Use a Garden Notebook to Keep Track of Your Vegetable Garden

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With a gardening notebook you'll always remember when you planted your vegetables, and how well they grew.
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An example of a  garden notebook spreadsheet.

The gardening notebook’s service as a growing tool ranks
right up there with the spade and trowel. A single sheet of
paper is all that many gardeners need to record the
valuable information of an entire growing season. Was it
the Black Seeded Simpson or Grand Rapids lettuce that
germinated poorly last year? The tomatoes were transplanted
too early and were damaged by cold, but were they set out
the second week of April or the third week? The answer to
those questions and many others are only a glance away when
you use an organized gardening notebook as a tool.

I designed my first gardening notebook nearly 15 years ago,
and though the categories of information have changed
through the years, it’s always been kept as a single page,
easily read chart. On occasion I’ve been tempted to make it
more complicated, but found that keeping up with pages of
entries made the whole process a chore. Entering
information must be easy and retrieval even easier.

How to Set Up Your Gardening Notebook

I reserve the top of each chart for information of a
seasonal nature. The year appears large and bold so the eye
keys to it immediately. I also include the dates of the
last and first killing frosts in my garden. Those dates
prove particularly important to people who garden in cooler
valleys, warmer slopes, and other areas where frost dates
veer from the norm of surrounding areas. For example, in an
area where the USDA has determined the first frost date as
September 28th, people gardening on south-facing slopes may
find the frost occurs consistently as early as September
19th. Therefore, recording the last frost and first frost
dates at your location significantly increases the chances
of gardening success.

The gardening notebook chart begins with the left-hand
column, “Vegetables.” In this column I list the plants that
went into the garden that year including vegetables, herbs,
and ornamentals. To find how long ago a perennial herb such
as oregano was planted I simply scan this column on the
charts from previous years.

The “Variety” column names the variety of each plant
listed. This column is a must have when you grow more than
one variety, of a plant. For instance, plants such as COI
-11 and marigolds contain far too many cultivars to
remember which one was planted with great success six or
eight years ago.

Another bit of information that may he included in the
variety listing is the company from where the seeds, corms,
tubers, or plants were purchased. That would eliminate all
guesswork when trying to remember the source of a
particular seed or plant variety purchased years ago.

The “Seed Age” listing uses little space but provides
plenty of insight into the vitality of the seeds planted.
On the one hand, if t germination is poor the gardener
looks at the chart and easily determines if the seed, are
too old to sprout. On the other hand, the gardener may
quickly decide that age is not a consideration if the seeds
are relatively new. You can then contemplate other factors
such as improper storage overwatering to explain poor
germination.

Keep Track of Your Vegetable Garden

Knowing how many plants of a particular crop were grown
during previous years often proves quite valuable,
especially for the home gardener with limited growing area.
We grew too many spinach plants last year, but how many
were there?

Likewise, maybe there was enough room for a few more
broccoli plants but it’s difficult to remember if we grew
10 or 12 plants. The “# Planted” column eliminates this
guesswork.

The number of days to maturity and days to germination
usually appear on seed packets, and you can use that useful
information on the gardening notebook chart under the
heading “Maturity/ Germination.” Knowing the number of days
to maturity for each vegetable is vital to successful
garden planning. A Northern gardener, for example, knows
not to purchase seeds of a melon variety that matures in
120 days because the Northern growing season will end
before the melons ripen. Also, if a grower knows that a
spinach variety matures in 42 days, he or she has a pretty
good idea when the spinach will be harvested and when that
plot will become available for planting a second crop.

The days to germination entered on the chart often puts my
mind to rest when dealing with difficult-to-germinate
seeds. If I plant parsley seeds and two weeks later they
haven’t sprouted, I don’t panic. I look in my gardening
notebook and see they need 18-24 days to germinate. On the
other side, let’s say I planted lettuce seeds a week ago
and they haven’t sprouted. The info in my gardening
notebook indicates they should have germinated four days
ago. Obviously, there’s a problem and I replant that
variety.

The “Date Planted” column is for recording the date that
seeds of each plant variety are sown, whether indoors or
outdoors. These dates aid in garden planning by providing
an exact point in time that can later be referenced and
future planting dates tailored to. An obvious application
to such a reference concerns growing tomatoes. Most
gardeners want ripe tomatoes as early as possible, earlier
than the year before. Want to plant tomato seeds a week
earlier than last year? Simply check your gardening
notebook for the exact planting date last year and plant
accordingly.

I like to chart when a seed sprouts because knowing that
date generally sets the date for transplanting the seedling
outdoors. Then I can make plans to set the seedlings out at
the best time to avoid the initial, most damaging wave of a
specific insect pest.

If the initial emergence of leafminers in my area is May
10th, I try to transplant spinach seedlings as early as
possible in April. That gives them time to establish
themselves well enough to sustain leafminer damage from the
first hatching.

The “Date Sprouted” information also serves as a
cross-check when seed viability is in question. New lettuce
seeds that sprouted in three days last year should
germinate in three or four days this year, too. The warning
flag goes up if those seeds show no sign of life after five
days, especially if the date in “Date Sprouted” indicates
trouble.

The “Trans.” or transplanted column ties in nicely with
info from several of the other headings. Entering
transplanting dates gives a reference point for getting
those tomatoes into the ground two weeks sooner than last
year. If the cold gets them, maybe they’ll be transplanted
only a week earlier the following year.

The transplanting dates also relate to the sprouting dates.
Did transplanting those spinach seedlings early to miss the
leafminer emergence work? The transplanting date can be
adjusted to better address the pest problem or left alone
if all went smoothly. Either way, results-oriented planning
becomes possible when a gardening notebook is kept.

I always receive a feeling of satisfaction when entering a
date in the harvest column. That final entry completes an
informative profile of each plant variety I grew that year.
The profile becomes a gardening archive that can be
referred to during the next few years or decades from now.
It shows how near to or far from the stated maturity date
the actual harvest was gathered. Add the “days to maturity”
printed on the seed packet to the date a variety was
transplanted and compare this projected date to the actual
date the plants were harvested. Sometimes the two dates
jibe nicely. When they don’t, we have all winter to figure
out what delayed the harvest.

The remainder of the chart is dedicated to “Notes.” All
types of pertinent information should be entered here,
limited only by the amount of space given. Damage from
insects, control measures taken, harvest weights, early
flowering, watering schedules, and comments on flavor are
just a sampling of the types of information that may be
entered in the notes section.