Winter months are made for indoor projects, so why not spend some of this time making yourself a garden journal? Many gardeners keep some kind of planting diary, and you can find any number of them to purchase online. Personally, I couldn’t find anything that fit my needs. They were too generic, too specific, too small, irrelevant, or some combination of these.
So I decided to make my own. It’s more than a journal; it’s a notebook. I know my notebook won’t suit everyone’s needs. It’s too big to lug around, for example, and some folks like having their journal handy when they’re in the garden so they can log information on-site. I, however, want my journal clean, dry, and large enough that I can fit anything I want inside.
When preparing my notebook, I started with a discarded 3-inch, three-ring binder — it was the perfect size, but the worn white cover was boring, boring, boring. I had scads of out-of-date seed catalogs, so I recycled some of their pages to make a collage for my notebook cover, which I slathered with a decoupage sealer. I was thrilled with the result.
I filled the notebook with hole-punched notebook paper, graph paper, and tabbed dividers. I also inserted a few empty pocket pages and page protectors so I could slip in notecards, news clippings, and other documents for easy retrieval. Now it’s chock full of valuable and personalized gardening information, all at my fingertips.
The Purpose of Page Protectors
One of the reasons I keep page protectors in my notebook is to store my garden plan. This is a multi-page project that I tape together, so a page protector is a great way to store it. I create one every year on graph paper to ensure a relatively accurate scale. When planting time comes, I can tell at a glance what to plant where. I save my plans from year to year, too. Having a designated, easy-to-find storage space helps me find past plans when it’s time to outline crop rotations for next year’s garden.
I also reserve a calendar to record seed starting, outdoor planting, and harvesting dates. When the gardening season is over, that year’s calendar goes into one of the notebook sleeves; old calendars are excellent reference tools. I also keep invoices from seed companies in page protectors, to remind me what and how much I previously bought.
Thoughtfully Tabbed Dividers
I use lots of tabbed dividers to separate subjects, including:
Diary. This is a simple, one-page-per-month list of the gardening tasks I complete each day. I have three years’ worth of diaries saved, so I can easily compare one year to another.
Produce list. Within one tabbed section, I have a page for each fruit and vegetable I grow. I can list the plants’ characteristics, successes and failures, my favorite cultivars, and other relevant notes here.
Lessons learned. Some of the lessons I’ve learned include the need to leave garden space for later plantings, to use a bigger trellis for cucumbers, to plant more beans, that melons take up too much valuable real estate for us, and that we don’t need a whole row of pumpkins. I have five full pages of lessons learned — I needed to learn a lot.
Harvest and preservation totals. It’s fun to keep track of the total weight of the year’s harvest, but it’s also time-consuming. A couple of years ago, I quit weighing once we reached 1,200 pounds. I think I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on how much we harvest, so while I no longer weigh our garden haul, I’m really glad I have a written record from when I did weigh the harvest. Nowadays, keeping records of what we preserve is more important. It helps me track usage throughout the year, and when the next gardening season arrives, I know what we need to plant more — or less — of.
Miscellaneous information. In this section, I keep things such as seed viability charts, garden workshop notes, and tips to maximize the harvest (for me, this includes planting high-value crops, high-yield crops, and cut-and-come-again varieties).
Planting tools. I keep all sorts of planting information in this section, at least one page for each.
- Important planting dates. (If a seed packet suggests planting six weeks before the last frost, I’ll know without counting backward on my calendar to plant on April 13 in our garden zone.)
- A cold-hardiness chart so I can cross-reference with our thermometer to know if I need to harvest my basil (35 degrees Fahrenheit) or carrots (12 degrees).
- A guide to succession planting by crop, such as “Plant salad greens every three weeks.”
- A list of companion plants (basil for tomato, or nasturtium for squash), as well as those plants that should never meet (cucumbers and potatoes; carrots and dill; marigolds and beans).
- Plants for pest control, and those for encouraging pollinators.
- A list of seeds we have on hand, which acts as a quick reference when it’s time to order the next season’s seeds.
One of the unexpected benefits of having a garden notebook is that it helps me remember how much I’ve learned since I began gardening. Keeping a notebook has made me a more knowledgeable gardener, because with each tidbit I write, I’m reinforcing what I’ve just learned. Having this resource at my fingertips makes it more likely that I’ll search for that important piece of information I need to find. And it’s a reminder that we’re all novices at first, but over time we morph into wise, experienced gardeners — perhaps even experts.
Carole Coates is a gardener, food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, and modern homesteader. Check out the blogs she writes for Mother Earth News by searching her name on the website, or find her at Living on the Diagonal, where she shares her take on life.