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Returning the Nutrients

Photo of a lavender plant with leaves around the base

Part II: Putting the Garden to Bed

There is no better garden than next year’s garden.

Unknown quote, but it’s my favorite saying

But First, a Snack

Before putting the garden to bed, it’s always a good idea to give the soil and any perennial plants a snack before bed. They might not “eat” during the winter, but they will be awfully hungry upon waking and it saves you time and effort when you do it now.

Photo of the garden bed and my rake

For the garden beds, I give everything a good rake and add some all-purpose fertilizer. The soil put in a lot of hard work this summer, giving everything it had to my plants, so I make sure to mix in some fertilizer and compost at this stage. This gives ample time for the fertilizer to absorb and compost to decompose. I’ll do this part again in the spring, too.

The Perfect Comforter

After putting down some fertilizer and compost (don’t forget the compost around the base of your perennial plants like the lavender and hydrangeas!), I get ready to put down a thick layer of leaves. We have a ridiculous number of trees on our property and they don’t all lose their leaves at the same time. This means I am moving leaves for the better part of a month. When I get tired of blowing the leaves and bagging I take the opportunity to create the most perfect comforter for my garden. I like to use put the bag attachment on my push-mower and chop up the leaves before dumping them on the beds – but you don’t have to do that if you can’t.

Why Leaves?

First of all, they are bountiful – at least in the part of the country where I live. I find there is no point in buying anything expensive or fancy when Mother Nature is providing me with the best all-natural and organic mulch.

Second, as these leaves decompose over time, they prevent weeds from sprouting up and unwanted seeds from landing on the soil to sprout down.

Third, like any store-bought mulch, they do a great job of maintaining soil moisture and temperature.

Fourth, the leaves ultimately breakdown and add to the nutrients in the soil as another form of compost.

And just like that, you’ve put the garden to bed for the winter. Remember to turn off and unhook any hoses you have out and tidy up any trash. I’ll see you in the spring when we help the garden to wake up!

<<Part I: Planting the Garlic

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Say Goodnight and Sleep Tight

garlic and cloves on white surface

Part I: Garlic Planting

It’s November and getting quite cold in upstate New York, so it’s time to put the garden to bed. It was plentiful this past summer and the best gift I can give it is to give it a good rest and a treat.

But First, the Garlic

I’m still learning to be a better gardener every year. I make sure to jot down my notes in my garden notebook so I can implement changes in next year’s garden. Some veggies always do well and others, never. Some, like carrots, I am convinced can do well, I just haven’t found the right method or technique. Garlic is one of those plants for me.

Fresh garlic scapes from the summer

I am obsessed with garlic. I put it in everything, I make garlic confit and garlic olive oil. Next to salt and pepper, garlic is a guarantee in every dish I make. It was a logical next step when it came to expanding my garden. The summer of 2022 was my third season growing garlic. To date, the only thing I have successfully harvested and used has been the scapes. But I know I can figure this one out. I feel confident that this year would have been a success, if it were not for the extreme heat and drought of July and the fact that we were away on vacation during one of the hottest weeks, thus cooking my garlic to a crisp.

How to Plant Garlic

Garlic is a bulb, obviously, and like any flower bulb, they are planted in the fall. This is because bulbs need vernalization in order to root properly and develop bulbs come spring. Basically they need the cool temps to start growing roots before going dormant in the winter. This gives them the best chance to grow and be ready in late summer. Garlic takes a long time to grow.

Map of USA Hardiness Zones.

I live in Zone 5b, but you should take a look at your zone and decide the best time to plant. According to the USDA Hardiness Zone map, I should be planting garlic around mid- to late-October. However, I’ve noticed in the last couple of years I’ve had to push that back into November because of warm falls. I don’t want my garlic to prematurely sprout and, ultimately, rot or not develop properly. It’s become harder to guess when the ground will freeze, but my goal is to get the garlic in the ground 4-6 weeks before then. Typically this means the daytime temperatures are now in the 40s or 50s and the nighttime temps get close to or just barely dip below freezing.

What Kind of Bulbs Should I Use?

