DEEP WINTER IS always a time for contemplation, reflection and planning. It’s the time of year when gardeners prepare for the upcoming season by ordering seeds, reading books and buying themselves handmade leather hori-hori holsters. It is also a great time to get organized and create a garden journal for the coming year.
A garden journal can help you keep track of when things happen in the garden and which plants you like best, and plan for longer-term projects. While most gardeners have an impressive depth of knowledge in their heads, there are always details that fall through the cracks. After all, wouldn’t it be nice to look back and see what week your azaleas started blooming, and when you picked the first tomato of the season? Keeping an honest record of your trials and tribulations as they happen is the best way to learn. It also helps you appreciate the steady stream of botanical wonders unfolding from day to day.
There are endless ways to construct and use a garden journal. Here are a few systems I have seen work well. You might want to innovate, or combine a few of these ideas to find what works best for you:
Notebook: The old-fashioned way to keep track of information is still one of the best. A pen-and-paper garden notebook is great because it is easy to carry around outside and allows for infinite flexibility. You can create lists, draw pictures and write hysterical anecdotes at will. Obviously, handwritten journals can be difficult to search through after the fact, but I always enjoy leafing through the crusty pages and finding forgotten entries.
Calendar: A monthly calendar in print form or online can be an easy way to track tasks. You can either prefill tasks or add items as you actually accomplish them. I have found that adding a repeating task such as “plant cilantro” to my calendar every week helps me keep on point and stick to my garden plan. It can be difficult to fit all of the notes you might want to track in a calendar, so I think these are often best paired with another journaling tool.
Spreadsheet: Although it’s not for everybody, creating a garden spreadsheet will allow you to track all of your garden notes in an organized and searchable format. You can manage planting dates, flowering dates, pest and disease issues, harvest dates and anything else you deem significant. An ongoing spreadsheet really becomes powerful when you use it year after year and can see how things change over time.
Photo journal: These days, the only tool you really need to journal is your phone. Many gardeners use social media apps to track the progress of their garden. If you want to make your digital journal easy to reference, you can create a separate page or account in your favorite app and use it just for this purpose. A very organized grower could snap a photo or two each day and add notes right there next to the image.
You can track any details you want in a journal. Here are a few ideas to help you get your template in place:
● Plant varieties and cultivars
● Planting dates
● Weather conditions
● Pest and disease issues (and remedies applied and results)
● Fertilization application quantities
● Unique growth habits
● Bloom times/duration
● Relative performance of different varieties
● Harvest dates
● Yields for crops and cut flowers
● Taste characteristics and preferences for edibles
● General observations (for example: “The beets I seeded on Aug. 20 didn’t have time to mature before frost; I need to plant fall beets a little earlier next year.”)
Whatever format you choose, I hope you’ll give garden journaling the old college try this year. Let me know how it goes.