Garden record keeping is part of ensuring a successful garden. The mundane task may seem trivial, unnecessary, and of no value but the truth is once you get into the habit of recording vital bits of information, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without this valuable wealth of data. We touched on the topic in our previous post but let’s delve into garden record keeping in more detail.
Why Keep Records?
The biggest reason to keep records is so you can make a comparison against previous years. You can compare frost dates in spring and fall, at a glance see what you planted in what location and look for patterns, be they weather patterns of rainfall (or the lack of it), or patterns of poor production. If you notice any vegetable grown in a particular spot does poorly no matter what the vegetable is, this likely means the soil in that location needs improvement. Good record keeping will show if the garden is behind or on schedule as compared to previous years and whether or not yields are up or down. Finally records can serve as a reminder it’s time to do certain duties such as get transplants started indoors or get the fall spinach in the ground before it’s too late to harvest a crop.
What to Keep Records of
So what should you keep records of anyway? Below is information that we’ve found of great value from year to year.
1. A diagram or sketch of garden layout – this is invaluable for knowing what was planted where from year to year. For more info on why that’s important see post “Mapping out your Vegetable Garden”
1. Planting dates – this refers to the date any seed goes into soil beginning with all seeds that I start indoors and ending with anything that is planted outside whether it’s seeds for direct seeded vegetables or transplants that go either in the garden or greenhouse. So in reality, many items may have 2 planting dates; the date the seed is planted indoors and the date it graduates to the outdoor garden or greenhouse as a transplant. Record keeping for me begins in mid-Feb when I get the first seeds planted for the coming season, namely peppers and celery, and continues into August when I’m planting cool weather crops such as spinach and winter radish for the fall garden.
2. Harvest dates – I always try to record the date I pick the first of anything; the first radish, the first zucchini, the first peas, the first corn etc. Granted it’s not always easy to remember to record this information when so many garden chores are pressing during the busy summer months, but the data is interesting to compare to previous years. It’s helpful to know if the garden is on or behind schedule. Of special interest is the first harvest of anything from the greenhouse as compared to one of its brethren that is grown outside (such as the same variety of tomato, most of which are in the greenhouse while the overflow is grown outside).
1. Frost dates – at a minimum keep a record of the dates of frost in the spring so you can ascertain the likelihood of frost at your location. You may be in a microclimate where the neighbors get frost and you don’t (lucky you) or you may get zapped while the neighbors are frost free. When we homesteaded in Maine, we were in a low spot and invariably got frost when the folks next door didn’t. You’ll also want to know when the last spring frost is likely to occur at your location. Keeping records and looking for patterns will help you determine when the danger of frost is past and it’s safe to set out tender transplants that are frost sensitive.
Equally important is to write down when the first fall frost hits. This can vary considerably from year to year but is useful info to have at your disposal. Knowing when to expect the first fall frost will dictate the timing of fall plantings as you will need to count backwards from the frost date to determine planting dates. It may take several years of recorded data before you can get a handle on when to expect the first fall frost.
Whether you record this information or not is up to you but it behooves you to pay attention to the phase of the moon in both the spring and fall. Frost is often associated with full moons at both the beginning and end of the season. If the full moon coincides with night skies that are clear as a bell you would be wise to take precautions against frost.
2. Temperature – this could be night time temps as related to frost (was it in the 20’s all night long with the resulting hard frost or did the temp dip to just below freezing in the wee hours of the morning with only a light scattered frost). Or it could be the highest temp you record at your location in the summer. If you have a greenhouse, in the early spring and late fall you may want to keep track of outdoor temperatures as compared to those in the greenhouse. This information will help you determine just how far you push the envelope at either end of the growing season. Be sure to record the date of any temperature readings as well as the outdoor weather conditions. We did this when homesteaded in northern Saskatchewan and found the information very valuable.
3. Rainfall amounts – I haven’t done this in the past but plan to do so this coming season. Obviously a rain gauge will be necessary which can be purchased from any garden center. I will record the amount of rainfall as well as the date. This will help me determine if there is any pattern to rainfall from year to year and how best to plan for dry spells by allocating the water we have stored for irrigation.
4. Freak weather events – this could be anything out of the ordinary. A frost in July (yes that has happened to us a few times when we homesteaded in northern Saskatchewan), a wind storm that flattens everything, a deluge that drowns everything, a hail storm or a drought that burns stuff to a crisp. Even a hurricane. Yes we were faced with a hurricane this past summer. The wind blew over the corn, broke off pepper branches, flattened our tomatoes which were in cages and because we live on the coast, the salt spray the storm generated killed the pole beans and squash vines. Fortunately the storm hit on Sept.7 and not a couple of weeks earlier as the garden was winding down by that point of the season. Whatever catastrophic weather event befalls your place, record the date and the damage.
1. Amounts planted – this can be in terms of how many feet you plant whether it be linear feet of row or square feet in a growing bed, how many transplants you set out, or even how many seeds you stick in the ground. Personally I use all these methods so I don’t have to rely on memory from year to year.
2. Yields – this is some of the most satisfying information to record as it’s proof all your hard work has paid off. You can record yields in several ways.
·by weight – how many pounds of carrots, beets, potatoes, cabbages, broccoli, strawberries etc.
·by count – how many heads of cabbage, lettuce or broccoli, how many 5 gallon buckets of potatoes, how many squash or pumpkins, how many bags or boxes of carrots etc
·by amount put by – number of jars of each product that is canned, how many cartons of corn or freezer slaw are in the freezer, how many freezer bags of each frozen vegetable (be sure to state the size of the freezer bag – small, medium, large, extra large)
The information on yields will help you determine if you need to make adjustments in the amount you grow the next season.
Garden record keeping may seem like a waste of time but once you get in the habit you’ll wonder how you ever managed without the information you collect.
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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