One of the easiest ways to start garden recordkeeping is to use a gardening journal template. My real life garden journal consists of a few different parts which I’ll explain in this article.
Garden recordkeeping helps you become a better gardener over time. You train yourself to pay attention to what is happening in the garden and that knowledge assists your learning and skill building.
Recordkeeping also reduces the guesswork from year to year. After awhile, the gardening seasons begin to run together in our memories. How many basil plants did you plant last year and in what bed? What about two years ago? Three years ago?
What variety of tomato was that orange one in the corner of the garden? It was delicious, but you can’t for the life of you remember its name. Too bad, you’d like to grow it again if you knew what it was…
I believe that keeping records is an essential part of gardening, especially if you don’t want to make the same mistakes year to year. And, I’m a big proponent of simplicity in the garden.
Keeping things quick and easy increases the chance that you’ll stick with them.
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Elements of a Gardening Journal
Part 1: Garden Binder + Cover
Many years ago, when I started keeping better records of my garden, I wanted to keep everything in an easily accessible place. After thinking about various solutions for a while, I had the great idea to start a garden binder.
I dug out an old binder from my home office, grabbed my newly drawn garden map and planting schedule (parts 2 & 3 below), punched a few holes in them, and inserted them into the binder. That was many years ago and I’ve used my garden binder ever since!
Over the years, I’ve trained myself to take my binder out to the garden with me when planting so I can keep track of exactly what I’m doing. Every time I plant a vegetable I write down the vegetable (or flower or herb), date, variety and amount planted.
My binder is also where I keep handouts from classes and workshops I attend and pages for notes (part 4 below) I want to jot down about the current season. My binder has become an essential part of my gardening routine and has helped me become a more observant, and thus better, gardener over time.
Dig In: Your assignment is to start your own garden binder today! If you have an old binder laying around your home office, this is the perfect use for it. There are also lots of binders to be found at thrift stores. My favorite color is turquoise, so I bought this one.
The binder I use has a plastic sleeve on the outside where you can insert a cover. When I launched my book, Smart Start Garden Planner, I gifted readers with the below printable cover for their garden binder. You’re welcome to click on the image to print it out for yours!
The map of my front yard garden – ready to be planted!
Part 2: Your Garden Map
The second important element in your gardening journal template is a map of your garden. When I first started gardening, I’d stick the little variety marker that came with each plant right in the soil next to the seedling when planting. Of course, by the end of the season, the tag would disappear or fade from the sun and then I wouldn’t know which plant was which variety.
I’d feel frustrated when there was a pepper that I loved and wanted to grow again, or a tomato that didn’t produce well that I would rather not grow next year, but I’d have no idea what they were because the tag was gone.
One day while working in my garden, I was struck by a genius idea: “I should make a map of my garden!” I exclaimed to myself. I ran back to my house, grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil, and then stood at the entrance to my garden and sketched a quick map of the layout.
The good news is that making your map can be as simple or as involved as you’d like. When I drew my first garden map, I stood outside my garden and drew a quick outline of each of the beds. The map was more like a rough sketch of my garden space than a precisely drawn map. It worked perfectly fine for seven years.
At my current house, I brought out the measuring tape and drew the garden to scale. I measured the width and length of each bed and the space between the paths and laid it all out on graph paper. And honestly, that was overkill because I never use those measurements.
These are the two options for making a map of your garden—the bare-bones approach and the advanced approach.
The bare bones approach is to simply sketch your garden on paper without worrying about the measurements. You’re basically drawing the garden beds freehand on a piece of paper so you can write down what you plant in each one throughout the season.
The advanced approach is to create a scale drawing of your garden by using a measuring tape and drawing it out on graph paper. The main reason to create an exact drawing is if you want to plan out what you’re going to plant in every garden bed on paper before the season starts. (I never do this.) Because you have the measurements of the garden beds, you can calculate exactly how many plants or feet of each vegetable you’ll be able to fit in each one.
For most gardeners, the bare bones map is the best choice. I encourage you to choose this option unless you’re a very experienced gardener.
What my garden map looks like towards the end of the season.
Ultimately, whatever map-making method you choose doesn’t really matter—just get the map done! When your map is drawn, go over the lines in a darker marker or pen. This will be your master copy. Keep your master copy on file so you can change it if needed. Make a handful of Xerox copies or scan the master copy into your computer and print it out.
I actually take my map to Kinkos and copy it onto 11 x 17″ paper so it has more space to write on. It folds neatly in half when place in my binder.
At the beginning of each season, pull out a fresh copy of the map and start recording. Get in the habit of taking your map out with you when you’re working in your garden. Keep it simple and record the date of planting, vegetable, variety, and how many you planted.
Keep these notes on your map and you’ll start to have a blueprint for your garden that will support you in not reinventing the wheel each season.
Dig In: Gather your supplies and take a trip out to your garden to draw your garden map. Remember, it’s better to create a simple map than nothing at all!
Part 3: Vegetable Planting Schedule
To avoid two of the most common mistakes I see gardeners making – waiting too long to start planting in spring and not continuing to plant throughout the season – I recommend creating a planting schedule
I have an entire article that explains how to calculate the dates for your custom planting schedule, including a template you can print out and add to your binder.
Part 4: Gardening Journal Template
I used to keep a few blank pieces of paper in my binder for writing random notes throughout the season. But, they were disorganized and not very useful. So, a few years ago I decided to create a more clear way of keeping notes and ideas for my future gardening self.
Instead of having keeping track of everything on one or two pages, I decided to design a gardening journal template to split my recordkeeping into more specific pages for each of the most common vegetables and herbs I grow. That way I’m able to see everything I want myself to know about a particular vegetable like tomatoes or beets in one glance.
I’ve found this to be a much more helpful format. I reference my garden journal pages when ordering seeds to remind myself of my favorite varieties. When I’m getting ready to start seeds indoors in late winter I take a look at the Seed Starting page. I pull out a vegetable specific page in spring when I’m about to plant it in my garden just in case there’s anything I should keep in mind.
And throughout the season while I’m working in my garden, I always have my garden binder nearby in case I’m struck with a great idea or want to send a message to next year’s gardening self, i.e. plant fall beets earlier or lacinato kale is the most susceptible variety to white cabbage butterfly.
As a gift for you, I’m sharing my printable gardening journal template for you to adapt and use this season. Make sure you print it out and make it the heart of your garden binder. The first page is a sample with some notes on how I use it.
Having a binder with a map, planting schedule, and gardening journal template will make keeping simple records a breeze! This recordkeeping helps you become a better gardener over time. You train yourself to pay attention to what’s happening in the garden and that knowledge assists your learning and skill building from year to year.
Do you keep records of your garden each year? If so, what methods have worked for you in the past and what important things have your learned? Leave a note in the comments below.
Next Steps for Planning Your Garden
Your garden dreams really can come true . . . you just have to plan for them! If you’d like some guidance in creating a smart and simple plan for a successful season in your garden, here’s how I’d love to help.
BOOK: Smart Start Garden Planner: Your Step-by-Step Guide to a Successful Season. In this book, I help you delve deeper into the different characteristics of all of the vegetables. I even created a Veggie Essentials Cheat Sheet table with each vegetable and everything you need to know about it. Including in which season it will produce a harvest, how many day it takes to grow to harvest size, and recommended varieties.
Check it out here.
MASTERCLASS: Success in Every Season – Each season we’ll focus on exactly what you need to know to be successful in that season. The seasons build upon one another (just like in your garden!) to create a complete toolkit of skills that will set you up for a lifetime of gardening. Find out more here.
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