Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How Do You Keep Garden Records?

I must be terribly old-fashioned because I do not have a computer program to plan my garden.

Planning? Mostly I look at what's in my bag of seed packets, look at the garden, look at the seed packets and start digging.

It helps to plant more or less the same variety of vegetables year after year. With nine beds, it's not too hard to rotate. Sometimes it's not easy figuring out where all the big tomato plants are going to go. But more often than not I end up with empty spaces, wondering what I can fill them with. (There have been times I wished I didn't have so much lettuce.)

My basic tools are some thin bamboo poles for dividing the beds into squares, a tape measure and a spiral bound book where I record what I have done. I've gotten pretty good at planting freehand, meaning moving my bamboo poles to create fairly precise little areas in which to plant a few radishes, say, or carrots or an area of several different varieties of lettuces.

Not far away is my book where I sketch out the bed with pencil, then make notations on what is planted in the squares and the date it was planted. I've never had to buy labels for my garden beds. Whenever I need to remember what I've planted, I just pull out the book. It also works as an excellent log. If I need to know planting dates, for instance, the book tells me instantly. I can also make notes on how long things took to germinate, which varieties did well and which didn't.

I'm not sure this would be so simple on the computer. But maybe there are some laptop gardeners out there who know better.

How do you keep your garden records?


Joanna said...

I suspect that's what people have done for more than a century, and before that I should think they mostly relied on memory. My record-keeping is haphazard in the extreme, and mostly relies on taking lots and lots of photographs of whole beds at different stages. It's therefore all in the computer, but not using anything fancier than iPhoto ;)

I'll be watching this space with interest


el said...

You know, I don't really keep records. At the end of the season I note what went in each bed, but...somehow, with 47 beds I still remember. Crazy, huh? Actually, it's just that with such a big garden I'm too time-crunched to take notes!

Amelia said...

I keep an Excel spreadsheet with a list of seeds and supplies that I've ordered and a scale map of my garden plot (where one cell equals six inches square). I've also tried to keep a Google calendar to mark the progress of things I've planted. I can access both the calendar and the spreadsheet from my home or work computers. I also use my iphone to access stuff and find answers to my gardening questions when I'm out at my community plot. So, I'm pretty much your stereotypical young tech-dependent gardener. But it works for me!

Ed Bruske said...

Joanna, I wish I were as organized as you with the photos. I take photos when I'm moved to do so, but it would be nice to have a systematic record for my different beds.

El, I find what you do (or don't do) very easy to understand. The human brain is better than any computer. Except I have a problem with dates and I would never be able to remember where I was supposed to rotate to next. I really depend on my record of dates and the rotational scheme.

Amelia, you are exactly the new generation gardener I was looking for someone should profile you for a trend story. In fact, I'm going to recommend it to one of my pals at Garden Rant.

Ed Bruske said...

Amelia, another thought. Would you like to write a guest post on gardening in the age of ipod? Please e-mail me.

ppolischuk said...

I used a Google Spreadsheet to plan out planting/transplanting dates so I could plan at home or at work. I started using a steno notebook to log the general goings-on in the garden, but didn't set out with any sort of systematic manner of organizing information, so it quickly became unhelpful. My girlfriend was sweet enough to pick up on this and bought me the Lee Valley 10-year Gardener's Journal. It's a little pricey, but it has everything you need and really is organized perfectly. It has sections for recording planting/harvest dates and notes, cataloging your perennials, and more, but it really shines in the day-to-day notes section. Every day of the year gets its own page, and each of those pages is broken down into 10 sections, one for each year, letting you see what you did on that day from previous years very easily.

If you don't mind spending a little money, or need a great gift for a gardener, I highly recommend it (like most things from Lee Valley).

Elizabeth said...

I didn't realize so many people used the technology at their disposal. I'm impressed, but much too old-school for that. I've got a simple three-ring binder with random notes, rough sketches, and pockets filled with empty seed packets.

Taylor said...

"Mostly I look at what's in my bag of seed packets, look at the garden, look at the seed packets and start digging."

Ditto! I'm a terrible planner.

I also keep my records in a spiral bound notebook. It just seems, I guess, to do it that way. I guess I'm an heirloom record-keeper!

Magic Cochin said...

er... I feel embarrassed to admit... it's all in my head. I don't note down anything - except on my blog, which I don't refer back to.

