Keeping a garden journal is a beautiful blend of art and science. It is a testament to your garden and a notebook of learning accomplished throughout your growing year. What you put into a journal makes it incredibly useful for years to come—creating a kind of almanac specific to your location. Tracking changes in your garden—bloom times and harvest, seeding times, and so on also contributes to the study of local phenology. Phenology is “Phenology refers to key seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year – such as flowering, emergence of insects and migration of birds – especially their timing and relationship with weather and climate.” (read more). Below are some of the things that can be most helpful for your journal, an explanation of why, as well as an example of how to create a journal custom-tailored to your needs.
Planting Plan: In the beginning of your journal creating a diagram or map of what you intend to plant where is helpful. As you plant perennials, you might mark them on a base map and copy it each year – creating new plans for annuals. Pasting this into the front of your garden journal will help to keep you straight. It might even help a spouse not remove the wrong thing (I speak from experience) or point a temporary caretaker in the right direction while you are gone. I like to use a map and numbers to keep things straight, but you can also use a narrative description in your records to keep things clear.
Notes on major projects for the year: Do you want to put in a new compost system or fencing or chickens this year? Arbors, trellis, pathways, water collection, irrigation systems, greenhouses…. Using a Future Log on a couple of pages can help you figure out how to stage improvement efforts between planting and harvesting—or when you typically have good weather.
Plant information: Seed catalogs, gardening books from the library, apps and websites can all help you fill in the missing information over time. Knowing the varieties you have; how they perform in your garden; and whether you like them or not are all important things to keep track of. I like to put in how the kids respond to something (“We love cheese squash!” or “Alpine strawberries are the best!”)
Variety: This you might research before you order your seeds—or keep track of as you save seeds from your own garden. Paying attention to varieties is crucial because they help you know which niche in the garden to put them in, how long it will take (on average) for them to fruit, color, resistance to disease and many other characteristics.
Source: This can be a brief notation, but it helps to know which seed companies you like—or whether the seeds came from your own garden or a friend’s garden.
Date Seeds Started: Again, this is important because it helps you track performance—and have a sense of when to begin your garden and how things are changing from year to year.
Germination Date: The date you see the seeds emerge from the soil surface is notable because it will help you understand more about your garden and will help you to track the growth of the plants over time.
Transplant source: If you don’t plant your own seeds, germination won’t matter, but tracking where the plants came from and how they are doing will help you make decisions about plants in the future.
Flowering: This isn’t critical (except for fruit trees and shrubs), but it is nice to have a written record of what flowers when and how that changes from year to year. You might use it to help plan to have flowers throughout the year—whether for beauty or to feed and support pollinators in your garden.
Fruiting or Harvest: This is what you’ve been waiting for! The date you harvested, the quantity by number or weight, and the quality of the harvest are all items to consider recording. Does it look good, taste good, produce well, and resist pests? Does one variety tolerate the humidity or drought better? You might find you want to repeat some things and not others. Or you may find you want to save some seeds for next year. And a record is evidence when bragging to the neighbors!
Weather information: This might be kept on one sheet in your journal or noted amongst your daily observations. Having it in one place to compare months and years is often helpful. You’ll want to make notes on the high and low temperatures for the day, precipitation, cloud cover, and prevailing or significant winds. Some gardeners like to track and plant by moon phases.
Daily observations: It’s the little things that bring us joy. The most beautiful purple in a flower or seeing the swelling bud that will bring us the first berry in spring. Making a note or including a drawing let’s us track and relive these phenomena in our lives. The coming of insects in the spring to pollinate or the first pests can be valuable to know as our garden grows and adapts from year to year. Whether you can draw or not, this is a great way to record information.
How to do it: How to keep track and organize all of this? Spreadsheets and apps might work on your computer. I like to physically write down my observations—either right in the garden or at a station set up near my door.
This year I’m adapting something I like. The Bullet Journal method of setting up a journal might be a great option for you, too. The ideas from a regular journal organization can be modified to include the above categories. An index at the beginning helps you to organize and find information for the whole journal. A future log allows you to plan each month ahead. The month pages can be places to record weather information and tasks in the garden. Other pages can be dedicated to seed source information, seed starting pages, and pest management plans. With the index in front of the journal, you can cross-reference related items and easily find things from year to year—making your journal truly a reference item.
Whether you go all in and like to record every little detail or keep a notebook with a few jotted notes; whether you like to draw out your journal or keep a spreadsheet, journaling can deepen your connection to your garden and ensure more success from year to year. Here’s to a great year ahead!