What to Put in a Garden Journal
Helpful Notes to Keep on Hand When Journaling
Keeping a garden journal is a beautiful blend of art and science. It is a testament to all that you have accomplished throughout your growing year. What you put into a journal makes it incredibly useful for years to come, as it creates a kind of almanac specific to your location. Tracking changes in your garden such bloom times, harvest, seeding times, and so on also contributes to the study of local phenology. Phenology refers to key seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year, such as flowering and the emergence of insects and the migration of birds – especially their timing and relationships with weather and climate.
Here are some tips that can be helpful for creating and maintaining your journal.
When you begin to journal, create a diagram or map of what you intend to plant where. For instance, as you plant perennials, you might mark them on a base map and copy it each year, creating new plans for annuals. Pasting this into the front of your garden journal will help keep you straight. It might even prevent a spouse from removing the wrong item (I speak from experience) or point a temporary caretaker in the right direction while you are gone. I like to use a map and set of numbers to keep track of things, but you can also use a narrative description if you prefer.
Notes on Major Projects for the Year
Do you want to put in a new compost system? How about arbors, trellises, pathways, water collections, irrigation systems, or greenhouses? Using a Future Log on a couple of pages can help you determine how to stage improvement efforts between planting and harvesting. This will also allow you to keep track of when you typically have good weather.
In your notebook, you should record information on your varieties and their performance in your garden as well as whether you like them or not. Over time, seed catalogs, gardening books, apps, and websites can help you fill in missing information. I like to put in how the kids respond to something, such as “We love cheese squash!” or “Alpine strawberries are the best!”
You might want to research this topic before you order your seeds. You can also keep track as you save seeds from your own garden. Paying attention to varieties is crucial because they help you know which niche in the garden to put them in, how long it will take for them to fruit, their color, and their resistance to disease.
This can be a brief notation, but it helps to know which seed companies you like. It’s also good to know whether the seeds came from your own garden or a friend’s garden.
Date Seeds Started
This is important because it helps you track performance. It gives you a sense of when to begin your garden and how things change from year to year.
Germination Date or Transplant source
The date you see the seeds emerge from the soil surface is notable because it will help you understand more about your garden by helping you to track the growth of the plants over time.
If you don’t plant your own seeds, germination won’t matter, but tracking where the plants came from and how they are doing will help you make decisions about plants in the future.
This isn’t critical (except for fruit trees and shrubs), but it is nice to have a written record of what flowers when and how that changes from year to year. You might use it to help plan when to grow flowers throughout the year, either for beauty or to feed and support pollinators in your garden.
Fruiting or Harvest
This is what you’ve been waiting for! Try recording the date you harvested, the quantity by number or weight, and the quality of the harvest. Does it look good, taste good, produce well, and resist pests? Does one variety tolerate the humidity or drought better? You might find you want to repeat some things and not others. Or you may find you want to save some seeds for next year. A well-maintained journal is evidence of your skills when bragging to the neighbors!
This might be kept on one sheet in your journal or noted amongst your daily observations. Having it in one place to compare months and years is often helpful. You’ll want to make notes on the high and low temperatures for the day, precipitation, cloud cover, and prevailing or significant winds. Some gardeners like to track and plant by moon phases.
Keep track of your plants’ progress!
It’s the little things that bring us joy, like the beautiful purple in a flower or the swelling bud that will bring us the first berry in spring. Making a note or drawing lets us track and relive these phenomena in our lives. The arrival of insects in the spring to pollinate or the first pests can be valuable information as your garden grows and adapts from year to year. Whether you can draw or not, this is a great way to record information.
How To Do It
How do you keep track of and organize all of this information? Spreadsheets and apps on your computer, of course. But I like to physically write down my observations, either right in the garden or at a station set up near my door.
This year I’m adapting the Bullet Journal method. The ideas from a regular journal organization can be modified to include the above categories. An index at the beginning helps you organize and find information for the whole journal. A future log allows you to plan each month ahead. The month pages can be used for recording weather information and tasks in the garden. Other pages can be dedicated to seed source information, seed starting pages, and pest management plans. With the index in front of the journal, you can cross-reference related items and easily find things from year to year — making your journal truly a reference item.
Whether you go all in and record every little detail in a journal or keep a brief spreadsheet, journaling can deepen your connection to your garden and ensure more success from year to year. Here’s to a great year ahead!