Inside: The best way to prepare for next year is by taking end of season garden notes. Evaluate your garden with these simple tips.
*This post contains affiliate links.
It’s late fall, and one important task remains on my to-do list: taking end of season garden notes. By jotting down observations now, I hope to improve on next year’s garden and make the work load more manageable for all I want to accomplish. My aspirations tend to be bigger than my ability to carry them out. With some fine-tuning I hope to be more efficient with the time I have for outdoor projects. That’s the plan, anyway.
Make a list of garden areas
First I make a list of every area I garden, dividing that between flowers and food. For me there are several in the food category: large raised garden plot; small rectangle raised garden bed; small plot on east side; cole crops, strawberry, cucumber, and herb beds; new plot around fallen log, and two large tubs on the west end of my house. I also have peach and apple trees and an almond tree that needs some love. For the flowers, I have my perennials bed, west flower bed, the stump, small rock garden, containers around steps, and containers around trees.
Ask Two Simple Questions
Next I ask myself two simple questions: what worked and what didn’t work. Revisiting each garden area, I pay attention to such items as the performance of vegetable, fruit, and flower varieties, soil prep, weather conditions, and my participation in it. The latter meaning my time and effort. Did I slack off at some point? Lose interest? Not give enough attention to something? All of these are taken into consideration as I jot down notes for each area. But it still boils down to what was successful and what fell short of my expectations.
For example, when I look at the small rectangle garden bed, I have these observations:
I was happy with this new bed I constructed by taking small logs of various heights (roughly firewood size) and placing them on end. Turned out great. Tried my hand at hay bale gardening with mixed reviews. Peppers did okay (they don’t like overly wet conditions), but they didn’t have enough fertilizer. The bales collapsed more than I had anticipated, which posed a challenge. (I stuffed loose hay into the bed in places.) I liked the marconis (pepper variety) but didn’t care for the shishitos (another variety). All peppers perked up in early fall, and I couldn’t figure out why until I remembered a little habit I’d developed mid to late season. Whenever I emptied out the compost bucket, I’d turn on the pump and fill the bucket with water to rinse. I started dumping that rinse water onto the hay bales, and after several weeks the compost rinse water really made a difference. What I absolutely love about gardening are these little discoveries that work–particularly the happy accidents.
Lest you get the impression all of my notes are this elaborate, I assure you they aren’t. Looking over my flower containers under the trees, there isn’t much to report:
Coleus continues to do well in shade. Height of season sun path and hot weather cause containers to dry out quicker, needing attention. Pink polka dot plant did well in a container with pink begonias.
Keep a Garden Planner
Purchasing a notebook for your garden notes is a good idea. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple thin notebook, the kind that are a steal when school supplies go on sale, will do just fine. If you want to part with a little green (pun not intended), you can find a nice selection of planners online. The one from The Old Farmer’s Almanac caught my eye and will probably end up on my Christmas list.
Whatever you choose, you’ll be in good company. Years ago when my family toured the gardens at Monticello and later at Mount Vernon, I learned that both of these Founding Fathers took many notes concerning the plant life on their farms. My impression was that Washington’s managerial skills motivated him to keep good records while I believe Jefferson’s pure love of the natural world and discovery prompted him to jot down observations. I’m a mixture of these motivations.
Whatever the reason you decide for taking notes, now is a good time to start! Your spring 2018 self will thank you!
How did your garden grow? Tell us about it in the comments.
Inside: When nighttime temperatures dip into the lower 20s, it’s time to revisit the garden, preparing strawberry plants for winter. Read on to find out how.
Normally by this time in November, I’m heading out to my strawberry bed to cover plants for winter. It’s not a difficult job, but here are a few things to keep in mind.
Wait until temperatures have fallen to around 20 degrees for several nights. This year it’s been unseasonably warm, so it’s actually not time to cover plants yet, but in a typical year by now I’ve already put a six- to eight-inch layer of hay or straw over my strawberry plants. With the colder temps the plants become dormant and won’t get moldy under the mulch.
Once the plants have been covered, check the mulch a day or two later. You might need to fill in with additional straw or hay in thinner places where the mulch has settled or blown away. Then pat yourself on the back! You’ve successfully put your babies to bed for the winter.
Keep the mulch in place until new growth begins in the spring. In my neck of the woods, and taking my microclimate into consideration, that’s usually sometime in March.
Carefully remove the mulch and place it around the plant. That will insulate the plant in the event of a cold snap and also get ahead of the weeds as the strawberry plant grows.
