Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Journaling the Garden

Garden journals are a great way to keep track of what works and what doesn't in your personal growing space(s). I try to keep one each year. Every time it's a little different.

Some years my journals are neat, organized, and up-to-date. Pretty, even. They stand on the shelf, reference volumes to turn to as the planting season approaches each year. This is one of my favorites. My mother made the book. The cover is one of her watercolor discards, and the pages inside are thin, watermarked parchment.

Some years the records are not so tidy, just sporadic notes and observations. Last year was like that. I recently sorted through the basket of empty seed packets, plans for raised beds, sketchy maps for vegetable placement and scribbled notes, and resolved to keep better track this year. To make a relaxing ritual of updating my garden journal every couple of days. The more detail, the better.

Whether you're the kind of person who keeps meticulous files and empties their inbox every day or someone who throws their tax receipts in a shoebox until you have to deal with them, a garden journal can be personalized to your taste and needs.

Consider any or all of the following elements, arranged in whatever style works for you: shoebox or basket or drawer, blank book or notebook, looseleaf binder, spreadsheets, computer programs, or envelopes. There are also several blank, formatted garden journals available in bookstores, all ready to fill in. Your information can take the form of lists, notes, creative journal entries, index cards, or photos.

Things to Track
  • Dates -- including planting, germination time, first and last harvest, last frost, first frost, major storms,
  • Garden plans -- maps of individual beds, free hand drawings and dreamings, or to-scale blueprints of garden beds
  • Drawings and/or photos of plantings
  • Information about how the light falls throughout the growing season
  • Ideas and hopes for plants or landscaping you want to implement in the future
  • Lists of plants, seeds, things to remember for next year
  • Resources -- things like useful websites, books to get, flyers from nurseries, etc.
  • Cost records and/or receipts
  • Information about soil amendment, fertilization
  • Observations of pests and pest control
  • Notes about garden related activities like composting or vermiculture
  • Dreams

    I can see from the not-so-neat pile in the basket from last year that the potatoes need to be moved, that planting sweet peas among the regular peas netted fragrant bouquets until frost, and that planting an entire packet of arugula is a really, really bad idea.

    Last year the cool weather seeds -- peas, chard, arugula, leeks, onions, radishes, cilantro, carrots, beets, lettuce and spinach -- went into double-dug, compost enriched soil on April 10. I was leaving on a book tour for Spin A Wicked Web and didn't want to wait until I got back. It snowed the morning I left for the airport, but when I returned from my promotional jaunt, the raised bed was airbrushed with tiny green seedlings.

    So I'll be doing that again. Actually, the spinach planted last fall is soldiering through even now. In the meantime, a series of lettuce bowls grown on the window sill has nicely augmented store bought greens this winter.
Because I'm a writer, people often give me blank books as Christmas presents. The one I've selected to be this year's garden journal was one such gift. The cover is magenta velvet, and the pages are thick, creamy handmade paper. Once I start writing in something like that, I'd better write to the end!

Good garden planning to you all.


  1. I've tried to keep a garden journal over the years. Sometimes I did okay, other times I think I only wrote a couple of pages. I do enjoy going back at looking at the journals I keep up during the planting season. Photos and drawings are a big help. Maybe I'll get it a try again this year.

    I hadn't thought about trying to grow lettuce on the window sill. That's neat.

  2. I wish I was organized enough to keep a journal, but I know that I'd never be able to find it the next year.

    BTW, I love arugula. What's wrong with planting a whole packet of it? I grew some last year, but didn't have complete success with it.

  3. Mason, I've certainly started a few and not followed through. Hoping this year will be one where I keep up.

    One of these days you'll get organizized, Alan. ; - ) I love arugula, too (and the Brit name "rocket") but a whole packet of seeds grew enough to choke a horse. I tried to give it away, but it seems to be an acquired taste. I'd think arugula would work well in a container. Good luck with it this year!