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Transitioning dense fields of honeysuckle to native meadows & herb gardens: reflections from year 3


When Hayden & I first moved to this 3.7 acre parcel of land in Brooktondale, NY about 3 years ago, I planned to grow all the herbs I needed for my product line. We had managed a very small farm in New York State and hoped to have a similarly sized operation of our own. At the same time, we felt committed to moving to a piece of land that had been neglected and overgrown with invasive species so we could use our skillsets to remove and replace them with native plants.

A lot has changed from then to now, our third growing season. What we are doing here feels more like an intensively managed garden and meadow restoration project than a farm. Suntrap’s product line has grown beyond what I can grow & harvest by myself, so this year I will buy most of the dried herbs I need from small herb farms I love, mostly local. I’m growing the herbs I need fresh for hydrosol distillation, tincture, favorite herbal recipes, and dye projects, but I don’t have the infrastructure to dry the larger quantities of herbs I need for my skin care line and I am very happy to support small herb farms with earth and people centered missions. Lately, I’m dreaming of building rustic infrastructure to host people glamping on the land so we can share the beauty and yield of the herb and dye gardens, native plant nursery, and what we have learned about restoring meadows. I'd love to know if this is something you are interested in.

Keep reading to learn about the journey we have been on with this land these last 3 years in Brooktondale.


The first year was mainly spent removing the honeysuckle understory, revealing a native understory of viburnum, elder, & hawthorn, and clearing spaces for planting. Hayden rotationally grazed a flock of sheep who were a massive help with clearing the honeysuckle. In those clearings we dug garden beds and built a hoop house. I grew most of the herbs I needed for Suntrap Botanical products and bought in a few pounds from local farmers here and there as needed. By September we hosted a botanical dye retreat on the land, working up until the last minute running honeysuckle brush through a wood chipper during a thunderstorm to get ready for the retreat. It was a success! Looking back, I am surprised we were able to go from honeysuckle fields to open space for 10+ people to camp, gardens, a fire pit, meadows with paths going through them, a shed, and a hoop house in one year - It was a pretty dramatic change without even mentioning all the work we did on the house and in our personal projects.


The second year we planned to have 5 interns, 2 of which would live on the land and help us transform a second, larger field into herb and native plant production. The pandemic laid waste to our plans and we had to pivot. I scaled back my growing expectations and focused on the beds and hoop house we had already established. I gardened them intensively and got a nice yield, but Suntrap was growing and I needed more herbs than I could cultivate alone so I began buying in bulk from small farms I trusted, mostly within 100 miles. We also erected a second hoop house where Hayden grew over 60 species of native plants for various meadow conversion projects.


This is our third growing season and I’m balancing the intensively managed garden and (relatively) passively managed meadow with more time in the apothecary formulating and producing the herbal products you and I both can’t get enough of. Feels natural to grow most of what I need fresh and support farmers with similar missions for everything else.


The next thing on my to-do list (okay, after distilling wild rose, chamomile, and lemon balm) is building an outdoor shower, compost toilet, and platform for a bell tent. Would you wanna stay here and learn about meadow restoration and enjoy the gardens? Leave a comment to let me know!


It's hard to convey with words what it has been like watching this land transform. Thanks for allowing me to try. If you want to support this work, check out the Herbal Apothecary & Online Courses.


Take care,

Geraldine


#herbgarden #meadowrestoration #nativeplants #apothecary

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