How to use a garden journal

garden journal

Whether you are a seasoned gardener or just starting out, you need to keep records. Any time of year is okay to begin, but when seed and nursery catalogs arrive in winter, this is the ideal time. When you start planning your gardens, this is the time to begin record-keeping.

A multi-year garden journal is most practical. There are as many as ten years in one book. This way you can compare years at a glance. If it is snowing in May, you can quickly see what the weather was in previous years on that date.

Garden journals you buy have specific places to write your purchases, seeding and planting dates, harvest dates and yields, garden plots, etc. They do the organizing for you; all you need to do is enter your gardening data.

Of course, a garden journal doesn’t have to be solely about gardening. By spending so much time in the garden and with this special book, you will be tempted to write other events in it: doctor appointments, baby’s first steps, birthdays, and holidays. It can become a daily planner and/or diary.

As for gardening, let’s assume you have received a beautiful garden journal for Christmas. Seed catalogs are piling up on our desk, too. It’s time to start planning.

If you have established garden areas, you only need to decide how to fill them, and you may want to draw plans of those existing beds. If you are starting anew, plan garden spaces making note of their sizes. Some garden journals have graph paper pages where you draw out your plots. Always use a pencil because gardens and their plans are not static!

Once you have your garden areas plotted out, pour over your catalogs, and dream away. Note things you like, and decide what you want, what to start from seed, and what plants to buy as spring arrives. Of course, but all of this information in your journal.

To grow your own plants, you’ll need to make a schedule. You will also have to schedule dates for seeding directly into the ground. This is where the daily planner aspect of your garden journal comes into play.

Once you place your seed order, write down the varieties and colors of your choices, cost, source, etc. Later you will be able to write how these plants performed, if you liked the color, and what could be different, all of which aid in planning for the following year.

When you start plants from seed, note the dates they were planted, when they germinated, when you fertilized them, when they were set out into the ground, and what type of mulch you used. Once you begin to work outside, you will want to keep track of the temperatures and weather in your journal. Especially important is the last frost date in spring because many plants cannot be put out before this date. Over the years, you will see how varied this date is, too. This is a good reason to have a multi-year journal.

When you buy plants from a garden center, note where you bought them, the varieties, colors, pot size, and cost. All purchases–including compost, mulch, and tools–should also be recorded. Buy according to the plan you made over the winter. You don’t need to strictly adhere to it, but it is important to at least start with one.

When you plant your gardens, record the dates and the weather conditions, and draw out the final plan. Our gardens don’t always end up like our original plan. Colorful and fragrant flowering plants beg us to take them home from the nursery, and more often than not, we oblige.

It is important to keep track of sunshine, rainfall, and wind throughout the growing season. It will be easy to estimate when you need to water if you know when it has rained. Record all this information to look back on in the future.

As your gardens grow, record bloom times of perennials, shrubs and trees, colors of annuals, and harvest times and yields of vegetables and fruits. Also, note the performance of the different varieties. If you have pest problems, write them down, along with the solution and where you found it (neighbor, book, garden center, etc.).

It’s always time to think about next year. During the growing season, write down what you like, what’s not working, and what needs to be moved. Perhaps perennials are getting big enough to be divided, or maybe the strawberry bed needs to be moved. If you have seen plants at friends’ houses or in front of businesses in town, note what they are and put them on your wish list for next year. All through the growing season, keep your eyes open for new ideas, and write them down.

When fall comes, note the change in temperature and ultimately, the first frost date. If you are drying flowers and herbs, write down the information about the process. If you find a different system next year, you will be able to compare them and see which is better.

The same goes for putting up food. Record varieties and methods. When you eat that food over the winter, note the quality and if it was a good method of putting up for each fruit or vegetable. Again, make note of what to change next year.

In winter, it seems there is no gardening, and therefore journaling, but that’s not so. Winter conditions greatly influence the following growing season. Journal all season about the temperatures (lows and highs), cloud cover, sun, rain, snow, and wind. Note whether or not you did a major or minimal fall clean up, if you started a compost pile or moved one, and so on.

Finally, treat your garden journal as a journal. Take it into the garden and express yourself about your growing year. How does that first time in the spring soil feel? Is it exciting to see sprouts of seeds you planted? Do you have childhood memories come back by being in the garden? How do the seasons relate to your life? How does the weather affect you? What are your reflections about the first snowfall? Garden journals are not just for data; add your creative touches to them.

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