from the forum: how do you keep garden records?

IT’S A QUESTION I DON’T HAVE AN ANSWER FOR, but maybe you can help: What’s the best way to keep track of gardening records—a format or tactic that can grow with the garden? Is it index cards; spreadsheets on the computer; a series of actual journals, such as the popular moleskine notebooks? Forum member KK asked the other day, and maybe you have the secret to record-keeping success. (Mine apparently was to start a garden blog—since A Way to Garden represents the first time in my garden career I have ever actually recorded things in any sustained fashion, truth be told.) Tell us here, or better yet, in this thread in the Urgent Garden Question Forum.

40 comments
October 25, 2010

comments

  1. says

    I’m a totally haphazard record keeper, but one thing I’ve found helpful is that I keep plant tags in a notebook. I get clear photo pages with different sized pockets – that way I can see both sides of the tag.

  2. Mary W says

    I have an 8.5 x 11 month-to-a-page calendar that I keep on a clipboard. Every day before I leave the garden, I write down what I did and whatever else is going on. The squares limit what I can write, but that way I’m never overwhelmed by the task.

  3. says

    I have tried keeping a garden journal, but it was too hard to find things and the space to write in it was fixed and sometimes I just don’t feel like writing. I am on the computer everyday, though, so now I keep spreadsheets. I am still developing the format, but at least I can get all the information down, then move it around as I see fit. Also, my blog serves as a journal.

  4. says

    Records?

    The closest I get, I guess, is photographs. I take tons of them, especially before and afters. I try to photograph everything a few times a season to see how it grows in, how it gets obliterated by something else in the wrong position, how things wind up before snow, etc. It would be good if I remembered to write things down, but I do not. Just a fact.

  5. Anne says

    My garden journals look great, but have mostly empty pages. I now use one file folder per year to store plant tags and garden booklets. Then I keep a digital photo journal. Once a week I take photos everywhere in the yard. When the photos are uploaded, they go into a dated folder, and voila, I can look back at every week of the season and see what was happening–or not happening.

  6. says

    My blog serves as my journal. I have a page for a garden diary and a page for pictures of the plants. The diary page allows me to record any little trivial thing and I use the home page for reflections and my best pictures. I’m working on another page that will be a history of the garden.

    • says

      Welcome, Ginny. Love the “history” idea. So many things rattle around in my head that need setting down like that.

      Welcome, Anne. Ditto on the nice-but-empty journals. My photos seem to be the best journal (besides the blog) too. I need to get better about stashing the tags and such as you mention.

      See you both soon again.

  7. Ryan Miller says

    I use myfolia.com to track the plants I put in the ground and the seeds I collect. One can get really detailed on that site with tracking your garden, but I limit it to the names of new plants and which bed they go into, with maybe a photo. I also use evernote’s software and website to keep track of wish list items. Evernote is nice because it’s on my ipod.

  8. says

    For the vegetable garden I use a spreadsheet, I have tabs with formulas for when to start seeds, plant out etc, I also make a plan there to figure out where things will go. I’m working on the records in the flower garden. I’ve taken photos with the tags in them for newly planted perennials in hopes that I’ll be able to read the latin name later when I want to look it up.

  9. Whitney Curtis says

    What great inspiration! I have been saving my tags for about 6 months now (since I started gardening at my first home) with no where to put them. This was just the idea I needed! I think I’ll run out today to purchase a Moleskin for my very first gardening journal. So thankful to have this blog for ideas as I begin this process. Thanks to all.

  10. TomW says

    (I’ll also post this over on the thread)

    I have been gardening for many years but must admit that most of my recordkeeping has been from observation and memory. Along with this, I also read garden magazines, newspaper columns, and blogs such as Margaret’s here to use as reminders. But I have found some other methods to be useful. Photos are great and a camera should be a required garden tool. Most of us are probably now carry cell phones that have decent photo taking capabilities that also allow uploads to an online site or album. And these will also be tagged with the date. I use the camera to take pictures of not only what is beautiful and growing well but also of damaged plants, weather conditions, tools, etc … It’s great to look back at the photos for those “oh yeah” moments. I also do some journaling and blogging but it does take a lot of time and so is hard to keep up to date. If you do want to try that, I suggest keeping it short and sweet to start. Since I have not made the technological jump for writing, I carry a smaller ringed notebook for notes. Since I am managing a few gardens, I keep my todo list for each in a separate section. Not only does this keep me on task but as I scratch items off the list, it shows me that indeed I am really getting a lot done even though it does not always seem like it. Finally, I do keep all my plant tags but they are really in a jumble. For vegetables, I keep all the used packets. This is the most useful to me as they have the year on them so I can look back and see what worked out well. I suppose I could also write the planting date and notes right on the packet. I look forward to being more scientific in my gardening. I have located a local university based weather station that logs and stores yearly data on all kinds of useful weather conditions. I can export this to a spreadsheet such as excel and create some graphs. We’ve had such divergent conditions between this year and last that I want to spend some time checking out the difference in conditions.

