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Use a garden journal to grow healthier crops – and to grow as a gardener

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Updated 12.11.2023

A garden journal is a fun, simple way to track your garden's progress through the seasons and learn from it as years go by. It’s a useful tool in helping your garden to be healthier and more productive.

And a garden journal is a way you can grow as a gardener, too.

In that sense, a garden journal is similar to a personal journal – a daily (or at least regular) log of thoughts and events. Your personal journal helps you to remember life’s details. As you review your journal entries, you process what has happened. Then you can grow from those experiences and make decisions about how to move forward.

In the same way, a garden journal can act like a gardening planner or gardener’s logbook or garden diary or garden notebook all in one. And it’s a great gift for the gardener in your life, too!

Just as there are nearly limitless ways to use a personal journal to grow, the same is true for a garden journal. Get started by focusing on two areas: your plants’ performance and your personal gardening activities.

10 ways to use a vegetable garden journal to grow a better crop with Tomato Dirt #GardeningTips #HomeGarden #VegetableGarden

Use your vegetable garden journal to grow a healthier and more productive garden

First, record notes in your garden journal on your plants’ performance. How did they react and respond to conditions? What can you learn from their response so you can help next year’s crops be healthier and more productive?

1. Journal your garden decisions

  • How did you decide what plants to grow?
  • Why did you choose to grow seeds or seedlings?
  • Where did you purchase your seeds or seedlings?
  • How did you choose a garden layout?

2. Document planting dates
Record when you planted each variety. Why did you choose those dates? This information helps you to schedule future plantings more effectively. You can adjust planting times based on your location, local climate, and specific plant requirements.

3. Jot down soil data
Make a note of ...

4. Note weather patterns

  • Record the weather conditions in your garden throughout the growing season. Be sure to document dates of significant events, such as excess periods of rain or drought; high winds; hail.
  • How did crops respond to cold, heat, drought, excess rain? This information helps you understand how weather impacts plant growth and adjust your gardening practices accordingly both this season and next.

5. Record watering schedules

  • Keep a record of how often you watered the garden and how much you watered.
  • Document what watering methods you used: sprayer, drip hoses, timed watering. Which approaches were most affective?
  • Jot down additional notes about rain, including data you collect from your rain gauges and water usage meters.

6. Journal about plant maintenance

  • Take notes about when you stake plants and the method you choose. Note how staking helped your plants be more healthy and productive. 
  • Record steps you take for thinning and pruning your vegetable plants. Did you find you need ot thin and prune more … or less?

7. Manage pests and diseases

  • Which crops succumbed to disease? When was the onset, how were plants affected, what measures did you take to manage the infections? ml
  • What pests proved to be … well, a pest? Record how insects affected your plants and the treatments you applied to eradicate them. 
  • How can you eliminate or prevent diseases and pests next season?

8. Monitor your harvest for baseline information

  • Maintain a harvest log with information about …
  • Dates you started picking tomatoes and other crops
  • Names of varieties you harvested and when
  • How long different types of tomatoes and other crops produced
  • How much each variety produced
  • The quality, taste, and texture of each variety

9. Note how different varieties perform
There are an estimated 25,000 types of tomatoes. While other garden vegetable crops may not boast as many options, nevertheless varieties can produce differently in a Kansas garden when compared with a Pennsylvania garden. And further, your garden operates in its own microclimate. Types of tomatoes and other crops that work best for you may not produce the same harvest for your mom who lives just 5 miles away. Record how different plant varieties perform in your garden, including their growth habits, yield, and susceptibility to pests and diseases. Use this information to select varieties for future plantings.

10. Monitor where you grow crops

  • Crop rotation. Use your garden journal to note where you plant different crops in your garden each year. Refer to these notes when you plan next year’s layout. Then, consider rotating your crops – that is, changing the location where you plant and grow tomatoes and placing them instead where you grew cantaloupe or green beans last year. Reason? Fungi, bacteria, and pest larvae can overwinter in the soil. By moving tomatoes to a different portion of your plot, you help reduce the incidence of fungi like early blight or Septoria leaf spot. Plus, you allow different crops to add or use different nutrients in the soil.
  • Succession planting. By keeping a record of where you grow different types of vegetables, you can also plan successive plantings. Spinach, for example, is an early season crop. Once those leafy greens go to seed, you can replace them with tomatoes or bell peppers. And when early summer varieties die out, you can plant fall season broccoli or cauliflower. Make notes about succession planning and how successful it was so you can most out of your vegetable continually throughout the next growing season.
How to use your garden journal to become a better gardener with Tomato Dirt #GardeningTips #HomeGarden #VegetableGarden

Use your vegetable garden journal to become a better gardener

This second step in garden journaling helps you take stock of your personal gardening habits. What did you do that helped your garden? What choices can you make so that next year’s crop is even better?

1. Record your garden layout choices
Sketch or describe your garden location and layout in your journal. Record how you arrange crops, optimize sun exposure, rotate crops, and plan seasonal plantings – and why you made those choices. Did you plant certain crops in sections of your garden because you’ve “always done it that way”? Note the ways your garden design worked well. Include notes about how to improve it – say, by better companion planting, rotating crops, or adding raised beds. 

2. Log your personal gardening habits

  • Reflect on your own gardening patterns.
  • What time of day do you like to work in the garden?
  • Do you prefer some tasks over others?
  • What causes you to be enthusiastic about your garden and what discourages you?

These insights are valuable for planning subsequent gardening seasons. Perhaps you find you like planting but don’t enjoy picking the crops. You may consider asking a family member to help with that.