I change things round a bit each year in the veg patch. I dream up ideas for borders and views around the garden - sometimes they become reality, sometimes something else just happens - and often it's better than anything I could have thought of.


Kate said...

Our record-keeping goes something like this: We print out two huge posters on a blueprint plotter and hang them on the wall in our war room (read: office). One has a list of everything we're planting with a timeline of when to plant, whether we're starting indoors or direct seeding, and estimated harvest dates. The other has a map of our garden and where we're planting everything. Of course there's a lot of editing over the year. And this year we're trying out PlanGarden as well. We also take photos weekly to track progress during the growing season and from year to year.

In sum: We're nuts. Did I mention that my husband is an engineer?

Ed, thanks for adding me to your blogroll! I've got to start my own one of these days.

Anonymous said...

Garden planning in winter helps keep me sane. :) I figure out bed rotation with bed outlines sketched on paper, and post-it notes with plant family names.

Once I get the rotation down (and it changes every time I add a bed...) I use Photoshop to add dots-to-scale for the actual layout. I also have a couple crazy spreadsheets that help me figure out yields. (Yes, I do believe I could feed two people a complete diet on our land!)

Come spring, I print the dot-layouts and leave them on the kitchen counter. When I plant something, I pencil in the date and variety and whatever deviations I made from the plan.

The funny thing is, I rarely go back to these notes. My most crucial garden tool is, at the end of the season, I ask myself, "What do I want more of? What do I want less of?" and if I don't remember, I can look back at my diagram and see how many was too many (or not enough).

Amelia said...

Hey, fun, I'd be happy to help out any which way. I'll send you an email momentarily. :)

eatclosetohome, I totally agree about winter planning - most of the reason I've been so organized this year is that I was getting impatient to be in the garden, and planning was the next best thing.

Ed Bruske said...

PP, I like very much the idea of a luxury journal for recording daily garden activity. I started a journal as a Word document, but never kept it up. Now I use the blog. It does sound like a great gift and your right--Lee Valley is a great source for high quality garden stuff. That's where I got my stainless forked spade.

Elizabeth, I also like keeping empty seed packets as a record. I file them away by year. That way if something does exceptionally well or not well I have an easy way to tell where the seeds came from without tracking down old receipts.

Taylor, sounds like we're on the same wavelength. I am very envious of those gardeners who are so well organized with their meticulous plans. I fear I could never make myself sit down to do it. I'd rather make compost.

Celia, your gardens are so pretty (what I see from the pictures on your blog) it's hard to imagine there is not more planning involved, but you are an artist. That is a simple explanation.

Kate, I love the war analogies. Having a plan of attack. Battle maps. War rooms. It really gets the blood flowing.

Emily, I am intrigued by all the dots. But I have to say I end up in the same place as you at the end of the season: What do I want more of, less of. That's the beginning and end of my planning. But normally the season doesn't really end. We find a way to start planting winter crops so we have something to eat in February, March and April.

Nat West said...

Hi Ed, I'm working on a series of blog posts on how to make a planting calendar. Part 1 is up on my site and Parts 2 and 3 are almost ready to go:

Ed Bruske said...

Nat, great work. Thanks so much for the link. I think there's another garden/farm blogger you really ought to meet. Are you familiar with Rob at One Straw?

I think you guys must have been twins separated at birth.

Erica said...

I don't use any system or keep any records. I just take note of what seeds I all ready have and try and use them up then purchase new. Just eyeballing it and dividing it off and hoping it all fits haha ;) This year although, I'm just hoping I can have a garden!

lkw said...

I LOVE your method accompanied by the notebook page. It's more or less what I do. Much more and it's not so fun. And, it's delightful to read about the variety in people's various methods.

I began blogging as an online garden journal for myself (and do refer back to posts periodically as well as photos).

A friend just sent me a link to your blog - I'm bookmarking it (with a mental note about your move) and look forward to popping in.


Becca said...

I love all the ways people plan their gardens! This is my first year with an official garden (last year's tomato plants in the flower bed were a bust, though I have tulips I didn't know existed last year).

I planned out my garden in a spreadsheet. I color coordinated the cells and seeds as well as if I were planting by seed of starting the plant. (Of course some of the plants I started indoors didn't fare as well, so things have changed).

The only thing I can tell already will be a problem is that I am blocking morning sun of some plants with tomatoes. But most of those are spring harvest, so it might be fine.