Tips for keeping a garden journal

  • Article by: MAUREEN GILMER , McClatchy News Service
  • Updated: December 31, 2013 - 1:24 PM

Set up a garden journal now, while your hands are idle and dirt-free. Then you’ll be ready to record successes and failures come spring.

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A garden journal can be part practical recordkeeping, and part art.

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Growing vegetables is a memory game. You need to remember your current garden plan when you lay out next year’s to practice proper crop rotation. It’s unwise to plant the same plant in the same place each year. Rotation demands a well-thought-out arrangement every spring. For this and many other reasons, I recommend that everyone — and especially gardeners like me who are over 50 — keep a garden journal.

As the seed catalogs come pouring in during the winter months, planning next year’s garden becomes an important task. Designating one notebook to this planning process is the best way to begin harvesting the results of documentation. It will help you in so many ways you’ll wonder how you did without it. Here are the most important things to chronicle in these pages:

Lists

I make a lot of lists when shopping seed catalogs. Often I begin with a much larger listing, then cross off lesser candidates as I work through new seeds I want to try. I also make lists for specialty products to consider such as an innovative tomato trellis, inoculant mycorhizzae for peas and beans and organic fertilizer options for a midseason feeding. You’ll refer back to these time and again.

Cut and paste

A good way to document your garden is to cut out ideas for new plants from last year’s seed catalog. Pictures of the plants and fruit grown from each variety of seed help you visually connect with a particular plant. This is also a great place to gather clippings of plants you want to try in the future. If you include descriptions and other helpful data such as germination times, it will be there forever.

Empty seed packets

Empty seed packets should never be thrown away when you have an ongoing journal. Devote a page to each seed packet so you have space below to jot down comments or concerns generated by this year’s performance. There may be helpful how-to data on the back or it simply indicates which seed house it came from so you know where to go for reorder.

Success or failure

The journal also becomes the designated place to record your greatest crops or most dismal failures. Often as you write up what went wrong, the process may offer a different point of view that you never considered before. This is where you detail years of difficult bug infestations, extensive rainfall, drought and heat waves, all of which can influence whether you find success with certain crops.

Reminders

This is a great way to remind yourself what to do in the months leading up to summer. I like to create a monthly summary from the previous year that forms the basis for my own schedule of tasks or items to be purchased and when. This is a real time saver so you aren’t reinventing the wheel every spring.

A garden journal also can be a creative opportunity. For those who love to draw and paint, choose your empty journal for its size and paper quality for impromptu watercolors and sketches. This is where you record your inspiration when the garden glistens with dew in the morning light. There’s room for poetry in the margins.

Your journal becomes an artifact of a nature-based lifestyle. Be diligent in adding pressed dry plant materials and other ephemera to these pages. Most important, it becomes your personal guide book to food gardening, tailored for your microclimate, soils and plants for an even better yield next year.

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