How a Garden Can Change Your Ecosystem…And How it Changed Ours

How a Garden Can Change Your Ecosystem…And How it Changed Ours


When we first moved to our home in Cooperstown, NY, the ecosystem around our home was sparse. Most of the farms in our area produce corn and soybeans, and maybe some hay depending on the year. None of them are very close to us, except maybe the corn. The birds of prey seemed huge, but there was little else to be seen. Except for maybe a deer here and there. We moved in to our home in June, so gardening that year was just not going to happen.

My husband wanted to start one the following year, which surprised me because he had always grown up in cities and towns and his mom’s garden wasn’t something he really participated in. I, however, had grown up gardening. My mother always had a garden, and we always worked right along side her. I was not a fan. And at first, I was not on board with starting one for our little family.

Year 1 – 2011

At the time I was working full-time, had just had a baby in the last year or so, and just didn’t see why. I didn’t think I had the energy or the time. Regardless, my husband, Matthew, really wanted to start a small one, so I was 

supportive. But, to be honest, that first year was awful. Not long before we had moved in gravel must have been dumped in the very spot we had chosen to garden, because under just a quarter-inch of dirt was almost solid gravel. It took us months to just cut the “sod” to even be able to start a small garden. Never the less, my husband persisted in wanting a garden. I wish I could say I was more supportive, but I complained way more than I would like to admit. We did manage to grow a couple of things that year, but the ecosystem didn’t seem to change at all that first year.

Year 2 – 2012

Nevertheless, the next year we got a little smarter. We decided trying to dig in that gravel was just not going to work, and went the way of raised beds. So. Much. Easier. We ordered the wood from our local hardware store and built them relatively quickly. We then purchased a truck load of compost from a local farmer and we started our meager garden. The first year we saw a few song birds and some more bugs, but the change was not yet very clear. The second year wasn’t that different.

The second year we added some garden beds (more than we could handle really). We were both gaining some enthusiasm for putting this little seed in the ground and, with a little work, reaping a harvest that we had grown ourselves. We couldn’t believe how much better the food from our garden tasted than the stuff from the store! The difference was unbelievable. Knowing that we could grow at least some things ourselves, and that they tasted so much better, we persisted. We also started learning more about where our food comes from in the stores, how old it really is, and what chemicals are used on those fruits and veggies. That was very motivating.

That year we saw some more birds, deer, turkeys, rabbits, and a groundhog. Oh the groundhog. And the rabbits. Those are two parts of the ecosystem I could have done without. We did not have a fence around the garden, as we could not really figure out how to afford it. If we had been able to fence it in those early years, I imagine we would have had a far more substantial harvest.

Year 3 (2013) – Year 7 (2017)

As the years have gone on, we have seen many song birds return year round, there are more rabbits, more pollinating insects (and pests. More on that later), more geese, ducks, turkeys, deer, ladybugs, (and now that we have bees) more wasps. Not as much a fan of that last one.

In short, our land now supports a menagerie of wildlife, where at one time we only saw an occasional hawk fly overhead. We have added bees and chickens to our little homestead, which also helps with the balance of our ecosystem. And maybe someday we will add other wildlife and insects (heard of mason bees?). But right now, we are focusing on the garden and bees. My husband was right…gardening is totally worth it! It helps our ecosystem, it provides us with sunshine, exercise, and delicious, healthy food. And it gives us a real reward that we can hold in our hands. It provides us with the ability to see the fruits of our labor.

Beneficial Insects

Beneficial Insects 

As many of you are probably aware, our populations of beneficial insects are in trouble. Bees and butterflies are what come to the forefront of my mind when thinking of beneficial insects, although they are far from the only ones. There are a variety of insects, including beetles, spiders, caterpillars, and more that offer wonderful contributions to our world.

So why are they in trouble?

Well, there are a lot of theories out there. The probability is that it is a combination of factors. Two of these factors, habitat and pesticides, are addressed in the Bee Better Certification. The Xerxes Society, via grant from the USDA, has partnered with Oregon Tilth to provide the Bee Better Certified program. You can read more about it here.

While this program is for farmers and ranchers, there are lessons to be learned for the rest of us. It is of vital importance for us to be conscientious about our use of pesticides and what we plant. There are a lot of plants out there that do very well for different insects. Even if you don’t want to put a lot of research into it, planting something that flowers is a great first step.

In September and October in Upstate New York, we have what is referred to as the fall “flow”. Bee Balm, Asters, Goldenrod, and Ragweed are all blooming. While allergy suffers don’t like it very much, the bees love it! This is the last chance, so to speak, for the bees to get enough food (honey and pollen) for winter. They will primarily be storing honey at this point, as pollen is primarily used for raising brood. The queens, this time of year, are not laying as strongly as they do not want to have too many bees to feed going into winter. They are also kicking the drones out of the hives, as they (hopefully) will not be swarming anymore at this point.

How Can You Help? 

