Whether this is your first year gardening or you’ve gardened your whole life, I can’t stress enough the importance of having a garden journal. Let’s be honest: every year we think we’ll remember that awful variety of tomato we grew or that amazing variety of eggplant, but when the next spring rolls around, our minds completely draw a blank. Or worse, we think we remember the right variety so we buy a seedling only to be disappointed again at harvest time. And this my friends is where your garden journal becomes an essential gardening tool.
In my garden journal I put a sketch of my garden plan and all of its successions. This is important for crop rotation in future years. I also make note of each variety of plant in my garden and the date I planted it. And be specific, don’t just say “large tomatoes” but “Better Boy Tomato,” and then note what you and your family liked or disliked about that tomato variety. Maybe the plant was a great producer or perhaps the taste wasn’t as rich as you like. If you don’t love a variety then don’t grow it again! There are too many amazing plants out there to settle for something mediocre.
Also take the time to note which pests you dealt with this season. For me it’s important that I remember that I had wireworms this year and that I will need to turn my soil early so the birds can feast on any pests that survived the winter. I’ll also need to apply beneficial nematodes before planting to take care of the rest. I am also dealing with Japanese beetles so we’ll apply milky spores this fall, but my garden journal will remind us to do it again in the spring.
Noting how you feed your plants is also vital to success from year to year. How many pounds of living worm compost did you use? Did you top dress? How regularly did you apply worm tea? Did you use any additional fertilizers, and how did they work?
It’s helpful to note any failures you have in your garden this season. Did you plant your eggplants too close together? Perhaps you miscalculated how long it would take your cabbage to mature and thus planted your peppers later than you wanted. And note your successes too! Did that new trellis work like a charm? Perhaps all your succession planting went exactly as planned. Write it down so you have it for the next go around.
A garden journal may seem like an added task to an already busy season, but it will be worth the work when you can’t remember that amazing variety next spring or can’t remember exactly where you planted those potatoes two years ago. Plus, if you keep your journals from year to year, you might actually surprise yourself on what a great gardener you’ve become.
So if you haven’t started your garden journal for this season it’s not too late—just get a notebook and start jotting. Happy gardening!
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.