Importance of keeping good garden records
As a beginning gardener, I studied seeds that sounded interesting to me. I read the seed packets, planted the seeds, and hoped for the best. This is how my mother did it.
Over the years, I learned:
• Don’t plant beets too close together. (Each ”seed” is actually several seeds.)
• Thin the carrots. (Those growing too close together will be small, and might not form useable roots at all.)
• Don’t let tomatoes dry out too much before watering them. (Large variations in moisture will cause blossom end rot.)
• And I have learned how different varieties of the same vegetable perform for me, how the same variety from different seed companies can sometimes differ, how different years produce different results, and much more.
But then, even after years of experience, I still don’t do nearly as well as I could, and should. The reason is that there is so much to learn and know, so many variables, that no one can keep it all in their head. Some people who have been gardening for 20 years don’t have 20 years’ worth of experience; they have one year’s experience times twenty!
The solution? Record everything you do.
Most gardeners do start keeping records, eventually. Even in the beginning, an enthusiastic grower might record seeds purchased, the company they came from, planting dates and so forth. Rainfall might be noted, along with temperature extremes and other simple data. Some decide to store this information on their computer.
But by harvest time…
Well, maybe that week of vacation really interfered with weeding, the first few pickings of beans weren’t worth weighing, and we’ll never forget that infestation of tomato horn worms! And when the main crops came in, we were busy barbequing, spending time with friends, and giving away tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers by the bagful. Who had time to weigh stuff or make notes or record anything?
The next season, this gardener is virtually starting all over again, from scratch. And all those lessons, events, and conditions we thought we’d never forget have evaporated from the memory like the morning dew under a blazing sun.
To learn more, more quickly—and to preserve data for later reference, study, and analysis—a detailed garden journal is a necessity. The more data you accumulate, the more you’ll learn.
A diagram of your garden can be very helpful, if only for crop rotations. If drawn on graph paper, it can also indicate the amount of space devoted to each crop. Include special treatments such as bone meal for potatoes, extra nitrogen for the corn, or selective applications of lime or other soil amendments and you’ll have a veritable road map to a better garden.
Here are some of the things to consider recording:
• Seed: Variety, amount, source, area or length of row planted.
• Dates: Of starting seed in flats, setting out plants or planting directly into the garden, germination, first harvest, main harvest.
• Weather: Last frost, rainfall, extreme temperatures or wind, hail, first frost.
• Problems: Insect pests, animal pests, diseases, specific weed problems.
• Yield: By weight
• Other notes: Are some plants too closely spaced? Too far apart? Did the squash vines strangle the green beans? Don’t think you’ll remember all this next year, much less three years down the road. Write it down!
• Summary: Were you satisfied with the flavor? Should you have grown cucumbers in the same wine barrel as the heirloom tomatoes? How long did the Italian eggplant keep? Yes, some day you’ll want to know all of this, to make better decisions and to make them much more easily.
• A postscript: All dedicated gardeners find snippets of information in books, magazines and newspapers, which they intend to put to good use, when the time comes. These are invariably forgotten. Every time I find a tidbit of information, I cut it out, fold it and put it in my pocket. As soon as I get to my computer, I make a note of it in the proper file. This way, I keep a constant flow of information recorded and I know exactly where to access it.
It is also easy to record all of this in your journal. This is easiest if you have a separate page or section for each crop. Then, when you’re planting beans again, for example, you’ll have all your information at your fingertips: what varieties you planted in the past, how they did, whether or not the yield was appropriate to your needs, and that little tip about sprinkling Dr. Earth® Organic 5™ to grow super tomatoes!
Writer & Gardener