  11. Teri Deger says

    I’ve been keeping one of those 10 year Gardener’s Journals. Sometimes I write in it and sometimes I don’t. I’m on my second one…. I was sure I wouldn’t live long enough to finish the first one, and I’m half-way thru the second one. (Had a bad case of cancer 20+ years ago…) Anyway, I jot down what I buy, where I plant it, the weather, and what’s blooming at any given time. I also take tons of digital photos. That’s why my hard drive is full on my computer! And…. I keep a fat little notebook with me at all times and if I see something I gotta have, I jot it down. And I plan my plant orders almost a year ahead. They are listed…. I can thumb back and see what I just had to have last year, and the year before that, etc. It all works for me…..
    Basically I’m not very organized. Being outside is what matters most to me!

  12. says

    Our garden is only a few years in, but we make garden maps to keep track of what is planted in what bed from season to season. So far we have just been saving the maps and looking back if we need to. The blog helps a lot too!

    • says

      Welcome, CIW Garden. Maps are what I have always wanted, and never taken the time to create. I have started a few times, but … you know the rest of the story. :)

  13. Sharon says

    For what I do: I keep a running to-do list on standard notebook paper on a clipboard. Then date the items as I finish them and place each finished page in a notebook. I can then find what I did when. I use a separate list for vegetable planting. So satisfying to see my progress over the years.
    For what I see: I use a small, beautiful notebook to record plant notes, flowering times, other phenomena. I’ve also kept a weather log on notebook paper for 13 years now. I know exactly when MY frost dates are — not some average.

  14. says

    Garden records always seem like a good idea after I realize I can’t remember what’s planted where. I’m hoping my blog will serve as a record for me.

  15. Deborah says

    I just wrote a long comment and posted it, and got an Internal Server Error from your blog server. Wish I had copied it before I hit Post Comment! Sigh.

  16. lola says

    “Visual” works best for me, so I take pictures of the garden in spring, early summer, and late summer. These get printed on plain paper and put in my 3 ring binder.
    During the winter, I make notes on the picture of what needs to be moved or replaced, and then carry out those ideas in the spring. Putting the picture in a plastic sleeve allows me to have it on hand in the garden as I work.
    I also keep the seed packets of last year’s planting as a memory jog. Also in my binder, I have a page for listing ‘must have’ seeds or plants for next year.
    I still get surprised by an ‘out of place’ plant on occasion, but that’s part of the fun of gardening. I’m thinking a bar code imbedded in the plant roots and a hand scanner readout would be a helpful garden tool! ;)

  17. says

    Margaret,

    I have had several store-bought journals, but I keep coming back to my marbled composition notebook — just like grade school.
    During the season, I list plans or chores to be done in the fall and plans or chores for the following spring. Every winter, I collect the garden tags from all my purchases and make a (primitive) sketch of the garden and what I put where so I can see if they survived come spring.
    I should have a spreadsheet and I should have a square-foot grid. But I don’t. Sigh

  18. says

    I like to draw a diagram of my current garden and show where each plant is in residence, then color it in with colored pencils so that it shows the variations. For planning the spring garden I can use the same picture and just use cutouts to see what the general variation is going to look like. By saving the past diagrams I can do a spread on counter and view what my changes have done. Happy gardening!

  19. WakingDream says

    For my Zone 6 southeastern PA garden, I keep a daily garden journal 365 days a year, writing every evening to sum up the day. It records tasks, pests, harvests and how they were used in the kitchen, birds coming and going, rainfall amounts, orders received in the mail, visitors and daily impressions. It is surprising how much can be recorded through the winter months.

