Record keeping system for gardening

What should I be keeping records of for my garden? Does anyone have suggestions for a good system and a format (like a loose leaf binder)? And finally, any suggestions for having discipline to maintain it? I tend to dash from one thing to the next. I’m not sure it is genuine lack of time or I just feel that way. In any case, I am growing forgetful, so telling myself that I’ll remember what, when, and where I plant is not working so well.

alice's picture

Good topic LandLizard. I was thinking about this recently as I have not been keeping records myself.

I most need a record of when I applied fertilizer and planting dates. My parents just have an exercise book for their garden and when they plant they do a quick sketch and date it. Could also record fertilizer application like that, I use a powder format based on a Solomon/Reinheimer recipe using local industrial byproducts, could just sketch the garden very quickly and indicate where I have applied it, or list the plants I have applied it round.

Think of record keeping like exercise: the system that works the best is the one you're willing to do every day.

Keep it simple. A basic lined composition notebook (the kind Staples sells by the stack in late August for back-to-school) is cheap, standardized, has space for the dates and title on the front cover, and has enough room for sketches yet isn't so big that you can't leave it out and open on the counter. I use one daily as my household logbook.

Use a new page for each day that you record something, writing the day of the week and the number of the month AND the year at the top of the page. This is so you have a dated record and you can see the long gaps between entries.

A little notebook that can fit into your shirt pocket (my husband uses this system) lets you carry the notebook but you don't have lots of room.

Again, provide the complete date with day of the week at the top of the page. Sometimes it matters because you'll see after a while that you never garden on Thursdays and so you shouldn't plan to garden on Thursdays.

David Trammel's picture

Yes, keeping good record has been one of my biggest lacks during the past years I've been gardening. I always say I'll keep better record next year, then two weeks after I start planting, I realize I've forgotten to do it again.

Perhaps we need to collect a list of what data points would be helpful, what kinds of forms would be useful, and make up a GW set of forms we could download and print out.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

I agree with Teresa's subject line up thread.
Here is what I do. I use a lined "Record" book. My current one is 500 pages and 35 lines per page. Available at any office supply store. My particular one is a WilsonJones model S300-5R. I use 25-30 pages per season. At the beginning of the season I will preformat some pages for recurring types of entries. This formatting consists of lines drawn vertically with relevant headers added. Preformatted categories for me are as follows. "Planting" with headers for feet of row, what and where it is, and date. When making an entry I usually also note seed source and age, seed spacing and planting depth, and subjective judgement of soil moisture content. "Rainfall and watering". No headers, I just record amount and whether it is rain or irrigation. "Fertilizer" with headers for what/where, several columns for amount and when, and a column for season total. "Harvest Data" with headers for what, planting date, 1st harvest date, days to first harvest, last harvest date. "Seed Emergence" with headers for what, planting date, emergence date, days, average 2" soil temperature for the period, and a column for notes. "Preceding Crop Data" with headers for current crop, prior year, 2 years prior, and a column for notes. I also set aside a couple of pages for a specific use but without any formatting. One is for data on seed germination testing and the other is a tally of what and how much of the items that are put up in the freezer. Having these preformatted pages makes it quick and easy to keep up with the recurring types of entries as well as finding the data when you wish to consult it later. Later in the season when I harvest a couple of items that I keep detailed data on such as field corn and sweetpotatoes I will construct tables to record the data I find relevant. Non-formatted daily entries are free form consisting of the date and whatever I noted that I felt was of interest. Often this is just a line or two but rarely up to half a page. My entry for today consisted of "First Colorado Potato Beetle larvae seen, hand squashed 30-40". I also made entries in the "Fertilizer" formatted page for three items fertilized. As an adjunct to my record book I also make a diagram each year on 11X17 graph paper showing where stuff gets planted. This is useful in keeping track of your crop rotations and is the source of the data for the entries in the formatted page for preceding crop data.

alice's picture

Good point to record rain and irrigation too, important for planning.

ClareBroommaker's picture

The most record keeping I've done for gardening was for the small orchard I planted on a couple of urban lots. Because I was planting mostly from seed, I did not know what the differing qualities of the trees would be. Also, the soil itself differed greatly from spot to spot.

Here a tree was planted into a hole that was mostly grey clay but with gravel mixed in. There a tree went into a hole where there were old furnace clinkers and bits of coal. Another tree went right next to a limestone foundation. One tree on a slope, one in a depression where the house's basement had been. Others competed with the roots and branches of a huge mulberry. Some peaches bloomed just as the apricot blooms faded, some bloomed two and a half weeks later. One tree needed nitrogen like crazy, several got silvered leaves after long dry weather, seeming to have a disease that supposedly does not exist here. Some I needed to prune earliest because they leafed out early. Some I did not rush to prune.

Some fruits had a lot of internal splitting of the seeds. Some trees ripened in July, some in August and one even in September. Some fruits were oddly ropey in texture.

A lot of odd things popped up and I was always trying to figure where there was cause and effect-- if I could discern it. I wrote down some things, but some things I did not write down because it did not occur to me to do so until later when I was trying to figure things out.

I'll be starting another even smaller orchardette and this time, especially as my memory is palpably worse, I plant to write down more things for future reference.

One thing I did do right was to map out the orchard which was mostly planted on a grid. Then I numbered the grid spaces and in notes could just refer to each particular tree by number. I could use names, but I'm not the kind of person inclined to name trees Sally or Ken or Miss Peach. :-D

I'd think if you want to do any plant breeding you might want to keep records. On the other hand, if you are trying to keep an open pollinated strain, but plant two or more different strains, you might want records of where you plant each of them in case you have results one year suggesting that your plants might have crossed. (Like where I planted one Gypsy pepper among my banana peppers this year, even though I plan to save banana pepper seed! I could have some oddball peppers next year.)

My orchard notes were mostly in a teacher's grade books. I ignored the printed lines at times, but it is what I had. Just plain lined paper would have been better. Oh, I guess some would keep records on computer-- not me.

A couple of hard back bound journals have a variety of garden notes in them, mostly of the vegetable and ornamental gardens. Those also have ideas jotted down-- things like a way to make a trellis with bamboo around a concrete patio, what to plant on the arbor next year where a grape vine has died. I'm looking at one now and see where one year I was searching out canning jars and lids, recording the price per piece at various sources. Also notes to send my sister some citrus seedlngs. A record of when I put echinacea seeds into the freezer. A reminder to pick up leaves down the street on the weekend. How many pounds of beans we picked. There is not organization to those notes, just stuff written down as it comes up.

Thanks for great ideas. I’m sad to say I haven’t run to find a notebook and start recording. I think at this point, the best I can do is sketch the garden and note what varieties were planted. Sadly, I’m stuck at the idea of making the sketch - a very sad state for someone trained to be a landscape architect. :-p Actually, I think I am legitimately maxed out time-wise, so I will keep this on my to-do list. When I get to it, I’ll use a 3 ring binder so I can remove any false starts.