If you are not a farmer, the best thing to do at this time of year is start looking at your property and thinking about what you could plant next year to help the native and/or beneficial species of insects. You can view our seed starting basics articles here to help get you started. In some cases, you can even buy insects such as ladybugs and lacewings and have them mailed to you. These two particular insects can actually serve as natural “pesticides”, as they eat bad bugs – think aphids.

What will you do to help your local pollinators?

Garlic: From Planting to Harvest

Types of Garlic

There are two types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. The plants form in different ways and have different harvest potentials. It is generally said that softneck varieties do well in warmer climates, where as hardneck varieties do well in northern, harsher climates. We plant hardneck garlic as we live in the north and get two harvests per season.

What is hardneck garlic?

Hardneck garlic has a hard central stem at maturity. While I could go into all the details, this site does an excellent job of it. Check it out!

Why we like hardnecks

We have exclusively grown hardneck varieties on our homestead for several years now. We started with about 100 cloves, and replant the best every fall. This has given us a garlic that is well adapted to our micro-climate that we can trust will do well, even if we neglect it a bit. *clears throat*

My Garden Helper. She supervised everything! 🙂

The hardneck variety is better suited to a northern climate because of it’s hardiness. While we are technically in USDA zone 5a, our frost pocket puts us more in the range of 4b, but that hasn’t stopped it from thriving!

This last fall we planted over 200 cloves (because we love garlic that much), and it seems to have done very well despite the fact that we have been a bit neglectful this year. How much did we harvest? I’m not entirely sure yet. You see, the garlic has to be cured, or dried before we relieve it of its stem, but it looks like we had a successful year.

We harvested the garlic scapes about a month or so ago, and then dried them in the dehydrator. We also still have some pickled scapes from last year to use. So maybe 200 will be a bit much, but I’m sure we will get good use out of it.

Harvesting Process

Harvesting Garlic

Step 1: Planting. The harvest of garlic begins with planting it in the fall. We plant our cloves from the best heads of garlic about every four inches between and about an inch deep (as deep as they are big). These are planted in early fall, so that the heads have some time to establish roots. Additional covering of mulch, such as straw, for insulation may also help. This is something we have yet to experiment with, as we have not found it to be necessary.

Weeds for the Birds
Birds enjoying the greenery









Step 2:  Weeding and fertilizing. The garlic comes up in early spring, and *should* be weeded and fertilized regularly. As I said, we didn’t do very well with that this year, but we still had a good harvest. If we had been better about weeding and fertilizing, it would have been better.

As you can see above, the ducklings, goslings, and turkeys loved the gift of greenery! They had consumed almost everything green in their pasture area, which you can see in the picture. We have since, extended their pasture so that they have fresh grazing again.

Step 3: Harvesting and Drying. Once the leaves have died back a bit, but you still have one or two green leaves, they should be harvested. The roots should be trimmed (as seen in the picture above). Rub any dirt off, and hang to dry for a couple weeks. You don’t have to have them cleaned to what ours are at, but I was concerned about the possibility of mold and such because the soil was so wet and I was harvesting a bit late.

Drying Garlic

Garlic Plans

After it has had time to dry, we will choose our best bulbs for fall planting. After we have  that, we will choose the bulbs that are maybe a little smaller and make garlic powder. We will store the rest in a cool, dry, dark place and will store almost all winter, and maybe a little longer for fresh use year round! Actually, I haven’t bought garlic from a store in years!


Question of the Week:

Would you like to learn how to make Garlic Powder???

Up Next…

Honey extraction! That’s right…we are extracting honey for the second time this year! We will be doing that this weekend, so you can expect a post about that, and maybe some other exciting happenings around the homestead in the coming week. Until next time! 🙂

We also have plans to catch you up on some other interesting and different happenings with our bees this next week also. Stay tuned!

Seed Starting Basics: Basic Supplies & Prep

So you’ve decided to start some seeds, but aren’t sure what you need? There are a lot of decisions to make. With all of the decisions about containers, soil, markers, and, on top of all of that, what seeds to choose?  It isn’t as difficult as you might think. It might be tempting to give up before you start because there is just so much to learn. Please do not let information overload stop you from beginning. It doesn’t need to be perfect. In most cases, the things we procrastinate on are not nearly as bad as we think they will be. With that in mind, let us begin!

To begin on your seed starting journey, you will need some basic supplies. Most are easily accessible at your local hardware or lawn and garden store.

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Seed Starting Basics: Frost Dates

This post contains affiliate links. Should you buy items through those links, Bramble and Burdock would receive a commission. Thanks!

So we are incredibly behind with our seed starting this year. Or so we thought. Our specific area has a later last frost date than the general USDA zone map had informed us. We had suspected that we were a bit later than the surrounding areas, but had not found anything to confirm that. According to, (more…)

Spring is Here. Maybe.

We have flowers! We’ve had several warm days for this early in spring here, but alas, we found these flowers and the next day’s high was 13. So it is with early spring in the Northeast. It tempts you to do things outdoors and dream with sunny skies and warm weather, and then it plunges you back into winter the very next day.   (more…)