Most gardeners, I think, are aware that they should be keeping records of what goes on in the garden each year, but not all gardeners are equally skilled at organizing the information. Personally, I do keep records of many garden activities, but each year’s notes have not always been gathered up in one place.
Why keep garden records?
Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia says this:
Keeping garden records will improve the quality of your gardening experience as the seasons go by. You and your garden are unique, so personal records are important. You’ll discover what works and what doesn’t, weeding out mistakes and making better decisions.Garden record keeping, from Agriculture Extended Learning, Dalhousie University.
My experience is that the records I keep do for me exactly what Dalhousie University says. I learn from the failures, and I repeat what works. Over time, there are fewer failures and more successes.
What should gardeners write down?
The kinds of information that are truly helpful include these:
- Soil test results and all the things done to improve the soil, from compost additions to cover crops to fertilizers
- Exactly which vegetable varieties were planted, when they were planted, how many of each, and whether they did well in the garden
- Weather notes, especially about any weather events that might have affected the garden, and including frost dates
- Harvest notes — when each crop was ready for harvest, and whether your harvest matched the catalog description for the crop
- Garden layout, including where each crop was placed and how much square footage was given to each
- Planting calendar that shows when each crop was planted, plus the timing of other garden-related events (such as fertilizer applications, compost additions, arrival of pests)
- Notes about pests and diseases, and their effect on specific crops
- Notes about crop rotation
The above list is not all-inclusive, but the observations a gardener makes about those topics form a base from which good decisions can be made.
The trick is remembering, as the year rolls on, to get most of that activity recorded.
What kind of journal works best?
The notes below are about my own experience. It would be weird if every gardener was exactly like me in terms of best-record-keeping-method, so feel welcome to disagree with my opinion!
Blank books filled with lined pages
Many garden journals that I have been given are lovely — hard-cover books filled with lined pages, separated into chapters by month, sprinkled about with inspirational quotes and drawings of beautiful flowers.
I love looking at these and am often actually inspired by the quotes. However, I have not had good success using these journals for record-keeping. The main difficulty has been keeping the information organized in any way that is different from the month-by-month design of the books.
Other roadblocks include laziness (the lined pages seem to be asking for full sentences) and not-wanting-to-ruin such lovely books with my less-than-lovely handwriting.
It is likely, though, that these beautiful blank books are exactly what some gardeners want and need. We are all different!
A record-keeping mish-mash
Mish-mash may be the best way to describe my garden record-keeping style for the past few decades.
Some of my own garden information is recorded on websites/blogs, where I’ve been writing for ten years. Some garden notes are in various types of lined journals such as spiral notebooks, some are on loose pages gathered up in three-ring binders, and some are saved as plant tags that are stored in envelopes.
It is not too hard to imagine that other gardeners have a similar mish-mash of records, possibly stored in shoeboxes.
Garden Planner and Notebook
I have put together a new book that will make it easier for me to keep the most useful information all together in one place for each gardening year. Even though I designed the book for my own use, I’ve added guiding text so other gardeners can use it, too.
The book is titled Garden Planner and Notebook, a Vegetable Garden Guide and Journal.
One reason for creating the planner is that, sometime late next summer or early fall, I will be moving. There will be much to learn about the new yard, with its unfamiliar soil, weeds, insects, and history.
The new garden planner and notebook is full of the reminders, prompts, tables, and other spaces for recording specific information that will help flatten my learning curve in gardening in the new space.
The book includes tables for recording some kinds of information, for example about specific crops, and pages of lines for writing down other kinds of information, such as weather notes, food notes, and the story of the garden.
When I say “story”, I mean writing about the funny comments visitors make about my garden (“Black popcorn! It looks rotted.”) or about finding a black widow spider in the rock wall or reaching into a bag of compost and getting a handful of snake.
I wanted to have all of that together in one book for each year. However, this year, I will use two books. One will be for my spring and early summer garden here in north Georgia, and one will be for the garden that I will start in our new yard, which will be further south.
If you decide to try using the Garden Planner and Notebook, please let me know what you think about its usefulness. You can leave a comment here on this website or on Amazon.com, where the book is available for purchase.
Regardless of the format you use for record-keeping, if you haven’t kept good notes in the past, try it this coming year. You may be amazed at how much you learn about gardening, just by writing down your observations and reviewing them at the end of each season.