Simple, right? Take care of your strawberry plants, and they’ll provide you with bowlfuls of sweet red berries in late spring. I can almost taste them now!
Is your garden ready for winter? Tell us about it in the comments.
Inside: Announcing our first ever A Rural Girl’s Favorite Things Christmas Gift Guide! Look for affordable, practical, and sometimes a little indulgent gifts that I absolutely love and wholeheartedly recommend.
I have a dual nature–it’s true. A very practical side, yet, at times, a little indulgent. Not much, mind you, but perhaps a tinge. So when it comes to creating ARGW’s first Christmas gift guide, I wanted to include those wonderful, helpful, practical things I love and use regularly along with the occasional small indulgence. What follows is a list of my favorite things, organized according to spending limits.
(By the way, this post contains affiliate links. What that means is that when you click on any link and purchase something, I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps me to pay for the cost of this blog and make a living. Thanks for your interest!)
Gifts Under $20
Speaking of my indulgent side, I absolutely love flavored coffees. And quite often this ends up on my wish list: orange brandy coffee. Yum!
I also happen to be in love with scented things, from candles to essential oils to lotions to soaps. When Hubs and I stayed in the Frederick Hotel in Boonville, Missouri, the hotel used these special goat milk soaps called Zum Bars, which they also sold in the gift shop. I was especially intrigued by the frankincense and myrrh scent, reminded of the Christmas story. With a little hunting I found the soaps online, purchased them, and wrapped them in gold paper (of course) for family. These make great stocking stuffers. Remember, you, too, can be a wise gift giver!
Note: If you want to purchase several bars, the price is lower per bar here.
This next gift has become a perennial favorite of mine– Daily Guideposts 2018: A Spirit-lifting Devotional. This year’s theme is “Unfailing Love” from Psalm 33:22. Several reasons to love this book, which Amazon describes as “America’s best-selling annual devotional”: One, it’s written by writers with different levels of faith, so it appeals to a wider audience. Two, the paperback version is in large print, so it’s easier on the eyes. Three, it’s very affordable. Four, the writers write beautiful prose. Lastly, it’s a great way to start your day!
I have a favorite doctor. His name? Dr. Teal! Or maybe Dr. Teal is a woman, I don’t know. What I do know is this company has some amazing products for those of us who do some of our best thinking while soaking in a tub. Dr. Teal’s Pure Epsom Salt Soaking Solution comes in multiple scents, two of which are included in this bundle: lavender and eucalyptus. I’m also quite fond of their new scent–Dr. Teal’s Pink Himalayan Mineral Soak, which has the wonderful aroma of bergamot and sweet orange essential oils. And did I mention an important benefit? A good source of magnesium, a mineral most of us are woefully lacking. Plus it makes your skin so soft!
Note: They have a wide variety of products beyond bath soaks, so check them out.
Gifts Under $30
About a year ago I became interested in essential oils and received this diffuser as a gift last Christmas. I really like it! It’s a great place to start if you’re new to essential oils.
And if you’re looking for a good book on the subject, I highly recommend Essential Oils Ancient Medicine by Dr. Josh Axe and Jordan Rubin. I bought one for myself and Mom this past year.
While I wouldn’t say I use this immersion blender (also called stick blender) every day, I find it really comes in handy with making soups and cauliflower purees (our version of mashed “potatoes”). I also use it to make a quick shake when I don’t want to get the big blender dirty. Definitely in my top ten of kitchen gadgets and appliances.
Gifts Under $50
My friend Patty got me this cool lap desk last year for Christmas, and I absolutely love it! For anyone who works on a laptop while sitting on the couch watching TV (come on, be honest) this is a comfy solution. What I like about it is that it elevates the laptop so that I’m not hunched over straining my shoulders and neck. And did I mention the adjustable light? Computer work never was this easy! Now if I could only find someone to bring me hot beverages at regular intervals. . .
My Kindle Fire and I are joined at the hip–er, I mean hand. Let’s just say we’re very close. While I am not a tech gadget girl, the Kindle Fire has so many features I love beyond my main reason for wanting it–as an e-reader. Years ago when Hubs got it for me and was showing me how to recharge it, I said, “Well, I probably won’t be using it every day.” Yeah, right.
Gifts Under $100
For the essential oil enthusiast in your life, this starter kit has the basics any newbie or seasoned guru would need. While you can find cheaper oils, the quality is not the same. The lavender and lemon oils smell great when diffused, and I use the peppermint oil for a number of things, from aches and pains to congestion to nausea to needing a pick-me-up.
