Winter months are made for indoor projects. What about making yourself a garden notebook? Lots of gardeners keep some kind of garden diary or journal and you can find any number of them online. But I couldn’t find anything that fit my needs. They were either too generic, too specific, too small, irrelevant, or some combination of all the above.
I decided to make my own. It's more than a journal; it's a notebook—literally. I know my notebook wouldn’t suit everyone’s needs. It's too big to lug around. Some folks like having their journal handy when they’re in the garden so they can log information on site. (If I tried to do that, my log would get so dirty and wet I couldn’t read it.) To each her own.
I started with a discarded three-inch, three-ring binder. (bonus: I recycled.) But the tired, white cover was boring, boring, boring. I had scads of out-of-date seed catalogs, so I recycled some of their pages to make a collage for my notebook cover, which I slathered with decoupage sealer. I love my new cover.
I filled the notebook with hole-punched notebook paper, graph paper, and tabbed dividers. I also inserted a few empty pocket pages and page protectors so I could slip in note cards, news clippings, and other documents for easy retrieval.
One of the things I keep in a page protector is my garden diagram and plan. I create it on graph paper to ensure a relatively accurate scale. My garden plan is a multi-page project which I tape together, so a page protector is the perfect way to store it. When planting time comes, I can tell at a glance what to plant where. I save my plans from year to year, too. Having a designated, easy-to-find storage space means I know where to find them when it’s time to plan crop rotations for next years’ garden.
I reserve a calendar to record seed-starting, outdoor planting, and harvesting dates. When the gardening season is over, the calendar goes into one of the sleeves. The old calendars are excellent reference tools in future years. Another thing I keep in page protectors is invoices from seed companies to remind me what and how much I bought the previous year.
I use lots of tabbed dividers. They separate subjects like the following:
Diary: This is a simple one-page-per-month list of the gardening tasks I did each day. I have three years’ worth of diaries so I can compare year to year with just a flip of the page.
Vegetable list: Within one tabbed section, I have a page for each type fruit and vegetable we grow. I can list characteristics, successes and failures, favorite varieties, and other relevant notes here.
Lessons learned: Some of the lessons I’ve learned include the need to leave space for later plantings, to use a bigger trellis for cucumbers, to plant more beans, that melons take up too much valuable real estate for us, that we don’t need a whole row of pumpkins. I have five full pages of lessons learned. I needed to learn a lot.
Harvest and preservation totals: It’s fun to keep track of the total weight of the year's harvest. It’s also time-consuming. A couple of years ago, I quit weighing once we reached 1200 pounds. I think I've gotten a pretty good handle on how much we harvest so I no longer weigh our garden haul. But I’m really glad I did it and have a written record.
Keeping up what we preserve is more important. It helps me track usage throughout the year and when the next gardening season arrives, I know what we need to plant more—or less—of.
Miscellaneous information: In this section I keep things like a seed viability charts, garden workshop notes, and tips to maximize the harvest (plant high-value crops, high-yield crops, and cut-and-come-again varieties).
Planting tools: I keep all sorts of planting information in this section, a page (or more) for each:
1. important planting dates (if a seed packet suggests planting six weeks before the last frost, I’ll know without counting backwards on my calendar to plant on April 13 in our garden zone);
2. a cold-hardiness chart so I can cross-reference this page with our thermometer in cooler seasons to know if I need to harvest my basil (35 degrees) or carrots (12 degrees);
3. a guide to succession planting by crop (plant salad greens every three weeks);
4. a list of companion plants (basil for tomato, nasturtium for squash) and those who should never meet (cukes and potatoes; carrots and dill; marigolds and beans);
5. plants for pest control and encouraging pollinators;
6. a list of seeds we have on hand (a quick reference when it’s time to order the next season’s seeds).
One of the unexpected benefits of having my garden notebook is that it helps me remember how much I’ve learned since I began gardening. It’s a reminder that we’re all novices when we first begin a practice. Over the course of time we morph into wise, experienced gardeners, perhaps even experts.
Keeping a notebook has made me a more knowledgeable gardener because with each tidbit I write, I’m reinforcing what I just read. Having one at-my-fingertips-resource makes it more likely that I’ll search out that important piece of information I need to find. Keeping a garden notebook has turned out to be a real winner for me.
Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts by following this link. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.
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