Garden Journals are picking up in popularity, and everywhere you look gardeners are encouraging each other to keep them. Admittedly, I never had one until I depended on the food I grew to feed my family. I don’t fill out all the bells and whistles, but some of the things I write down are priceless to me.
My garden journal is a thick 3 x 5 notebook. Each year has a sticky tab so I can easily flip from year to year. When opening up to individual years, I have labeled “early spring,” “on time” or “late spring” just beneath each year. So if you look at last year, you will see “early spring.”
When I look back to a prior year’s information, I will look at years that had comparable spring onset, and go from there.
What else is kept in a garden journal?
It’s different for everyone, but there are some basics that will really help make growing your own food a bit easier and more organized.
Dates, Dates, Dates
If you don’t already have it committed to memory, go to almanac.com and find out what your average last spring frost day is. This is important to know so you won’t accidentally plant your garden too early on an early spring year.
Each individual year, document the actual last spring frost date. This may be different from your “average” last frost date for a variety of reasons.
Here in the Rockies, there are actually thousands of feet difference in elevation within our zip-code. Some of the land in our zip-code is on the side or at the tops of mountain peaks, but other parts are on “flats” or in valleys. All of these things will affect temperatures. If I put my zip-code in the calculator, it will tell me my last spring frost is June 11. However, because I have had a garden journal for a number years now, I know it’s generally around June 1. Because I know I will have fall frosts starting in late July- early August, knowing that I can plant 9 days earlier is huge to me. In fact, anything that goes in the garden after June 11 general never makes it to maturity.
Write down when you start your seeds indoor, or in the garden. Each crop will need a different amount of time in it’s starter pot before moving outside to harden off. Record when you are able to start taking them outside to harden them off. And though it may sound silly the first year, write down the day it gets transplanted in the dirt.
Write down the date you put your seeds directly in the ground, how much you planted, when they emerge, the date of first bud, and when you can begin harvesting. Also record how long your bounty season lasts, when you are harvesting it, and how much you get from your harvest.
Some people record how much they are able to preserve with different methods, and some fancier journals may even have favorite canning recipes in them. Did you come across a great freezing or canning recipe but it’s out of season? Stick it in your journal and it’ll be front and center when your produce is ready. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find them just in time to use them.
Do you save your own seeds? Write down when your seeds are ready for harvest too. Also, after your harvest, write down a list of what seeds you’ll want next year. When the garden magazines come in the winter, you’ll be less likely to want to buy everything you see if you already have an honest list of what you already have and what you want to get.
It’s important to write down prices of produce at local farmer’s markets or in the stores even if you aren’t purchasing that particular crop that year. For instance, even as wheat farmers, we keep track of the prices in the stores. While we grow most of our own food, we still buy flour. In the end, it’s just so cheap that it’s not worth it to me to have to clean it myself.
In some areas, newer gardeners who are still trying to figure out what to grow will soon find once they grow tomatoes, that it’s quite costly to start purchasing them again. They can then look at their harvest yields and adjust their plan for the next year. Or they will find it’s cheaper for them (depending on where they live) to just buy broccoli or cauliflower than try to grow it.
If you are living completely off-grid with no intention of buying any food, then prices may not matter to you at all.
Also write down the price of your seeds. In the past, the Farmer and I have calculated what we paid in seeds (we are unable to save all of our own). Then we have calculated what it would have cost us for store prices to purchase the produce we’ve grown. The difference is astronomical.
This is where you record all the emergency garden saves that you learn about that could pertain to the gardening in your area.
Do you tend to get cabbage moths? Aphids? As you learn how to overcome these obstacles, stick remedies in this area.
Is there a certain time of the season you will get a hail storm, and you now know you need to be prepared at about that time again this year?
Baseball card sleeves make great seed packages (affiliate link). You’ll want to save your seed packages to refer back to later, or even put more seeds in later if you’re a seed saver.
It can be easy to think that you are going to remember where you planted everything next year. But then when next year comes and it’s time for you to rotate your crops, things can get a little fuzzy. Some people like to draw graphs of their gardens, while others like to take pictures.
These days, this is a rather sizable part of my garden journal. As we are out and about on our family hikes, we may find new signs of various plants we will want to come back to later. Occasionally, we will find them after they have gone to seed and we’ve missed them.
There is a separate section in my journal simply giving land marks for various plants I want to find the next year.
And since these are generally plants that we don’t grow in our garden, we aren’t seeing their growth all the time. It’s important to be able to look back at another year with a similar spring to know about when we can start looking for our rhubarb and asparagus. Likewise, our weather patterns in the summer will dictate when we go looking for our berries according to previous year’s entries.
Get Your Own Journal Templates
Although we just use a notebook, many people like to print our a journal and put it in a 3 ring binder where they can move papers around as they see fit. Here are some free garden journals if you want to print one out yourself. (Caution, I am not checking these references often. If you should read this some time after this article is published and a source is no longer available or free, would you leave a comment on the bottom so I can adjust it? But I do not guarantee all these will always be free as none of them are my own.)
- Specific to 2016 Arbico, Organics is offering these stylish pages.
- To pick and choose just what you want look here, or here.
- Live in Iowa? This one is just what you need.
- Will you be keeping your journal with children? Check this one out.
Want to keep an on-line journal? This looks really neat.
Want something solid and prettier? Chose from one of these (affiliate). The mole skin one might be my favorite…
What do you keep in your journal? If you’ve never kept one before, what do you foresee as being the most helpful?