EVER DO in your garlic bed – and here is why.