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How to Keep a Garden Journal

A garden journal, when done consistently, can offer you insights into your garden, help you learn more and avoid repeating mistakes, and offer a fun way to remember years past (much like a photo album!). 

 A lot of people hear the word “journal” and immediately picture pages of handwritten paragraphs and failed new year’s resolutions, but garden journaling allows a lot of freedom and doesn’t have to include paragraphs at all. While it’s not an absolutely necessary practice to have a successful garden, keeping a journal – even if it’s minimal – benefits gardeners a lot. Before I started logging information I’d regularly be in a situation where I asked “when did I plant those seeds again?” or “which tomato variety was it that we didn’t enjoy last year?” I can now turn to my garden journal and gain that knowledge that was forgotten over the long winter!

A hand holding a garden journal up. The page is a taped-indrawing titled "tomato map" Underneath the title is a hand-drawn map of a garden with different tomato varieties labeled.

The Basics of Garden Journaling

Garden journaling truly can be anything you want it to be. You can draw or watercolor your plants, keep a tally of how many butterflies you saw that year, record your soil temps every day in April, or tape the seed packets you used that year in. Whatever information interests you or provides value to you can be included! My family, for example, loves tomatoes more than any other crop and we take them very seriously. This year I am keeping the most detailed notes about what varieties I grew, how they were spaced, pruning I did and harvest yield. I wouldn’t do that for cucumbers, but someone else might. It’s all about catering it to your preferences and how much time you can spend on this garden task. 

To get started, you really just need a journal! It can be any kind of notebook, it just needs to be designated for only your garden and be stored somewhere you’ll be able to find it each year. I highly encourage you to be creative with this and customize it to you and your garden, but here are the basics of what a useful garden journal should include to get you started.

Lessons Learned and Things to Remember Next Year

These notes, in my opinion, are the most important ones to take. Every year I learn so much, and I would be remiss to forget to apply them the following year!  I just keep a bulleted list of anything that comes up throughout the season that I learn. This year, I’ve learned that milkweed actually does need to be cold stratified and that I want to plan my garden space out better in the future. Last year, after a long fight with early blight, I learned all of the disease management techniques for tomatoes. After reading through my notes from last year I’ve implemented all of them.

A Garden Map

Draw out your garden and map out where all of your crops are going this year! If you have a spring, summer and fall garden in which different things are grown, either write a list or make two or three maps. You can do this before the season begins as a way to plan out spacing, or you can decide as you go and keep track on your map. In any case, this information is particularly helpful for keeping track of crop rotation. You do not want to grow anything in the same space too often and it can be difficult to remember where everything was year over year. Having a map to keep track will help you to prevent disease in your garden. You can also note on it if a particular location was poorly suited for a plant so you don’t plant that crop there again!

seed packets sitting on top of a notebook. The notebook is laying beside a garden.

,A Planting Log

Every day after gardening, I sit down and note what seeds or seedlings I planted in the garden. Sometimes it’s as simple as “planted tomato plants” and sometimes I go into details about why, where, etc. This information is useful when you’re wondering why your seeds haven’t germinated yet, if you need to time your successive sowings, or if you are interested in how long a plant took to mature (it often isn’t what the seed packet says!).

General Harvest Yields

I certainly wouldn’t suggest you count every snap pea, spinach leaf, or tomato harvested, but it is useful to have a log of roughly how well your plants did that year. There are, undoubtedly, good and bad years for all of the crops and having a log of that can be helpful. Patterns can emerge that show you reasons why you may have had a bad year and it can just be fun to remember what went well each year!

Notes on Varieties Grown

This is really good if you are newer to gardening or if you are adventurous with what you grow each year. I write down every variety I’m growing (for example, not just “zinnias” but “Northern Lights Blend from Botanical Interests”) then later write down which ones I loved, which ones I never want to grow again, which ones were average and which ones deserve a second chance. This informs my seed buying and helps me figure out what to grow to have a garden that is specifically tailored to my tastes. If you’re going to grow your own food, you might as well grow the food you love the most.

Other Notes that May Be Useful in Your Garden Journal

Again, these will vary based on your garden and the year, but here are some ideas:

  • Improvements made to the garden this year
  •  Germination rate of seeds and how age affected them
  • Disease we struggled with this year
  • Quantities of plants grown for each vegetable and if it was a good amount
  • New things I want to grow next year 
  • What went well generally
  • Planting schedule (so you don’t miss any planting dates!)
  • Dates of the first harvest for each vegetable

Anything that can inform future decisions or satisfy general wonderings is worth the space in your garden journal! Don’t be afraid to write down “useless” information. It’s better to have too much written down than not enough and you never know what may be helpful or interesting to you next year.

Keeping a garden journal is an invaluable discipline for gardeners of all skill levels. Whether you just stick to the basics or write down all of the information or musing you have, the knowledge in your journal will help you to be a better gardener!

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