Do you track your garden from season to season? Whether your garden is producing right now or you're dreaming of the day the snow melts, it's a good time to start a gardening journal.
Gardeners are planners at heart. If we're not drooling over seed catalogs while the snow flies, we might be mulling over when to divide perennials or getting ready to dig that pond we've always wanted.
A dedicated notebook can help you create the garden of your dreams. Tracking things like your garden layout, important dates, seed/plant performance, weed control, and expenses can help you max out your garden's bounty. It will be most valuable if it's kept over several consecutive seasons. Because figuring out what works best takes a lifetime to fine-tune, really. Even long-time gardeners experiment with new varieties, struggle with newly-introduced pests, or need to adapt to changing weather patterns.
What Kind of Trackers Work for a Garden?
Photograph Albums: There are all kinds of options for tracking your garden’s progress. My mom used a small 4x6 photograph album, the kind with a bunch of plastic sleeves on a ring system. In each sleeve, Mom placed an empty seed package and an index card, which she used for notes. Along those same lines, you could use a regular-sized binder with a mix of plastic sleeves and note paper.
Shoeboxes: A system that intrigues me is a box filing system. Re-purpose a regular shoe box or buy a photo box at a craft store. Create some tabbed dividers that will help you file your seeds and notes however you prefer. And then sort and store things to your heart’s content. I like this system because I don’t always use all the seeds in a packet. Seeds do lose some viability over time, but many can be stored for a few years before they need to be tossed. Sealing the seed packets and storing them in the box seems a good way to keep the seeds secure.
Digital Apps and Programs: If you prefer a more techy solution, there are a lot of apps and programs that would work well. Anne Gibson, over at The Micro Gardener, gives the low down on many of these. Any kind of note-keeping program, such as Evernote or Word, would work well for people who prefer to type. MyFolia offers a gardening-specific online journaling tool, that allows for both notes and photos. Instagram is also a terrific place to upload photos and notes of your garden’s progress. And don’t forget about Pinterest, which works particularly well as a source of tips and inspiration.
Blank Notebooks: And then, of course, you could use a writing journal. Incorporating an index, as for a Bullet Journal®, would be super helpful. You can paste stuff in, like empty seed packets, photos, garden plans, and pages torn from magazines for inspiration. I insert ephemera in my vision board journal and my travel journal. I highly recommend using washi tape to do the pasting, so that your pages don’t get wrinkled and warped from the glue.
What's the Best Kind of Notebook to Use as a Gardening Journal?
It can be tough figuring out the best journal to use for this project. My personal choice would be an A4 spiral-bound notebook with a sturdy cover. That way, I could easily remove pages if the journal becomes too thick with ephemera. If I took my notebook out to the garden, I could tuck the cover under, to make it easier to jot notes. I tend to write a lot so big pages are my jam. As well, it might be a good idea to choose a blank notebook with dotted or graph pages, so that it’s easy to sketch out garden plans. Finally, why not choose a cute notebook with a gardening theme on the cover, like this Tree Diary from SohoSpark?
But everyone is different. When choosing a notebook to track your own garden’s progress, think about:
- what kind of information/ephemera you’re going to store in it;
- where you’ll do the bulk of your writing; and
- your own general preferences as far as journals go.
You will probably end up using the same gardening journal over several seasons. Choosing one that you like and that works well for your purposes will encourage you to keep it up.
What Should You Track in a Gardening Journal?
In order to have value, your gardening journal needs to be very specific to you. Gardens have so many variables! You might have a container garden or raised beds. You might grow any mix of vegetables and fruit, and annual and perennial flowers. You might start with seeds and bulbs or with seedlings. Some trees need more care than others and you may want to track watering, pollinating, grafting, banding, and pruning.
Track what has value to you; not everything listed below will. As well, there may be some things I missed on my list. If so, leave a comment below to let me know what you’ve got in your own journal.
- Photos: Adding photos to your journal is a great way to track and understand your garden’s progress. If you plant the same cultivars annually, photos from past years may help you pinpoint issues like infestation or insufficient moisture. Also, photos can be helpful in deciding whether to stick with the same varieties in the coming spring or try something new.
