Winter is a great time for garden planning, We can make lengthy lists of plants we want to try growing, seeds to order, and drawings of new plot plans.
Unfortunately a lot of this gets lost when the gardening season revs up and we are overwhelmed with work. Even though I start out the year with every intention of keeping close track of things in a garden journal, I am usually so busy by June that my record keeping has degenerated into hasty notes scribbled on muddy scraps of paper.
Keeping a garden journal is indispensible when spring planting rolls around. Vegetable crops need to be rotated every year to avoid depleting the same nutrients from the soil and to discourage insects and pests from gaining a foothold. It is a good practice not to plant the same family of crops - such as nightshades, curcurbits, legumes, and brassicas - in the same spot for at least four years. Can you remember back that far? I know I can’t! There is an old Chinese saying, “The faintest ink is better than the best memory.”
The extent to which you keep your garden journal is entirely up to. Whether you just keep track of your basic plot plan; or add in planting dates, weather, expenses, and your successes and failures; or fill notebooks with pages of personal thoughts and observations, it is your choice.
There are as many different kinds of journals as there are gardeners. Blank books, calendars, scrapbooks, photo albums, accordian files, or loose-leaf binders all make practical, inexpensive garden journals. Book stores offer beautifully designed journals with colorful artwork and bits of poetry. You can record the year in progress by taking photographs or drawing sketches. The journal is a great place to make wishlists of plants, track bloom and fruiting times, record yields, and make note of seasonal reminders such as when you pruned the apple tree and the date of the last frost.
Thomas Jefferson kept a garden journal for over 50 years recording every date of every planting and harvest from seed to table.
I have a small collection of garden journals that I have found over the years and they range from totally blank books to ones full of inspirational quotes and pretty pictures to ones offering practical tips.
I especially like this one from 1938.
Most of them I have never used but I ran across one I kept in the 1980s and it was truly a trip down memory lane. I guess I had more time on my hands then than I do now, even though I was a young mother of a two-year-old boy and helped my husband run a fifty cow dairy farm.
I wrote pretty faithfully each week about weather, gardens, herbal lore, recipes, friends, and family and included the scribbled garden plans too. It was interesting to look back and revisit my old garden and my old life.
I admit to being a paper and pencil kinda gal but this year I am ready to enter the digital age of garden planning. The Almanac has come out with a new garden planner that takes a lot of the guesswork out of garden design. Using the dimensions of your space you can draw in your beds, rows, or even square foot blocks. When you add plants, there are icons for 180 vegetables, herbs, and fruits to choose from and they appear on your plan wherever you place them with the proper spacing. You can easily move things around and experiment with the plan until you like the looks of it. There is a lot of growing information, help for crop rotation and succession planting, and times to sow, plant, and harvest. Check it out at gardenplanner.almanac.com. Maybe this year I will finally keep up!