Garden Record-Keeping

A page from our garden records binder.

I’ve already confessed to being a record-keeping junky, albeit a very disorganized one. When it comes to planting seeds and harvesting vegetables, jotting down notes and weighing produce brings me great satisfaction. But how necessary is garden record-keeping, really?

For Kelly, there is little joy in keeping records, and the only compelling reason to bring along a pencil and notepad on garden workdays is that the records we make today will serve us in some future season.

I’ve seen all manner of record-keeping. When I interned on a two-acre organic farm in Santa Cruz one year, we penciled our spring planting notes into a tattered, water-warped Mead composition notebook. The notebook lived in a greenhouse at one end of the farm, and half the time we pieced our notes together from memory several weeks after sowing. These were fulltime farmers, relying on the farm to sustain them financially.

More recently, volunteering with other Master Gardeners at a local high school, I’ve seen the opposite end of the record-keeping spectrum. In place of an old Mead notebook there are excel spreadsheets, seeding plans, and bed planting guides. There are tables showing days to maturity for different crops, and tables showing the range of soil temperatures in which a particular crop will germinate. There are planting dates for spring crops depending on location within the county.

I must admit I find it all rather thrilling (if also a bit overwhelming). But I have to wonder whether such extensive record keeping is really necessary to grow a big, beautiful, bountiful garden.

I came up with my own record-keeping system last year which falls somewhere between these two extremes, and though Kelly occasionally grumbles when I insist on hearing the details about her greenhouse planting sessions, I think we both agree that having records at our fingertips is helpful.

Among other things, we try to keep track of seeding and transplanting dates, the crop varieties we plant, which raised bed we grow each variety in, and the dates and quantities of our harvests. Our records are far from perfect, or complete, but it’s still good to be able to look back a year later and remind ourselves of the varieties we grew and how they did.

I keep our records in a binder so they are easy to sort and add to. I also like the fact that the binder is easy to bring along on trips to the greenhouse, so we don’t have to enter notes into a computer (though there are obvious arguments for doing this). In addition to recording information on the plants we grow and harvest, I keep another section to log any work we do in the garden. That way, we can look back and know when we built a new raised bed, started compost piles, or weeded the back forty.

2 Responses to Garden Record-Keeping

  1. I’m impressed. Record keeping has always been something I aspire to, but mine almost always breaks down over time as I get distracted by other things. And, if I don’t do it in the moment, I’m unlikely to go back and fill in the blanks later.

    • I can relate to everything you’re saying! As much as I find it satisfying (and useful!) keeping records is definitely hard to be consistent with.

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