A Garden Journal: After a Hoe and Rake Your Most Valuable Gardening Tool

Record keeping is, for most of us, a real chore but a much needed one. A garden journal is a collection of garden records, thoughts, observations, and task lists which can be of vital importance in managing our gardens and improving them season after season. Simple records such as when we planted a seed, when a seed germinated, when it was ready for transplant, when we fertilized or watered it, what kind of soil we planted in, when it bloomed, when it fruited, when the fruit ripened, what pests were a problem, what diseases were a problem, how we solved pest problems or disease problems, etc are vital in determining future garden care. Additionally in the course of the year we often see or hear of new crops, new methods, new ideas for gardening that we need to make note of to consider when we are ready to start our next garden. Off season is a great time for us to ponder what we want to plant and in what quantities and to plan how to get those resources together. A garden journal is a great place to jot down our planning ideas and note materials we may want to collect or questions we may want to ask.

Record keeping and contemplation come together in a garden journal. My grandfather was an excellent gardener. He did wonders with the small quarter acre he had in rural NC producing great surpluses even after canning of a variety of fresh garden produce. He also kept a garden journal despite the fact that he only completed 3rd grade in school and could barely read and write. How you may ask? Well he cut off labels from fertilizers and pesticides, asked folks to jot down on paper bags seed quantities and types they sold him or traded, drew diagrams on the pages of a Farmer’s almanac he could not read but could see the drawings, marked in his own shorthand symbols on a calendar from a local funeral home, and tore photos out of Progressive Farmer magazines. When he needed to remember some narrative, he asked me or one of the other kids that had the benefit of reading and writing to jot things down, tear out the notebook page and give it to him so he could ask us or someone else to read it again the next year.

My great aunt Mary was a great gardener. She kept a garden journal. She mostly kept her information on index cards and scraps of paper on which she wrote notes and put them all in cigar boxes which her son in law provided her every year. She also threw in packets of seeds, envelopes with dead bugs ( never understood that one), and recipes. She had a couple boxes a year and when she died my cousin Guy was overwhelmed with gratitude that the family gave him her garden boxes.

Whether you keep a journal in scraps in a box, in a composition book, in a specially made commercial journal with preprinted categories or online, the keeping of a garden journal will help you become a better gardener. It will help you hone in on better practices, recall solutions to problems that occurred sometime in the distant past, know when a treatment of fertilizer or pesticide or fungicide is due, and act as a planning aid for designing your next garden or choosing your next crops. It can be in any form you find easiest.

Preprinted journals suggest information you may need later

Choosing how you want to keep your garden journal is important as well. If you are a new gardener you may want to choose a printed special journal with pages dedicated to certain types of information and some quick and easy references all bound together. This helps prompt you to think about certain info that will be helpful to note that you might not have thought of until some future date when you go’ Oh man, I wish I had made a note of that!’.

If you are an experienced gardener you may wish to ‘free hand’ your journal by using blank composition books or even loose leaf binders and punched notebook pages and a tab guide. If you do so then you may wish to buy more tabs and dividers than you think you will need as it almost always occurs that as the season progresses you think of some new category of info you may want to keep separate.

A newer option to garden journaling is the keeping of online, shareable journals. This option has an enormous advantage of allowing you to decide if you want to make public and discoverable information and techniques you have discovered and to look for information in other folks’ journals that may help you or guide you. There are numerous online platforms for garden journaling, some free some for a small fee. GrowVeg is a great website resource that offers a wide variety of databases, drop down menus, cell phone app interface etc for a small monthly fee. Daves’ Garden is another tremendous garden site with a plethora of user supplied information and shareable garden journals. Now I am partial to Home-Gardenbook for the online journal, well, since I created it. It is a collection of journaling, task management tools, project management tools and user webpages that is less formatted but more like if you started a digital composition book and could share all or just parts of what you wrote.  However the learning curve is a little steeper but the functionality is far more AND it is totally free.

Regardless of whether you want to buy a printed garden journal, keep a composition book or legal pad for your journaling, use index cards or go high tech and use an online journal you really should keep a garden journal. If you are going your own route and starting with blank paper here is an article on what kinds of info you my want to include. If you have a printer I recommend that you print the page and insert it in your journal for reference. Here is an article with some preprinted garden journal links and reviews. Here is an article on some online garden journal sites.

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