There is no law against using garlic from the grocery store, but you will probably be disappointed. I did that my first time growing garlic and, while the garlic did sprout, I didn’t get much in the way of scapes and the bulbs were microscopic. These garlic bulbs tend to be of poorer quality for growing and may be designed to stay small or not grow much at all. Think about it – the last thing you want to buy in the grocery store is garlic with green shoots coming out.

garlic and cloves on white surface
Choosing the right garlic can sometimes come down to trial and error

I’ve taken a couple of approaches. In the fall of 2021, I planted some garlic that had been gifted to me from friends who grew their own garlic. This was the garlic I was most excited about but then died in the drought. I did get some fantastic garlic scapes, however, so it wasn’t a bust.

This year I am trying out two types of garlic bulbs: one from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds collection (German Extra-Hardy) and one from my local farm store, which specifically sells seed garlic. Both types are hardneck varieties.

When planting garlic, or anything in my garden for that matter, I don’t follow the rules of keeping everything far apart. Sometimes it works (like with potatoes or carrots) and sometimes it doesn’t (like zucchini). I absolutely take the approach of “well plants in nature don’t follow this rule and they turn out alright.”

Photo of a garden bed with leaves as a preparation for winter.

In this case I buried the garlic bulbs, points up, about 2 inches into the ground and a few inches apart, mostly in rows. This bed is entirely dedicated to the garlic, so I didn’t feel that organizing them was necessary. What’s awesome about garlic is that you don’t need a bed or formal garden to grow it – just a big pot, soil, and sun. You will want well draining soil to keep the bulbs from rotting. My natural soil in the ground is sand, but over the years I have added some garden soil and compost, so it’s a good mix.

Missed the timing for this year?

Don’t sweat it! Get ahold of some garlic bulbs ASAP and get a big pot. You can plant some garlic in the pot and keep it in the house or in your garage for a couple of weeks so it can get established, then put it outside to freeze.

Part II: Returning the Nutrients >>

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Mid-Summer Gardening: A Check In

mid-summer gardening

As promised, I am updating you all on the traveling home adventure of restoring my mother-in-law’s flower garden. I’ll be honest, I was skeptical that it would be successful. Lavender is very fussy and it was absurdly hot the day I did my heavy pruning. Both activities cause a LOT of stress on plants and they might just give up the ghost right then and there. If you haven’t seen the state of the garden before I got started, check out my first post here. Mid-summer gardening can be full of weed-pulling, so I braced myself for a boring visit.

garden rehab - wrong shoes
Once again, I forgot my sneakers.

At First Glance

I was so nervous when I pulled in. My spouse had been by the house a week or two earlier to mow and he said things “didn’t look dead” but that wasn’t a very helpful description.

The Bloody Cranes-bill (a type of geranium) was in full bloom and had already spread quite a lot since I was last in the garden. I hate to pull healthy plants, but I absolutely needed to in this case. I did grab some for myself to transport back home. You can see the before and after below of how much the geraniums had grown and spread. I took the right-hand photo from behind the retaining wall you see in the left-hand photo.

I was pleasantly surprised by the progress of the lavender. So much so, I did a little dance and cheer! Not only had they not died, I saw evidence of new growth and flowers starting to grow up from the shrub.

The shrubs were still wonky-shaped from years of competing for sunlight. My goal is to give them another haircut after all the new growth has been established and eventually remove all of the crooked part s of the plant. Eventually, these beauties will be back to fighting shape

Where I left Things

I didn’t have as much time to work in the garden this time around. I went through and did a quick weeding and clean-up. I snagged some peonies or my garden as well. I’m going to take a look in again sometime in early fall and get things ready for the winter.

It’s looking well, all things considered.

To be continued…

As I mentioned, I plan to give it another clean up before winter. My hope is that it will be ready to be put to bed with minimal effort, since I can’t be sure when I will be back in later fall. Stay tuned!

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Garden Rehab

crop farmer carrying seedling tray in field

Welcome to my traveling home adventure! Last weekend was my mother-in-law’s birthday. We spent the weekend with her in Vermont and it was incredibly hot – and it was only May! She’s been in down-sizing mode, so I knew I had to be practical with her gift this year. I decided to tackle the very over-grown garden at her rental property. This is definitely going to be a long term garden rehab project. I was also completely unprepared to garden this particular weekend; I thought of the idea to do this on the drive up.

garden rehab - wrong shoes
Sandals were all I had – whoops!