3. Set garden goals
Use your journal to brainstorm about ideas for early season, mid-season, late season, and next season. Jot down crops and varieties that are suggested by neighbors, friends, garden center staff, and gardeners you follow on social media.

With your notes in hand, jot down your goals. For instance ...

  • “I’d like my garden to produce 25% higher yield so I can take extras to my local food pantry each week.”
  • “I’d like to try 2 new crops next year.”
  • “I want to experiment with trellising by tomatoes and beans to give me more room for more plants.”

Then, monitor your progress towards these goals in your journal.

4. Track your garden expenses
Your garden journal can become a helpful family budgeting tool. Record what you spend on your garden, including seeds, seedlings, containers, soil amendments, tools, and supplies. This helps you budget for future seasons and make cost-effective decisions.

What to look for in a garden journal

As you choose the type of garden journal that’s right for you, consider these options.

  • Durability. Your journal will get dirty or wet. Choose a journal that can withstand outdoor conditions. A waterproof or water-resistant cover is ideal.
  • Organization. Look for a journal with logical sections or prompts for different types of information, such as planting dates, varieties planted, weather conditions, and personal notes so you can keep your information organized.
  • Size. What is convenient for you as you carry your journal to the garden? You want a garden journal that is large enough to write in comfortably but that won’t be a nuisance.
  • Blank pages. Check for enough blank pages that allow you to include sketches, diagrams, and additional notes. Some journals have grid or dotted pages, which can be helpful for drawing garden layouts.
  • Reference information. You may want additional planting guides, frost dates, or charts for tracking specific plant details. Or, you may think these are unnecessary for you because you get your information elsewhere.

Why you might choose an online garden journal or garden app

If you’d rather keep your gardening information on your phone or computer, you can use an online garden journal and garden journal app. Dozens are available (such as the free garden app, Planter: Garden Planner for Mac). As you consider an online journal or app, look for these features. 

  • Portability. You can access your garden information from anywhere with an internet connection, making it easier to manage your garden on the go.
  • Searchability. Online platforms offer a search function which saves you time in looking for specific information you’ve recorded previously – as well as giving you the ability to search the internet for extra details you need.
  • Community. Many online platforms give you the chance to connect with other gardeners, share tips, and learn from each other's experiences.
  • Integration. Apps with this feature allow you to have real-time weather information and alerts based on local conditions.
  • Updates. Online platforms are updated regularly – both a blessing and a curse. Yet additional new features and improvements based on user feedback can help you manage your garden in better ways you’d not considered before.

What to look for in an online garden journal

  • A user-friendly interface. Look for a platform or app that’s intuitive and easy to use. The simpler your online garden journal is to navigate, the more likely you are to use it consistently.
  • Syncing capabilities. Ensure that your information is backed up and accessible in the cloud across multiple devices. You’ll be grateful for this feature when you check your journal on different devices when you want to switch between your computer, tablet, and smartphone.
  • Mobile accessibility. Choose a platform or app with a mobile version or app so that you can easily input information directly from the garden. Mobile accessibility allows you to capture real-time observations and updates.
  • Options for customization. A good online journal or app should allow you to customize entries based on your specific needs, such as plant categories, planting dates, weather conditions, and watering schedules.
  • Photo integration. Check for the ability to upload and organize photos so you can visually document your plants’ growth, identify issues, and showcase your garden's progress.
  • Reminders and alerts. Look for an app that offers the ability to set reminders for watering, fertilizing, or other routine tasks. No matter how vigilant you are (or too busy, as the case may be), alerts help you stay on task with garden maintenance.
  • Collaboration. If you're gardening with others – or would like to – look for platforms that allow you to share information and coordinate tasks with gardening friends. Plus, collaboration gives you the opportunity to post your successes and earn bragging rights from your gardening community.
  • Data analysis. Advanced apps offer data and insights into trends in your garden as well as weather patterns and specific crop successes, helping you make good decisions in upcoming growing seasons.
  • Integration. Apps that integrate gardening guides, plant databases, and relevant information offer quick access to resources while planning and managing your garden.

Which is the best garden journal – a traditional print style or an online version? The best garden journal is the one that is best for you.

More tips for using your garden journal

  • Start early. Begin recording information from the earliest part of the season as you plan your garden, including your seed selection, soil prep, garden layout, and planting dates.
  • Update regularly. Make consistent entries in your garden journal. In particular, note key events like planting, watering, fertilizing, and harvesting. Include specific details, such as which plants are most susceptible to diseases … what varieties are most resistant to drought... when you need to add additional stakes or cage extensions.
  • Include dates. Jot down dates not only for planting, but also when you mulch, stake, water, and fertilize plants. Record when you notice the first blossoms, how long fruit takes to ripen, when you begin harvesting, how long each plant produces. This record allows you track the progress of your plants and identify patterns over time.
  • Use photos. Consider adding photographs to document your plants at different stages. Photos also can record how you inserted stakes … the impact of diseases or pests … your garden at its peak (for bragging rights!) A visual record can be quicker to manage than a written one.
  • Reflect and plan. Take time to review your journal periodically. Reflect on what worked well and what could be improved. Use this information to plan for the next growing season.

Why start a garden journal?

Whether using a traditional journal or an online platform, the key is to find a tool that fits your preferences and gardening style. It can be online or print. Regardless, a garden journal can help you have a better crop and become a better gardener – with one caveat. You must use your garden journal consistently.

Do that, and you’ll accumulate an enormous amount of data during the growing season. Your garden journal will become a valuable resource that helps you become a more successful and informed gardener over time.

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