Keeping a garden journal

A place for successes, failures and hopes

McClatchy-TribuneDecember 27, 2013 

The day I turned 40, I couldn't read the price tags in the clothing store. The day I turned 50, the forgetfulness began. Sure, I can't remember all the botanical names, but I recall the name of someone I met last night. For every gardener older than 50, and busy moms and dads who are daily overwhelmed with the complexity of family life, this is a solution for you.

Growing vegetables is a memory game. You need to remember your current garden plan when you lay out next year's to practice proper crop rotation. It's unwise to plant the same plant in the same place each year. Rotation demands a well thought out arrangement every spring. For this and many other reasons, I recommend everyone — and especially older gardeners — keep a garden journal.

As the seed catalogs come pouring in during the winter months, planning next year's garden becomes an important task. Designating one notebook to this planning process is the best way to begin harvesting the results of documentation. It will help you in so many ways you'll wonder how you did without it.

Here are the most important things to chronicle in these pages:

Lists: I make a lot of lists when shopping seed catalogs. Often I begin with a much larger listing and then cross off lesser candidates as I work through new seed I want to try. I also make lists for specialty products to consider such as an innovative tomato trellis, inoculant mycorhizzae for peas and beans, and organic fertilizer options for a mid-season feeding. You'll refer back to these time and again.

Cut and paste: A good way to document your garden is to cut out ideas for new plants from last year's seed catalog. These pictures of the plants and fruit grown from each variety of seed helps you visually connect with a particular plant. This is also a great place to gather clippings of plants you want to try in the future. If you include descriptions and other helpful data such as germination times, it will be there forever.

Empty seed packets: Empty seed packets should never be thrown away when you have an ongoing journal. Devote a page to each seed packet so you have space below to jot down comments or concerns generated by this year's performance. There might be helpful how-to data on the back or it simply indicates which seed house it came from so you know where to go for reordering.

Success or failure: The journal also becomes the designated place to record your greatest crops or most dismal failures. Often as you write up what went wrong, the process might offer a different point of view that you never considered before. This is where you detail years of difficult bug infestations, extensive rainfall, drought and heat waves, all of which can influence whether you find success with certain crops.

Reminders: This is a great way to remind yourself what to do in the months leading up to summer. I like to create a monthly summary from the previous year that forms the basis for my own schedule of tasks or items to be purchased and when. For busy moms, this is a real time saver so you aren't reinventing the wheel every spring.

A garden journal also can be a creative opportunity. For those who love to draw and paint, choose your empty journal for its size and paper quality for impromptu watercolors and sketches. This is where you record your inspiration when the garden glows dripping with dew in the morning light. Even poets find the margins are great places to test your verses.

Your journal becomes an artifact of a nature-based lifestyle. Be diligent in adding pressed dry plant materials and other ephemera to these pages. Most important, it becomes your own personal guide book to food gardening, tailored for your micro-climate, soils and plants for an even better yield next year.

Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at Moplants.com.

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