How it started

The people who used to live in this house loved their outdoor plants. I think when the woman was younger and more mobile, this garden bed area was probably really amazing. Everyone I’ve ever heard speak of this lady (who is still with us, just in an apartment these days!) always talks about her garden.

When I saw the garden for the first time last summer, it was already over-grown so I’ve probably been thinking about how to go about it since 2021.

As you can see, the lavender (right photo, lower right corner) was taking over an enormous portion of the garden. Last year I took a few plants home and I harvested an insane amount of flowers. While completely unruly last year, the plants did look generally healthy, at least on the outside. This year, however, I could see that they were not looking as great. I expect it was the combination of lack of regular care and that the plants had finally had enough trying to fight for light.

The weeds weren’t too bad, actually. A few of the spreading plants, like this Lamb’s Ear, were growing into the garden path. I got to the house at 9:00 am in the hopes of not sweating to death, but I was filthy and soaked by the time lunch rolled around.

How it’s going

This isn’t really the time to prune lavender plants, but I wasn’t sure if I would be around at the right time to wait. Plus, the plants were on their way out if I didn’t try to do something now. There was definitely new growth coming up on the old wood, so that was promising. Lavender, like with other old-wood growth plants (think: hydrangea, lilacs, and forsythia), needs those dead-looking branches to develop new shoots. Pruning is very tricky and aggressive pruning to rejuvenate has a high failure rate with lavender. If this plan doesn’t pan out, I am fully prepared to start all over again and buy my mother-in-law some new lavender plants from the garden center.

Here’s hoping that sunlight on the lower branches help fill them out a bit.

I pulled up nearly every bush, closely inspected them for truly dead branches, pruned them, and re-planted them with plenty of air and light in between. After closer inspection, I think this mass of lavender started out as only 3 or 4 small bushes.

To be continued…

I kept a few plants for myself to add to my new terraced garden and left this garden covered in dirt, dripping sweat, and happy with my progress. It took a grand total of 4 hours just to complete the middle section of this relatively small garden. I’ll be back in 2 weeks to see if anything survived and to work on it some more – this time with my proper tools and clothes. Fingers crossed!

Part 2: Mid-Summer Gardening

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DIY Garden Bed

Looking to up your gardening game this summer? Cedar garden beds are the way to go – and they can be easy to create and pretty affordable. Step away from the fancy kit and build your own in a day – for a lot less. Let’s DIY a garden bed!

Up close image of the garden dirt
Watch out for surprise roots!

Our backyard is a pretty steep hill. But it’s also the sunniest spot in the summer and our veggies grow best up there. I discovered this by accident last summer when a mystery squash started growing like crazy on the hill. I already planted some potatoes and carrots before I had the idea to build a terraced cedar garden bed into the hill.


Head over to your local home store and pick up some cedar fence pickets. There is a reason why people use cedar for fences – they are durable, last a long time, and are rot-resistant. Thus making them ideal for garden beds.

Grab some wooden garden stakes while you are there, too.

In terms of tools, you’ll need a shovel, mallet, circular saw, tape measure, level, and nail gun (or any tool that can join two pieces of wood, e.g, screwdriver, drill, or hammer)


I wasn’t looking to make anything particularly fancy. It was a Sunday morning and I had a lot of other jobs to do. Cedar fence pickets are ideal also because they come in 6 foot lengths. That seemed like a reasonable width to my garden bed.

I started out by deciding where my very first board would go. Keeping things simple, I went with a 3 foot depth for the beds. Gearing up to dig, I measured out 3 feet up hill and started digging until I was close to level with my starting point. Once I had dug out most of the soil, I started to check for level. I wasn’t looking for a perfect level, but I also didn’t want to have any major sloping.

Then, I repeated this step for the next tier until I had a rough area to work in. Next, I stacked two boards and checked to make sure they lined up with the next tier. This became the rear retaining wall of the bed.


Here’s where I started to work with the wood. I took the two retaining wall boards and placed them on my work surface. Using the nail gun, I affixed two garden stakes to the back of the boards. This was to join them together and give the wall something to grab the earth below it.