- Hardiness Zone/Frost Dates/Temperature: I’ve lived and gardened in Zone 3 for my entire life. Well, actually, it was Zone 3 until they rezoned everything. Pfft. I’m in Zone 2a now, but I’m going to stay on Team Zone 3. If you’re new to gardening or new to living in your particular zone, jotting down your zone information makes sense. It’s also helpful to record last and first frost dates. These vary from region to region, and also from microclimate to microclimate (e.g. your own yard compared to your neighbor’s). While you can certainly use online resources to estimate your last and first frost dates, tracking your yard’s own daily temperatures will provide much more accurate information over time.
- Garden Layout: In some ways, my garden layout is pretty static. I have my raised beds in one area, my fruit bushes in another, and lawn in the side yard. But I need to rotate crops through my raised beds annually. Even in small gardens, rotating crops helps to max out soil resources and to discourage infestation or disease from settling into one area. Plant spacing and density stats will also prove helpful down the road. So, tracking what I plant in each bed each year is a must. And, to be honest, I just let my raspberry bushes grow willy nilly, wherever they send up shoots. So, that patch migrates annually.
- Calendar: Calendar pages are the easiest way to record and find relevant dates at a glance. By recording your last frost date, you can easily count backward and mark dates for starting specific seeds. You’ll also get a good overview of germination times, growth rates, and number of days to harvest if you jot those into your calendar pages. Noting dates where it rained--or where you broke down and turned on the sprinkler--will help ensure your garden gets sufficient and regular moisture.
- Seeds: Healthy seeds are crucial to a good garden. If you’re not saving seed packages, note things like brand, date purchased, store purchased at, and germination rate. And, of course, this is also the logical place to note later stages of growth too: number of days to harvest, how well the plants produced, and size and flavor of the produce. That information will help you decide whether to invest in the same seeds again. As well, if you don’t use all the seeds in one year, there’s a good chance they’ll still be viable for a few years to come. Making note of the date purchased and each year’s germination rate will help determine when to toss them.
- Seedlings: I don’t start seeds in the house. I’m not as meticulous as I need to be, to help them grow. Either I plant seeds directly in the ground or I buy seedlings from local garden centers. As with seeds, it’s a great idea to track things like the store they were purchased at, date purchased, the hardening off process, and growth and production rates.
- Pests and Diseases: Tracking pests and diseases is crucial to a healthy garden. Sometimes pests are cyclical. In my part of the world, for instance, large infestations of box elder bugs occur every 7-10 years. Tracking this kind of information will help you prepare for upcoming infestations. Or, as another example, for the last few years, I’ve been battling aphids on my rose bushes. Tracking the control methods I’m using can help me figure out if I need to up my game.
- Weed Control: Weeds. Pfft. You may find it helpful to note the different solutions you’ve used on weeds and their effectiveness. And, as you come across natural “recipes” for weed control, your gardening journal is the logical place to file those away.
- Tools: Garden tools work best if well-maintained. Hoes, spades, and pruning shears need to be sharpened. Shears may need to be oiled. Rake or shovel handles may need to be replaced. And at the end of every gardening season, all tools should be washed down with a bleach solution before being stored for the winter. Tracking the dates maintenance is done can be helpful.
- Expenses: Gardening isn’t cheap, especially when you’re starting out. You may need to invest in tools as well as in plants, seeds, amendments, pesticides, mulch, etc. If you’re not tracking expenses, it may be a surprise to realize how much you’re spending on garden supplies each year. Tracking expenses may make you look for ways to cut costs. This is not necessarily a bad thing! You may end up going to seed or plant swaps and making friends in your local gardening community. Or, you may end up renting out one or your raised beds to someone in your community who doesn’t have access to a garden. Examining your expenses may have unexpected benefits.
- Future Plans/Ideas: All gardeners have a gleam in their eyes. There’s always a new variety to try, an area of the yard that needs some extra color, or dreams of major landscape/hardscape projects like patios and ponds. Your gardening journal is a great place to note these down.
- Gratitude: Last but not least: why not combine the benefits of a gratitude journal with your gardening journal? Your garden is ripe (I made a pun!) for moments of gratitude: early morning sun, the smell of dill weed on your hands, birdsong, flavorful produce, and the chance to share bounty you grew yourself (especially if you produce zucchini). Being mindful of those moments and noting them down is a sure way to increase your joy.
Do you keep a gardening journal? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Or, if this piece has inspired you to start one, I’d love to know that too. Please drop me a note.