Written by Felicia Brower, Colorado Master Gardener since 2020
As you reflect on this year’s summer gardening season, it might be tempting to believe that you’ll remember everything important until next spring. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work out, and you run the risk of doing a lot of guesswork when you’re getting started again next year. The solution? A garden journal! If you don’t already have a garden journal, now’s a perfect time to start one.
Instead of trying to remember what went well and what didn’t each year (or even from month to month), write it all down to refer back to at a later time. If you take the time to write down a list of what worked, what didn’t, and what changes you want to make, you can easily improve your garden in the future.
You can make your own garden journal out of something basic (I use the Composition Notebook pictured above), or you can purchase one at your local bookstore. There are also garden journal apps you can download if you prefer to go in a digital direction.
STARTING A JOURNAL
To get started with your garden journal, decide what information you want to remember. Many people choose to record things like sketches or photos of their gardens, planting dates, problems they ran into, and things that went well. Some people also like to add in general reflections about nature and the time they spend in their gardens.
WHAT TO RECORD
If you choose to make your own journal, you can customize it however you want. Keep track of anything you think is important to remember.
If you aren’t sure where to start, consider the following questions:
- What did you grow this year?
- What grew well?
- What didn’t grow as well as you would have liked? Any idea why?
- What took up more space than you anticipated?
- Were there any nearby trees or structures that covered parts of your garden?
- Was the sunlight too intense for any of your plants?
- Did you struggle with pests or disease?
- What do you want to plant next year?
- Where do you want to plant everything?
If you plan on doing crop rotations, drawing a sketch of where things were this year can be extremely helpful, especially if you’re not quite ready to plan your 2021 garden yet. Instead of wasting time trying to remember in the spring, you can flip open your garden journal and get a map of exactly where everything was.
It’s also worth noting when external events happen each year. Was there a certain time when you noticed a certain pest appeared? Were the storms worse during some months more than others? Keep track of things as they happen so that you can predict them in future years and work to avoid preventable damage to your plants.
You can also record any expenses (seeds, pots, fertilizer, etc.) to keep track of how much you’re spending on your garden each year and to find ways to possibly reduce the costs.
Note the repairs you have to make around the garden and how often you’re making them. If you’re spending a lot of time repairing something, it might be time to replace it.
If you just want to note the major things, keep track of what you plant, the exact date you plant things in the spring, and what brand of seed you use. The frost dates are great guides for when you should plant things, but it also helps to know specifically when you started, planted, or transplanted things in previous years.
Keep track of where you purchase your seeds, how much you paid for them, how well they performed so that you can make any necessary adjustments.
Wrap down the season in the fall with a review of how things went the previous summer. It will be a great resource to rely on when you’re planning for the future.
WHEN TO RECORD
There are no set rules about when you have to record things in your journal, but it’s easier to keep it updated if you make a regular practice of it. Taking five minutes to write small updates every time you’re out will paint a picture of what’s going on in your garden to look back on when you’re planning for an upcoming season.
TIPS FOR HAVING A SUCCESSFUL JOURNAL
Whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly, set aside regular time to write in your journal. Write down anything that feels important at the time. (You won’t remember specifics a year from now, so if it seems important now, write it down.)
Make sure that you can read your handwriting and understand what you write. It’s easy to scribble something down in the moment, but if you don’t go back and make sure that it’s clear, it’ll be a mystery when you read it later.
Your garden journal should be beneficial for you and with it you can learn how to manage problems more efficiently and increase your harvests. What you record in your garden journal is up to you, so have fun with it and do whatever you need to do to get the most out of it.