    I collect plant receipts in folders organized by calendar year, including purchases of garden hardware/decor as well as plant material. Later, when something fails, I can look up the vendor or likewise, if something is really wonderful and I want to shop there again, I can trace the origin without relying on my menopausal memory.

    I make a photographic record on the computer organized by month, but further broken down within each month the first third, middle third and last third of each month. This is my Chronological Bloom Record, updated regularly as I stroll the grounds camera in hand. I often I refer to it for reminders of when or where blooming plants are showing up. I have drawn maps in the past, but beds change so frequently, I abandoned that.

    Near the Chronological Bloom Record in the Plant Files on the computer is the typed “Master List” of all plants growing on the property with locations, descriptions and experiences included.

    My record of “seeds started” is housed in a small box near my cool garage workspace, using actual seed envelopes. It enlarges as the spring ensues, packets filed one after another right after sowing. The box is dissembled the following spring and affords me a visual reminder of what I sowed the previous year. Then I start it again for the current season.

    Collected seeds in the fall are dried out thoroughly and filed between oaktag dividers into a large xerox copy paper box, organized by Perennial, Annual and Herb/Vegetable seeds and arranged alphabetically by Latin name. That keeps me sharp and allows me to instantly lay my hands on the seeds I seek.

    Being detail oriented and inclined toward recordkeeping has made a large gardening task more manageable and more enjoyable for me.

  20. Margaret Fusco says

    I dream of the perfect garden notebook much as I dream of the weed-free garden. The schoolgirl in me still loves the brand new composition book to begin each season with starting with my seed orders (I’m a market gardener so they’re fairly extensive) and then a page or two as needed for the different beds I have around my 5 acres on which I note what was planted when and where. This goes great until I hit the peak of the season and then suddenly there are fewer and fewer entries. Now that I’ve wrapped up my last week of markets I go back and make notes before my thoughts turn to the new seed catalogs and next season. Going through the seed list I’ll write just one or two words to sum up my thoughts on each variety such as “never again”, “do more”, “great flavor”, “market favorite”, “catalog lied”, etc.

  21. Kate Kruesi says

    I keep sales receipts and old catalogs so I can dredge up plant names if labels have disappeared. My mature gardens were part of a large garden tour this past summer so I was forced to start a plant list this summer of my perennial beds and grateful for all this info! My perennial beds are a mature equilibrium so photos and iPod reminders keep me on task (checking for nearby rabbit holes, proactive spraying for deer, cutting down the Silphium heads before they go to seed).

    My iPod To Do lists help me remember when to do what in my veggie garden where I am constantly experimenting with low carbon (and labor!) footprint techniques to grow veggies and small fruits. Again seed mail order receipts with variety names are kept for reference. And I keep a general rotation in my head.

    I jot notes and lists, too, but recycle them all when done – and enter relevant/repeatable/reminderly ones into my iPod. Keeping track of all the photos is a whole other task but I have them sorted by garden ecosystem, plant portraits, and like TomW, the “show and tells” of damaged plants, what not to do, how to’s, etc.

    Great question to gain our thoughts!!

  22. says

    I use index cards for plants and am on volume 13 of my garden/house-and-everything- else journals. You can see pix and read about it in detail on my blog under “Journals and Record-keeping.” Scroll down to see all the various things I’ve done, including saving plant tags in zip-lock bags.

  23. says

    Like Teri, I’ve been keeping those 10 year garden journals–I just started my second. What I find really helpful is that they make you record the weather so you really start to see trends after awhile if you’re good about recording daily–and I do record daily, summer and winter. In winter I count birds for Project FeederWatch so I try to record when the juncos show up in the fall, or if there were a large number of something at the feeder, or an irruption or something.

    I also try to keep bloom times there, but I also tried it on a spare calendar this year as well–not sure if I’ll keep that system going. With the 10 year you can look back and see the trends from year to year–with stray calendars here and there, unless you line them up on the floor and look at all the Aprils together, there’s no consistency.

    I’m a blogger too–but since I can’t see all my posts at once, I don’t know how that will help me going forward. Even having all the photos in the computer doesn’t help.

  24. says

    Day to day tasks, observations + weather notes are put in my diary – it’s easy to see what’s happening year on year. Design and planting layouts, major changes and plant tags go into giant scrapbooks. Then I have all the photographs taken for Garden Bloggers Blooms Day each month as a visual diary for what’s looking good in the garden and when.

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