Last but certainly not least, I recommend the coolest of gifts–an ice cream maker! I have gotten so much use out of mine that it sits right next to the coffeemaker, if that tells you anything. Emily purchased this as a combination Mother’s and Father’s Day gift and it has been used continuously since then. She uses hers to make frozen kefir, so it can be used for healthy frozen treats, too.
So there you have it–A Rural Girl’s Favorite Things Christmas Gift Guide 2017.
Happy shopping, friends! May all your gift selections be on sale and in stock, and may they arrive before Christmas!
Coming Attractions: Next month we’ll be making and baking ARGW Christmas style with DIY crafts and recipes. Look for our 12 Posts of Christmas–daily posts celebrating the season starting December 14 and counting down to Christmas Day!
Inside: A selection of Thanksgiving writings . . . The woman who started a tradition, Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, cultivating thankfulness, and the origin of our Thanksgiving menu.
Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday (second only to Christmas, that is). To celebrate the occasion, I’ve put together several different selections of writings. So grab a piece of pumpkin pie with a big dollop of whip cream and enjoy the read.
The Woman Who Started a Tradition
“Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the ‘day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.’ She explained, ‘You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.’
“Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale’s request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. George Washington was the first president to proclaim a day of thanksgiving, issuing his request on October 3, 1789, exactly 74 years before Lincoln’s.”
Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation
Part prayer, part proclamation, what I find remarkable about Lincoln’s writings is that he could find the blessings in the midst of a civil war which was tearing our country apart. It is beautiful to read.
October 3, 1863
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”
Confession time: I’ve never been great at keeping a journal. Just not my thing, even though I am a writer. But for more than a year and a half I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal.
I started out doing something called the examen which had its roots in The Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius. The gist of it is that at the end of the day, you write down the moment you are most grateful for as well as the moment you are least grateful for. The former cultivates gratitude, the latter awareness of possible patterns in life and areas that might need to be addressed.
After six months of doing the examen, I decided to change the way I spent those few moments in reflection. I simply wrote down what I was grateful for that day. Not that I ignored the bad or pretended it didn’t exist, just that I chose to focus on the positive.
What I have noticed from this little daily exercise is that slowly but surely, it is shaping my perspective. I am more optimistic. I am more content. I complain less. I am more in tune with the hundreds of blessings all around me in my day-to-day existence. I am more careful to choose my words because I truly believe they direct the course of my life.
Keeping a gratitude journal need not be difficult. First, choose a journal that you like. (Mine is pictured above with my favorite coffee mug.) My friend Patty bought me this beautiful leather-bound journal with a tree embossed on the cover and a bead and leather strap to secure it. I love the way it looks. It’s so me.
Next, decide how you will go about keeping your gratitude journal. Maybe you like the idea of the examen or simply jotting down something you are thankful for every day, as I do. Or maybe the thought of doing this daily feels like one more thing on your to-do list. Setting aside some time once a week might work better for you, then. Whatever you decide, I would suggest that you don’t beat yourself up over any missed days. It’s not about leaving a perfect record for every day or choosing a specific number of items you will list. The point of this practice is to change your attitude. Perfection has nothing to do with it.
Finally, choose a time of day that best works for you. Typically I will review the previous day the following morning, though not always. If something that morning occurs to me, I write it down. I have no set amount of items to list. Often I do about three, but I have listed anywhere from one to half a dozen. There are no rules, unless you make them.
Try it for yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised by your changed outlook!
What Did They Eat at the First Thanksgiving?
From Edward Winslow, an English leader attending the harvest gathering of 1621, we learn:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.”
William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth, mentions this in his accounts: “And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.”
So Where Does Our Modern Menu Come From?
Again we turn to Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, who had been publishing recipes for Thanksgiving in preparation for a national holiday she helped to make happen. By the time Lincoln made his proclamation, a nation of women were making such dishes as sage dressing and mashed potatoes, which were considered exotic then.
As I walked home from the farm after feeding the chickens tonight, sun setting behind me, it struck me how still, peaceful it was outside. This year Mike and I celebrated a quiet Thanksgiving, and that suited us. Tomorrow we gather with family and do a Friday Thanksgiving meal down in St. Louis. For now I’m enjoying the close of day, kitty curled up on my lap, and a genuine feeling of gratitude for the abundant simple gifts I’ve been given.
I am truly blessed.
Happy Thanksgiving, Friends!