2014 Garden Resolution #1: Improved Garden Record Keeping

Happy New Year to gardeners and gardens everywhere! I have two gardening resolutions for 2014. First: improved record keeping.


Keeping garden records

This year, I aim to faithfully record all of our planting and harvesting, as well as calculate the approximate monetary value of the harvest. The idea of keeping gardening records delights me (no, really, I’m weird like that). Unfortunately, despite my best intentions over the years, our garden records remain mediocre at best.

As I explained in a garden record keeping post almost two years ago, we (usually) keep track of our planting and harvesting using a binder method I developed after interning on a small organic farm/CSA. In theory, these records are quite detailed, including date sown, vegetable variety, quantity sown (and age of seeds), number of plants to emerge, the bed in which they are planted, transplant date, units harvested/pounds harvested, date of harvest, and a section for additional notes. Ha!

Many other food gardeners and small-scale farmers make a point of keeping careful records and tallying money saved. Their blogs inspire me toward better self-discipline, and I am grateful to them for reminding me that really good record keeping is not only ideal, but also possible. Thomahaak Family Farm keeps fabulous records of produce harvested (right down to herbs weighing fractions of a pound).  I appreciate Dog Island Farm’s tally of both farm savings and expenditures. Starving off the Land has gone so far as calculating calories harvested, setting goals for the percentage of household caloric need met by first-hand food.

Recording small harvests

Aside from lack of consistency in actually writing things down, one of the most challenging aspects of garden record keeping for me is the fact that we often harvest very small quantities of veggies and herbs. If, as occurred yesterday morning, I wander outside in my pajamas to pick a few sprigs of parsley, a small bunch of cilantro, and about five leaves of kale to throw into a smoothie, how do I effectively and efficiently record this?

It was January 1st; my resolve was brand new, and I had nowhere to rush off to. Under Kelly’s skeptical eye, I got down the small kitchen scale and attempted to weigh the bounty. The parsley and cilantro each weighed in at approximately 1/32 lb. The kale was more like 1/16 lb. That’s if I trust my scale—an old, non-digital thrift store find.

Kelly pointed out that she doesn’t see how keeping these kinds of records actually benefit our gardening efforts. She also informed me that she was not prepared to follow my example. She suggested that employing a rougher estimate of our planting and consumption habits still allows us to adjust future planting accordingly, without going off our gourds trying to weigh every sprig of parsley.

I see her point.

Still, I am moved to redouble my record keeping efforts and to experiment with how to do this in a sustainable and useful manner.

Keeping records for smarter gardening

I would argue that good garden records make for smarter gardening. It’s easy to implement changes in the garden when you have the facts in front of you. We have adjusted the varieties of onions we grow based on our yearly yield. This is possible because we weigh the harvest every spring and compare varieties. If we tally money saved on produce grown at home, we can make smarter choices about how to prioritize space in our veggie gardening beds.

Record keeping can also serve as justification to ourselves for how we allocate our time and resources. I grow food for many reasons—not all of them rational. But record keeping can illustrate the good, solid, sensible reasons to grow food. It can provide us with data and supportive evidence for the difference our gardening efforts make in our diet and budget.

I can promise right now that this year’s records won’t be perfect, but I will experiment to improve our system and our consistency. In the first two days of the new year, I’ve started jotting records on our 2014 calendar. I think this method will be especially useful for tracking eggs—an almost daily harvest. I am also considering creating standardized measurements for certain common small harvests. For example, knowing the weight of the small bunches of cilantro, parsley, and kale I add to our smoothies, I may record these harvests as ‘small bunch cilantro,’ rather than weighing each bunch.

How do you keep your garden records? And why do you keep them (or not!)?

6 Responses to 2014 Garden Resolution #1: Improved Garden Record Keeping

  1. I’m in the Kelly camp because I tend to base my decisions on what to grow by assessing what grew well, tasted good and wasn’t destroyed by pests the previous year, all from memory. At the allotment we work a rotation system on 3 of the 4 beds and having spent an evening going through our seed boxes and then flicking through catalogs for new ideas, our season begins with me and my neighbours standing in the middle of the plot going over what was in each area, where it’s next home will be and who’s going to get what started in respective greenhouses…. not at all scientific! For all that, if it’s in your nature to keep tidy notes then you must do it and you’ll no doubt discover in future years they’ll be invaluable whereas I’ll be struggling to remember what happened when!

    We do keep precise and detailed records on beekeeping but that’s probably because we struggle to keep up with their life choices!

    • Yes, I agree with you, Jackie. A lot can be learned and accomplished just by making adjustments based on memory. And, I also agree that the times we keep really fastidious records we appreciate them later and have insights we would otherwise have forgotten.

      I also hear you on the need for really good beekeeping notes. That is part of my record keeping resolution for the year. In past years, our beekeeping records have actually been more spotty than our vegetable records–I think because we just haven’t developed a good system to follow. I’m headed out to dismantle a dead hive today, and will put some energy toward coming up with a beekeeping record system for this year of good records.

  2. Take a look at this record keeping website for beekeepers. Although I’m not a facebook fan and haven’t got into dealing with iphones beyond the occasional text, I’ve registered in the hopes it can still make my record keeping life easier. I’ll let you know!

    • Thanks, Jackie! I look forward to hearing your report on this tool. I seem to recall members of our bee guild trying out apps like this with mixed results. It seems like this could really help simplify the process, though (at least if you don’t mind getting honey and wax on your phone!). Unfortunately I don’t have a smart phone and don’t have any immediate plans to get one, so I’ll have to stick to pen and paper for now.

      Just last night I put together record keeping sheets on the computer for hive inspections, colony propagation, and colony lineage. After I look over them again, I plan to post them on the blog. I would be especially interested to hear how the information my sheets collect compares with what your app covers (or with what you’ve recorded in the past). Seems like there is so much one could record for beekeeping.

  3. Okay, I’ve been patiently waiting and am really curious! What is resolution #2? (Or did I miss it somehow?)

    • You’re absolutely right, Emilie. Starting back at school has sapped so much of my time that I’ve been slacking on the blog. Thanks for the nudge! I just posted the second gardening resolution.

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