Keeping A Garden Journal

By Carrie Hargrove, originally aired as Farm Your Yard on KBIA in February of 2017

In my life, I get a supreme amount of pleasure out of being organized. I swear there is nothing better than having a well thought out to-do list. I still keep a notebook for my daily agenda – unlike many, I haven’t fully converted to a Google calendar yet – and (without irony) I would rank crossing things off my hand written to do list as a small, yet immensely pleasurable moment of each day.  I know that makes me sounds uptight, but I’m not. I just think things go better when you are prepared.

Not surprisingly, I lend these traits to my main hobby – gardening. As I said earlier, the record keeping and list making makes it all the more rewarding and easy, so let’s talk about the merits of keeping a garden journal. It might sound boring to include in your hobby a running calendar of all of the tasks you did and still need to do, but there are a lot of reasons why you want to keep track of your gardening efforts each and every season.

Firstly, let’s address the hedonistic element: your taste buds. Look at any seed catalog and by the descriptions it would seem that each and every variety of carrot is simultaneously the most productive and the sweetest. Friend, I am here to tell you that isn’t so. I have plowed my may through pounds and pounds of gnarly, woody, and all around unpleasant carrots that were described as “the best tasting” and “uniform”, neither adjective I would agree with. Do I know what kinds of carrots those were? You bet, I wrote that variety name down and will steer clear of it in the future as I make progress in my goal to find the tastiest carrot for my backyard garden.

Which leads me to a small soapbox rant I would like to make: You know what irks me? Those Martha Stewart type vegetable garden photos of rows of giant head lettuces, lush kale plants, uninterrupted linear feet of carrot and radish tops. I think you know the type of picture I am describing. They show overwhelming aesthetic beauty and bounty…which is not what a garden looks like if you actually eat the food that you are growing. My garden looks like someone – me – is constantly running a rampage through it in search of any and everything that I can put on my dinner plate. Vegetable gardens are for eating – of course there is beauty in it as well – but my point is that a vegetable garden is not landscaping, which is unfortunately how Pintrest has made it appear. I think my 3 foot tall kale plants that have obviously been harvested dozens of times are beautiful, but most importantly, they are delicious.

Which lets me circle back around to my original point: keep written notes about what varieties of what vegetables taste the best to you, so you know what to grow the next season. For me and my garden, it’s all about taste.

Apart from the taste of the fruits and vegetables themselves, I pay a lot of attention to recipes that I make out of the produce from my backyard garden. I am an avid canner, fermenter, freezer, and dehydrator. After all, you can only eat so much during the growing season, so why not squirrel some of it away for a grey winter’s day? I try to write down the recipes I use when preserving the harvest so that after I have long forgotten the sweltering August day when I canned that homemade enchilada sauce, I can confirm in December that maybe I added a few too many Serrano peppers. That way, this coming August, I can remedy that mistake and make my culinary concoctions even better. Again, my garden is all about my personal hedonistic pleasures and note taking has allowed me to take it to the next level.

A close second to taste in my love for my garden is that I want to do good for my soil and the microorganisms. I enjoy doing things for my garden to make sure they stay healthy –  like adding compost, planting clover, or covering the earth with straw mulch. I enjoy doing that because me and my garden have almost a symbiotic relationship: if I want to keep getting those purple tomatillos for my killer tomatillo salsa, I always want to be giving back to my garden to make sure it is healthy and vibrant. Record keeping plays a role in this preservation effort. My garden is big enough for me to practice crop rotation, so every season I write down what is planted where, so I have a good idea of where I need to move things to make sure I don’t sap too much from the soil or allow pest infestation to fester. If your garden is large enough, rotating crop families so they aren’t always growing in the same spot is one of the hallmarks of soil conservation and sustainable agriculture. In order to make sure you are rotating your crops right season after season, you need a map of what went where for each gardening year. Keeping those notes will help ensure that you are mindful of what your garden needs from you in order to remain happy and productive.

Right around this time of year (late winter) I finalize my garden plan for the season based off of what grew in my garden last year and the year before. I purchase new seeds in the varieties that I have previously noted that I enjoyed, and ones that I intend to use in my favorite canning recipes later on. With my finalized map and plan, I am ready to plant, harvest, and thoroughly enjoy my garden this year. I encourage you to go one level deeper in your gardening efforts this year and keep a journal. With a little organizing you too can be swimming in delicious homegrown vegetables this year.

If you want to learn more about rotating crops in your garden, good varieties for backyard gardens, or anything other vegetable related topic, stop by our Urban Farm and say hi!

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