Two boards joined together
The back retaining wall

I then proceeded to hammer them into the ground and checked for level.

Checking for level.
Love it when it finally levels.

It was a quick job to measure out the halfway mark on the board to cut the sides of the bed. For the sides of the beds, I only used one row of boards. I cut the additional garden stakes down into shorter lengths and nailed one to each end of the 3 foot board.

When I installed the 3 foot boards, I hammered them level and then nailed the front board to the garden stake that was already nailed to the 3 foot board.

Attaching the boards to each other
This adds stability and keeps everything together.

And just like that I had made two tiered garden beds before lunch! Make sure that you line the bottom with weed barrier and bring in some compost and soil for your beds. Enjoy your beautiful garden and impress your friends with a DIY garden bed.

Almost finished product
Just about finished

Because I use our own compost, I will be letting this bed do it’s own thing this season. I am sure some mystery plants will pop up!

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A Good Old Fashioned Tree Planting

green leaf plant on brown soil

Happy Arbor Day! Let’s do some tree planting.

Ever since I was a kid, I make a point to plant a tree on Earth Day. This year, my order of trees and shrubs from the Albany County Soil and Water Conservation District wasn’t ready until the day after.

We live on an acre of land with a lot of older trees that are planted in soil, so they are big and they are leaning. Slowly we have to take them down before they fall down (and we’ve had that happen a few times over the past 6 years).

BUT! we never cut down a tree before making a point of planting or replanting multiple trees. I am really excited about this year’s haul!

Let’s get started!

We’ve got 2 types of cherry, 2 apples, 5 sugar maples, lilacs, and elderberry. The ACSWCD makes a point of selling seedlings, saplings, and bulbs that are all native to the area and are designed to help the immediate area, not just to serve as decoration.

Photo of tree saplings in bundles before planting.
Quite the haul!

I got straight to work planting them, as I didn’t want to have them sitting around any longer than necessary. It’s important to take a moment and plan out where you want your new plants; keep in mind some of them require certain spacing in between (e.g., elderberry needs good airflow) or specifically near other similar species (e.g., the fruit trees in order to promote pollination and fruit production).

We chose the elderberry to provide some privacy, especially in the winter when our Autumn Olive shrubs drop their leaves. And since we got rid of the ugly chain link fence last year, this is a necessity.

Photo of Elderberry seedling
The elderberry is hard to see right now, but it’s the plant that looks like a skinny stick coming out of the ground.
Photo of the street at the top of the hill.
Right now you can see straight up the hill to the road.
Photo of Arbor Vitae and Sugar Maple
Last year’s small Arbor Vitae and a Sugar Maple.

Spacing in general is an important concept, especially with shrubs like Arbor Vitae – it may be tempting to plant them close together, but remember, they will grow and fill out. Overcrowding will make pruning more challenging and might actually cause “bald” spots.

A row of baby lilac bushes
Lilacs spaced out to ensure plenty of room as they grown and mature.

As always, make sure you are watering daily and deeply to encourage wide and deep root growth. Good luck and happy planting!

Tree frog
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Closing Day, 2015

Welcome to AllieCat Quilts & Crafts, a passion project that has turned into a business.

My name is Karoline and I live in Albany, NY with my husband, daughter, and our two cats, Odin and Freya. I’ve always been passionate about building and creating things, whether they are tangible or not.

I spend my days working my day job for the state where I expend my creative energy into the creation and development of our office-wide database (among other things, but that is my favorite). At home I let loose and create anything and everything for the home. It might be building an organizer to deal with a mess or some fun decor to liven up our living space.

People have asked me, “how did you learn how to do that?” Honestly, a lot of trial and error and being OK with an end product that might be a little messy or a little bit crooked.

When we were looking to buy our forever home, I desperately wanted something old or at least colonial-looking. We ended up in a 1977 raised ranch on an amazing piece of property. Not too much had been updated in the house, especially our bathrooms. In an attempt to bring a little bit of my farmhouse chic style without completely missing the mark with a raised ranch home, I’ve been able to find a way to strike a balance that I think does the trick.

So join me as I experiment in my own home, build things, and share what I’ve learned over the years to help you bring a little farmhouse chic into your life.