With today’s proliferation of emails, social media, YouTube, and blogs, does anyone even keep a journal anymore? Well, many gardeners do. And the variety of garden journals are as myriad as gardeners themselves. Some gardeners lovingly dote over beautiful bound tomes of handwritten pages and photographs, while others quickly jot down notes on their laptops. Either way, the information recorded is important, especially if you’re new to coaxing life from the earth.
What exactly is a garden journal? Well, it is simply a log of what happens in your garden on a daily or weekly basis that can, over time, show you what is and is not working for you and your plants. It can be a prose journal or a list of facts, handwritten or typed; but it should include items that will help you with your garden year after year. Here are some items you should include in your garden journal and why:
- Your garden plan, including crop rotation notes – One of the most important items in your journal is what is planted in your garden plot by plot, raised bed by raised bed, season to season. You spent all that time on your garden plan. Save it in your journal and let it help you with rotating your crops and planning your garden next season.
- Results from soil testing (with dates) – Keeping track of your soil’s condition, showing improvement (or not) over last testing, will help you amend your soil appropriately.
- The varieties of seeds planted with dates sown – In time, you will find that some varieties of a plant grow better in your garden than others, or you may decide you like the taste of certain varieties better. Note this in your journal.
- What you used to fertilize, the quantity, the date, and the results – This is important because you don’t want to over-fertilize. With our busy schedules, it’d be easy to forget the date of the last fertilizer application and we could fertilize again too soon. Also, note how your plants responded. You may need to adjust how you feed them.
- Plant growth information – Record anything from germination dates, problems with plant growth, disease or insect problems with how you attempted to fix the problem and the results, etc. You can be as detailed as you wish on this. The more information, the better knowledge you gain for next season.
- Weather information – A great thing to keep track of is the amount of rain you receive. (An inexpensive rain gauge in the garden is indispensable to me!) Knowing the exact amount of water your plants have received from the sky will help you know how much to give them from the hose. You can also record high and low temperatures and see if there’s a pattern that affects the germination, the growth, the harvesting. Mention any storms or excessive weather as well as which plants tolerated it well and which didn’t (or even died).
- Harvest information – Keep track of how well your plants produce. Is a certain variety more productive than another? Did the weather affect the harvest? Was there something you did or didn’t do that could’ve improved the harvest?
- Pictures – Whether electronic or printed, garden pictures are definitely worth the proverbial thousand words. Pictures of new plants, the growth process, beautiful flowers, etc. can grace your pages or be kept in a separate file with titles and dates. Even pictures of plants with problems, disease, or insect infestation should be included in your journal for future reference. Before and after pictures are great, too – especially if you want to know if what you’re trying is working.
Personally, I keep my pictures electronically, saved on my laptop, with caption and date. For my garden journal, I use Excel spreadsheets. I prefer Excel to Word (or any other word processing program) because I can separate things by tabs. I have one tab for my colorized garden plan, another for my harvest information, and another for my garden journal. My journal has three main columns: one for the date, one for category (bed number, temperature, rain, fertilizer), and one for notes. I then colorize what I write, so I can find things more easily. For example, rain amounts are recorded in blue; if I want to see when we had rain last, it’s easier to catch the last blue entry. Fertilizing information is pink, temperatures are in red (something I just started adding to my journal this week), planting information is in green, and harvesting information is in orange. General notes are in black. Here’s a picture of my garden journal for the first few days of January:
Your options for what to keep in your journal are limitless. Be as detailed and as creative as you want to be. It’s YOUR journal. It’s there to help you learn about your soil, your plants, and the gardening process. It’s there to help you see patterns you didn’t see before, so you can make better decisions the next time you experience similar things in your garden. And it’s also there to keep you company with beautiful memories on those cold winter nights when you dream of getting your hands in the soil again.