Over the past few months, true questions I have asked myself included: “Wow! The magnolia is already blooming? That seems early!” and “Did the bulbs come up this early last year?” and “Why are the leaves on my Ficus falling off? Did it do this last year?”
And was I able to answer any of these questions? No. And should I have been able to? Yes. Last week, I wrote about new year’s resolutions for the gardener. I thought of another one to add to that list. Regularly write in the garden journal!
As a gardener, we KNOW that observation and record keeping is useful. Even if we tell ourselves “I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember”, you won’t remember. Gardening is one giant experiment, and like any scientific method, recording the process is important. In order to become better gardeners; to learn from past years, and so we don’t have to talk to ourselves pondering above mentioned questions, we need to keep a garden journal.
But do we do it? No. At least, I know I don’t.
I mean, I do start the year off pretty great. I make detailed notes throughout the spring seed starting and transplanting season, and maybe I’ll even stretch it as far as to record the first harvests. But after that, it all goes out the window and I don’t record shit.
Which is bad. It’s a habit I should get better at, and I’m guessing you should as well. So let’s join together and lend moral support and actually write in the damn thing! And if you don’t have a garden journal, then stop slacking and make one!
How to Make a Garden Journal:
This can totally be in different forms. The key to keeping a detailed garden journal is making it convenient. If it’s hard to get to, or takes too much effort, nothing will get recorded. Sure, you might pull it out when you’re sitting down with your first seeding, but as the year goes on and you get crazy with harvests, it needs to be easy to jot down your notes. For you, maybe you recorded the information online. Maybe you use the notepad on your phone. I personally prefer old school pen and paper.
In the past, I used a spiral bound notebook, that I’d record like a diary: “February 20, started tomato seeds.”, etc. This was great at recording daily or weekly observations, like “zinnias started blooming” or “chickens molting” (providing I pulled it off the bookshelf and did it, of course). But the problem with this style was that if I wanted to look back to see when I planted something, or find a variety name, I’d have to read through several entries. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Another year, I tried a printed spreadsheet in a binder, where I recorded the dates of seed starting, transplanting, and harvest all on one line, organized by individual type of plant. I’d also make notes of where I got the seeds from, any special notes, etc. This worked great for at-a-glance information, but it didn’t give me a space to record daily observations. So I also had to have my spiral notebook I for reading and planning notes, and any observations. Going to two different sources didn’t work for me, so both inevitably fell to the side, and nothing got recorded.
So enter what I think will be the perfect garden journal. It’s actually a garden binder PLUS a notebook. (And yes, I realize this isn’t rocket science, and I could have done this before. It just took me several years to come to this conclusion!)
I have my spreadsheets to record specific data in the binder, along with clear pockets to gather up any plant tags or articles I want to reference. I’ll have blank pages for random note taking that I often do when sitting down for a designated task, like reading a new book or attending a lecture. Then, in my daily bullet journal (I use an adhoc version), I have a 2 page spread for daily observations. Because my journal is always with me, I’ll write in this when I notice something. Then at the end of the month, I’ll make a photocopy and stick it in my binder.
It’s a completely brilliant plan!
What to record in a garden journal:
Basic info for reference
- First and last frost dates.
- Growing zone.
- Your chill hours.
- Anything else relevant for your individual site.
- When you started seeds.
- When you transplanted.
- Where the seeds or starts were purchased from.
- Where in the garden you planted them.
- What and when you fertilized.
- When you harvested.
- Any variety notes & reviews.
- First rain.
- First frost.
- Last frost.
- Abnormal weather.
- When things are blooming.
- When you have a butterfly/bird/wildlife observation.
Keeping good records can help you save money, save time, and make you more attuned to your surroundings and really understand the workings of your garden. Do you keep a garden journal? Have any tips you’d like to share? Or if not, what’s stopping you? Leave me a comment and let me know!