One of the sharpest and most useful
tools I own is a garden journal. In my journal, I can find the dates
I planted various seeds, or when I transplanted my tomatoes and I can
track major points in their growth with my notes.
A good journal is the way to learn from
your mistakes even if you have a less than perfect memory.
A garden journal should begin by
answering one major question:
Why do I
want to grow in my garden?
the purpose of this garden?
OK, I can't count. But, honestly, you
have to know where you're headed or you won't know you got there, if
in fact you DO get there! Some answers to that question might be: I
want to eat some of my own home grown food on a regular basis; I want
to have fresh strawberries; I want to feel independent of the food
system; I want to grow tomatoes; I want my children to have clean,
pesticide free food. Or a combination of these. But to get there or
to head that direction needs thoughtful and intentional steps. Often
times when I go on consultations, I am amazed that people want a
“garden” and that's all they really know.
Your garden journal changes that and
allows you to move towards your ideals and helps you build a base of
knowledge that will change your approach to gardening. You will
begin to see signs, and by referring back to your journal, you will
be able to see appropriate responses to encourage or discourage an
event of some kind.
Your initial entries to your journal
will be fairly mundane, but they are the foundation of your garden.
First, include a drawing, or comprehensive photos of your garden with
measurements. Find North and indicate that on your drawing. Note:
Use a compass – LA's street grids are oftentimes NOT on a N/S axis.
Which is a good thing!
Track the sun's travel over your
garden. Note that it will travel closer to the north in summer and
closer to south in the winter. If this doesn't leave you with an
appreciation of the difference, track the shadows weekly for a few
months. Take a day that you normally devote to taking it easy,
decide to find the shadow of something that won't move, maybe the
shadow of a fireplace chimney, at the same time everyday. Track how
it goes over your garden through the year.
|Just a little practice with the shadows cast from the sun, and
the lengthening days of summer vs the shortening days of winter
will bring a whole new appreciation of these things that happen in
our world. It will also give insights to the rituals of the
pre-Christian civilizations who aligned their holidays to the
solstices and equinoxes that ruled their calendar, ordering their
years' activities – most importantly when to plant – to their
Now you know where your sun comes from
throughout the year and you can see how much shade you have to deal
with. Just because you don't have eight hours of sun, don't give
up! I have learned that light colored buildings reflect a lot of
light and can make up for some of your garden's shortfall. You would
like 8 hours of direct light for most food plants, but a large
building bordering on the north can increase the amount of sunlight
If you have had a little exposure to my teaching, you will
know the first thing you plant in your garden is a chair. And though
it's a funny line, I'm dead serious. “The best fertilizer is the
farmer's shadow,” and that means, being there, you'll spot problems
when they are small and be able to intervene BEFORE the damage is too
far gone to deal with. If you need to, find a small table or a wooden
box to use as a table – which I use for my coffee and my notebooks
If this is a new garden, START SMALL. I
know you want the whole 40 acres planted before sundown, but hold on,
Tiger! You can do that. But I'll bet you a tidy sum that should you
actually do that, you will hurt your garden to the point you may
never come back to it. Take on a manageable slice – maybe 3' by 3'
to start. Plant that this week. Next week do the next nine square
I mean for you to clear a small patch
of weeds and plant that patch. Next week, do the same for the next
small patch, from weeds to planting. This will prevent you from
overdoing it on the first event. Remember, this is for the long haul
and I want you to be able to keep up on this, besides that pause
might enable you to not make a mistake and propagating it thru the
entire garden! There's more I can say on this, but this is an
article on your journal.
The Journal Itself
There are two ways to do the journal.
Artistically Inclined –
Means you can write legibly and draw your garden etc. Get good
at this and you can publish a book
NOT Artistically Inclined –
do the text in a word processor file and import photos from your
phone or camera to illustrate stuff. If you have to draw
something, you can scan it into your notebook.
