As you are cleaning up your garden in preparation for the winter months, I hope you carry a notebook and pencil with you. That way, you can write down, while it is fresh in your mind, what went well this year and what you'd rather not repeat.
Did you say "never again" to zucchini because of mildew problems — again? Did your family absolutely love the cucumbers this year? Were you plagued by gophers? Want to try making your own compost? Did you plant your winter carrots too late, and now they are only an inch tall in November? Do you wonder why your spinach seeds didn't sprout?
We think we will remember when and how we did certain tasks, but I find that I can't rely only on my memory to recall what happened the previous year. Notes and a calendar are a necessity for me, and I'll bet they'd help you, too. It is so annoying to be uncertain what variety of tomatoes were such good slicers, or what date Jack Frost visited.
Sometimes notes and questions like this will help you realize that you need to know more about some plants and would benefit from a class or two, or to at least "study up" on it. If you tend to go online looking for answers, pay attention to who is handing out the advice. Look for information from a university or Extension Service, not a source that is trying to sell you something. Also be sure the source is in a similar climate. What works in West Virginia may not be suitable in the Rogue Valley.
Is it time to use raised beds? They take planning, too. Your health and agility may be the motivating factor, or maybe you're just tired of dealing with your difficult native soil. How about your watering system? Some may find dragging hoses an enjoyable challenge, but maybe a more automatic system would be better. Again, this will take some study on your part about advantages and disadvantages of various systems before making a decision.
Perhaps you are coming to the realization that a lawn is a very expensive and labor-intensive item to maintain. If you decide you'd like to raise something edible instead, how do you go about it? Hint: It does not necessitate digging up the grass or killing it first — you can successfully put raised beds directly on the grass without using chemicals, using several thicknesses of newspaper as a barrier. I've done it several times with minimum labor and great success.
Whether you are a seasoned gardener, it is a good idea to periodically have your soil tested. Do-it-yourself kits are available, but if you want a more complete analysis, get a professional job done. Call the OSU Master Gardener plant clinic at 541-776-7371 for some suggestions on where that can be done. Remember that if you build healthy soil, you will have healthy plants and far fewer problems with disease and insects.
And you thought winter was a time to just forget about gardening? No, indeed. Wintertime is thinking time, dreaming time, looking at seed catalog time, as well as a time to sit by the fire with a cup of tea and perhaps some of the bounty you've harvested and preserved.
Coming up: Thielsen Lebo of Lebeau Bamboo will teach a class on selecting and caring for bamboo, as well as its many uses around the garden, from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. Cost is $5. Call 541-776-7371 for details.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.