CORVALLIS, Ore. – Now is a good time, while gardening has moved into low gear, to start a gardening journal to reflect on what happened in 2010 and to begin planning for the coming season.
What worked in the garden this past year and what needs to change next time? How much room did your winter squash really need, which tomato variety produced the best and how much shade did the fuchsia need? If you wait until spring to think about it, the years could slide into each other. Details can get slippery.
"A gardening journal can help you plan from year to year by leaving a written record of exactly what, when and where seeds and plants were grown," explained Barb Fick, home horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service.
A yearly record of where things are planted also helps with crop rotation, Fick said, changing the types of vegetables and flowers planted in any given location each year. "Rotation discourages depletion of soil nutrients, pest outbreaks and soil-borne disease."
You can record each year’s seasonal landmarks such as precipitation patterns and unusual weather, dates of the first crocus bloom, arrival of hummingbirds and first frost. What kinds of butterflies and other pollinators did you see and when? If you keep records from year to year, you also can compare the performances of different varieties.
At the beginning of each season, draw a sketch of your garden beds and write down the variety names and planting dates in the journal, Fick advises. Or use a camera to do the same.
Later, record weeding, fertilizing and harvest dates and how well each variety performed. Germination, flowering dates and pertinent weather information also are useful. Record other details such as irrigation methods, what you used for trellising and other support or how you controlled pests. These details can provide valuable insights over the years to come.
"If you record pest outbreaks in relation to what plants they affect, it can help you plan next year’s garden. The same holds true for beneficial insects and their host plants," Fick said.
A journal also comes in handy to keep track of the amount of money spent on seed, fertilizer and garden tools. It also can be a good way to keep track of yields and a safe place to record the varieties of woody plants you plant.
"Too often, gardeners save the tag on a woody perennial for reference, but don't put the information elsewhere," Fick said. "The tag disappears and whoops, was that ‘Berberis thunbergii,’ 'Rose Glow' or 'Crimson Pygmy'?."
If you decide to start keeping a garden journal, it need not be fancy or expensive. A blank, bound book or ring binder filled with loose-leaf paper is a great place to record what you do in the garden and yard. Or, splurge and get a commercial journal or a special gift for the gardener in your life. There are many on the market.
"Most of all, a garden journal can give you a feeling of accomplishment," Fick said. "When you add up the hours, varieties and methods used, most gardeners are proud of what they’ve done."