In my years of teaching, I have seen
some gorgeous student notebooks done by artistically inclined
individuals. That would not be me. I use the computer. You can make
a hybrid and print your pages from the computer to draw on them or
other pages. Whatever suits you – find the one that fits with you
and your abilities and lifestyle.
A sample entry:
|02 August 2018
A warm day with a lovely breeze. My
flat of basils sowed on the 26th are looking cute. Out of
the 6 color-packs I planted, I have over 90 little plants. I will
take these home and bring them in at night to prevent predation.
Harvesting several varieties of
tomatoes – the biggest producer so far (it's early!) has been
Nebraska Wedding. It's a good tasting tomato on a well-behaved plant
about 3' tall. Their main drawback is a really tough skin. I've also
had a few of the Illini Gold. A good solid fruit, well-behaved and
also a tough skin. Haven't had enough of either to make a sauce.
The heat wave a few weeks back really fried some of the vines.
Set out my colored cotton two
varieties, finally; Arkansas Green Lint and Sea Island Brown. Need
to gather up seeds from the green beans. Harvested the last of the
broccoli seeds (Nutribud). And water!
Upcoming – plant out the basil for
Get ready to plant the two beds
without broccoli – what will go there?
I have massive amounts of seeds to
Save some of the yellow tomatoes to
Get watering help for upcoming days –
August and September
A Problem Arises
So, a couple of months into this, you
are concerned. Your plants don't look like you thought they would
and after re-reading the ad copy in the seed catalog, perhaps you
missed-read the date by which they would be producing. Checking back
you might find, there was a cold snap about the time they were
getting pollinated – or maybe in your notes, you refer to a very
hot day when you couldn't get out to water. Using that data, perhaps
you can correlate that data with what is happening now? Perhaps you
allow yourself to dig up one of your plants – or at least dig near
the plant to see what you can see. You find the soil is very dry.
Now, why would that be? You can see in your journal it hasn't rained
since Ford was President (or something, like that). Your notebook
will aid you in your sleuthing. Maybe rain wasn't the problem. Maybe
you find out your irrigation system was turned off when you were
planting earlier in the month? The more notes you take, the easier it
will be to solve the problem. On the other hand, every day in the
garden doesn't warrant it's own novel!
Or maybe your journal wasn't needed for
a problem. Maybe it was “what was that fabulous tomato I planted
last year?” All these data points work with you for a better
garden. Record the dates when you plant plants. You will soon
realize that all those dates on the seed packets do not really apply
to us. Partly because we plant all year round, we experience much
different days to maturity. Especially in our Fall planted root
crops. Those figures are computed for days that are getting longer
and warmer. Our Fall crops are planted as the days get shorter and
colder and they, therefore, take a lot longer to get up to edible
size! Honestly, it's not your fault!
If you are using a handwritten journal
that you take into the garden, consider using pencil to do your
writing; pencil won't bleed or smudge. Also carry it in a bag that
water will not penetrate, whether it will smudge or not. Computer
journals are usually left inside the computer which usually isn't
watered (we hope!). If you do take your laptop into the garden,
please be careful with it. I usually have the computer near the
garden, but never IN the garden. At The Learning Garden, I leave it
on the patio – within sight of the garden and in the shade – that
gives sun protection to me, and dry conditions for the computer when
I do begin to update the journal.
I know it seems like a hassle.
However, you should take breaks while working on your garden, and I
feel updating my garden journal is as important as the actual
planting – AND – I am grateful to be able to switch gears whilst
gardening. I can dig and plant and get all dirty and sweaty. Then
take a moment to rinse my hands, wipe off my arms, pull out a cold
drink (I like sparkling water, myself) and do my notes right at the
garden as a break from the physical labor. Ten or twenty minutes
later (or more, could be much more), I go back to the blazing sun and
the physical work of gardening.
Keeping your own garden journal is
satisfying and it the best way for gardeners to learn and become more
aware of the garden's needs and predilections of weather and the soil
you are dealing with. It is the fastest way to become a garden guru!
Give it a good go!