As we age, our memory is not as sharp as it once was. Have you ever thought, “Now, what did I plant there last year?” Writing things down makes access to information so much easier and this is especially valuable in vegetable gardening, where we have to factor in many variables.
No need to use an expensive garden journal; A regular, large notebook will suffice in most cases. You will be making frequent entries in your notebook, so keep them brief, such as “4/10 Planted Green Arrow peas” or “8/10 Harvested 6 Roma tomatoes (1.5 lb.), tasted great!”
In late winter, we typically make our seed selections and purchases for the following season. Keeping a journal allows us to review the winners and losers from the previous years and to make an informed seed selection based on the previous season’s performance. Identifying the seed source for your winners is also important, since results may vary from vendor to vendor depending on where the seed was produced.
Next, we need to consider the condition of our garden soil prior to planting for a new growing season. This inspection is usually based on a soil test collected in the spring.
There are local resources available to analyze soil samples and help interpret them. We take a lot from the soil during the growing season, so it’s important to know what nutrients we need to replace with soil amendments and fertilizers. When we get the soil test results, we can then adjust our soils to provide the best growing conditions based on the recommendation from the tests. It is useful to record what amendments you added for future planning.
Following soil analysis, we need to consider what you and your family like to eat and where to grow it. This is best done by drawing a map of your garden and comparing it with what was grown in each area last year. This is important since we do not want to continually plant the same plants in the same place and let diseases and pests build up.
At this stage, we can then assign the correct vegetable to each area and determine if specific amendments need to be added. Document these selections on your map for this season. Crop rotations are critical to success and hard to follow without suitable documentation.
All gardens are unique due to the variations in local micro-climates, so another important piece of data to record is the date of the last and first frost in your garden. These dates are highly variable depending on your elevation, proximity to the coast, etc. They are very important, since direct seed sowing and seed starting indoors are often based on the number of weeks surrounding these events and are often mentioned on the back of your seed packets, such as “sow seed indoors six weeks before the last frost.”
The time between the last and first frosts define your growing season and this, coupled with the number of days to maturity on your seed packet, are massively helpful in selecting varieties appropriate for this area and your garden.
Record the dates seed or starts were planted, how long it took them to mature, and how well they did after planting to help future planning for subsequent seasons. This is especially useful when your early season crops need to be replaced by follow-on warm season crops in the same area, if space is limited. If possible, use plant labels to identify all the varieties planted and record the variety used in your notebook to avoid confusion.
Apart from seed starting, sowing, and performance, what other important observations should you include?
Diseases and pests are topics you might want to note. Since fungal disease treatments are preventative and not always a cure, if you know when your apples got powdery mildew last year, this information will allow you to spray before you expect the disease to appear this year.
The same is true for pests. If you made notes on when aphids appeared on your beans or brassicas last year it will give you a clue as to when to start checking for them in the current season. Always make a note of what action you took for a particular problem and what the result was.
By diligently recording all these data and observations, you will have a road map of the past year(s) to review and reflect on as you plan for the upcoming season. This task is ideal for a cold winter night, sitting in a comfy chair by the wood stove as you await the arrival of seed catalogs or skim through them. Over the years you will build a reference library to help solve your most common problems and make you a more productive vegetable grower.
These records are invaluable as a planning aid and will help you hone your gardening skills and successful vegetable growing by not repeating past mistakes.
Good luck filling your journal or notebook and happy gardening!
Gardening journal notes to consider
Topic — Possible notes to record
Environment — Date of last and first frost. Definition of growing season.
Soil Health — Date of soil test and results. Action taken. Amendments added.
Planning — Draw a map of your garden and compare the location of plants from last year. Adjust fertilizer, nutrients, and allocate supports for new season.
Seed sowing — Record the date seeds were sun inside. Did you use lights or heat? How long did it take the seeds to germinate?
Direct sowing and starts — When did you set out the starts? Did they transfer well? When did they mature? How long did it take direct sun seed to germinate?
Performance — What did well, what did not! Did you measure the harvest from the tomatoes, for example, to see which produced the most? Which ones tasted the best? Which ones had the least problems?
Diseases and pests — When did you first notice a fungal disease? What was it and action taken? When did you first observe pest issues? Did you identify it and action taken? What results did you observe?
Learn about ‘Climate Sentinels’
Make sure to join us for the upcoming Green Thumb presentation, “Aphids: Climate Sentinels,” presented by Clallam County Master Gardener Muriel Nesbitt, from noon-1 pm on Thursday, April 14, on Zoom. Presentations cover basic gardening topics relevant to most home gardeners. Seminars are free, but donations to help support the WSU Clallam County Extension Master Gardener program or Master Gardener Foundation of Clallam County are appreciated. Get the Zoom link at extension.wsu.edu/clallam/master-gardener-calendar.