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Smart Gardeners Keep Records

Want to know a gardening secret that has the power to make you a gardening pro overnight? Get yourself a gardening notebook.

The gardening notebook will do as much for the home gardener as a good shovel or a nice pair of gardening gloves. Your gardening notebook can be simple or it can be fancy, or it can be somewhere in between – much like the gardens we grow.

Do you find yourself asking questions year-to-year such as:

  • What kind of lettuce did I sow last year? And where did I buy it from?
  • I think my tomatoes were planted too early last season…what date did I set them out?
  • When was our first frost? It seemed a little later than usual…

My first gardening notebook was nothing more than a sheet of paper where I made notes for myself. Over the years my gardening notebook has evolved into a nice three-ring binder which has become an invaluable resource that I look at very often.

Want to get started? 

Don’t be tempted to make your gardening notebook too complicated, or you won’t use it. Here are a few tips for starting and using a gardener’s notebook.

1. Divide the notebook by seasons and growing sections. Spring Garden, Summer Garden, Fall Garden, Flower Garden, and so on.

2. Always record important dates:

  • Seed starting dates
  • Planting dates (for transplants and direct sowing)
  • Harvest dates
  • First frost
  • Killing frost/cold snap

Keeping track of these dates over a period of a few years will help you identify patterns for your area and climate and will greatly increase your success rate.

3.  Keep a section just for food and vegetables. List the names of the plants, types of seed, where they were purchased or ordered, and keep notes of their performance. This will help you spot what grew well and what didn’t. (If you’re like me, you *think* you will remember each year when you’re ready to buy seed, but the memory fails a bit as you get older!)

4.  Keep a list of things you want to try in the garden. A “wish list” of sorts.

5. Some gardeners even store empty seed packets in their notebooks so that they can re-purchase seeds with ease.

6.  Always, always, always make note of where you purchased each seed or transplant.

7.  Track germination rates, if you start your own seeds. Make notes such as: “Planted 20 tomato seeds from XYZ brand packet. 18 germinated, 2 did not.”

8.  Write down how many plants you set out and make notes if it was enough or too many. This is especially important for the gardener with limited growing space.

9.  Add in monthly “To-Do” lists for your garden. This way you keep track of exactly what garden chores you like to do each month or season. It’s easy to forget some things, such as trim the hedges or order my ProtoGrow (you don’t want to run out!).

10.  You can even keep a section for houseplants. This will help you remember when it is time to re-pot them and fertilize them, and so on. (If you are like me, sometimes the houseplants get neglected during full-blown gardening season!)

11.  Track days to maturity. By writing down your germination dates, transplant dates, sprouting dates, and then harvest dates, you can end up with a treasure-trove of information about your garden. Sure, seed packets will list a number for “days to maturity” on their labels, but this fluctuates with seasons and your local climate. Again, keeping precise records like these will greatly improve your personal gardening and growing success over time. This way, when I plant something and it doesn’t sprout when I think it is supposed to, I can go back and check my notebook and thus, ease my panic a bit.

12.  Keep vital local info in your notebook. This may include handouts and charts you get from your local farm and garden store, local extension office, and so on. I have a handy-dandy “Vegetables of North Carolina” chart that I refer back to year after year. I picked this little gem up for free from my local farmer’s market.

13.  Make harvest notes. Record dates of harvest, how much was harvested, and so on. It is a great way to keep up with the amounts, and even pounds of food you grow. It’s also a good way to see what is worth your time to plant and what isn’t – one year I planted eggplants and only harvested one. I decided after that year it was in my better interest to give that space to something else and just buy my eggplants at the farmer’s market until I could better my eggplant-growing skills.

14.  Keep track of when you fertilize. “Fertilized my tomatoes with ProtoGrow when first fruit sets appeared.”  Write down this information so you won’t forget season-to-season.

15.  Make a general notes section. List information such as damage from insects, special information, and anything else that you might want to remember.

Some gardeners take their notebooks a step further and add pictures from the garden each season. Personally, I don’t do this but I might someday when I have more time on my hands. Your gardening notebook is your own – so make it work for you and keep it as fancy or as simple as you desire.

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