How To Keep A
Simple, Logical, Useful
Garden Journal

Dateline: 23 February 2016


It's very simple in appearance.....
But my Whizbang Garden Journal system is a profoundly
logical and useful tool for all kinds of  gardeners.

Every serious gardener needs a good garden journal. Such a journal, properly organized and kept from year to year, serves to record the following data…

1.  What you planted.
2.  Where the seed or plant came from.
3.  How you planted it.
4.  How the planting fared.
5.  Concluding thoughts on the planting.

There is other data that you can record in your garden journal. But if you record no more than that much, you will have a collection of valuable information for planning future gardens.

I have kept several garden journals off and on over the 40+ years that I have gardened. In retrospect, none of them were simple, logical, useful journals. And because they were not simple, logical or useful, I did not keep them for long. 

Then, in the winter of 2014 I decided once again to keep a garden journal. I went to the internet looking for a garden journal system that suited my needs. I could not find one. Oh, there were nice looking garden journal books to buy. But I had tried those books in the past. They didn’t work (for one simple reason, which I’ll tell you shortly). So I decided to put some serious thought into developing a garden journal system of my own. After more than 40 years of gardening, and several failed attempts to keep a garden journal, I felt somewhat qualified to tackle the project.

And that’s how I came to create what I’m calling the Planet Whizbang Garden Journal System. I have used it one year. I like it. It is simple, logical, and very useful. It is fundamentally different from all the other garden journal books and formats I’ve seen. I’m going to introduce you to the system right here and now.

If you see the usefulness of my Whizbang Garden Journal, I hope you’ll give it a try. Just take the idea, adapt it to your garden (large or small) and create a lifetime garden journal that is simple, logical and useful.

If you want the pre-formatted pages I’m about to show you, you can purchase them in PDF format for the cost of a packet of garden seeds. Information about purchasing the Whizbang Garden Journal System pages is at the end of this tutorial.

The Fundamental Difference

Every garden journal I’ve ever tried to keep was date based. If you buy a garden journal book it is date based. That’s all wrong! A date-based garden journal is neither logical nor useful. 

The much better approach is to keep a journal that is plant based. That’s because the most useful information you need for future reference in planning your next garden is related to plants, not dates. 

For example, let’s say you have carefully maintained a date-based garden journal for the last five years and you are planning next year’s garden. You have grown a few different kinds of zucchini over the years and you're wondering which variety to buy seeds for your next garden season. Some zucchini varieties were more to your liking than others. 

So, you go to your garden journal and where do you look? You’re going to look for the dates that you planted the zucchini, and then you’re going to look for other dates where you mentioned how the zucchini you planted was doing, and you’re going to look for, hopefully, a date later in the year where you may have made some final evaluation of the zucchini. This means you’re going to be flipping all through five years of pages, arranged by date, trying to find the information you put there (if you did put it there). There is nothing useful or logical about that kind of garden journal.

On the other hand, if your journal is arranged by plants, you need only find the section devoted to zucchini and there you will find the information you need. All 5 years of data will be  in one spot. It’s that simple.

Furthermore, if all the pages of your journal are pre-arranged and pre-formatted for complete and easy recording of data, that is all the better. Which now brings me to my Whizbang Garden Journal system.

The Whizbang Garden Journal
(click pictures to see larger views)



The picture above shows my garden journal. It is a 1” thick, 3-ring binder. The very first pages in the binder are copies of my seed orders for this year. I also have a page with an inventory of seeds from previous years that I have in cold storage. All my seeds are right there for easy reference.

Next winter those seed order pages will come out and I will put seed orders for the following year in their place.

Then there is a “first page” with basic information about my garden…


Latitude and longitude for your garden can be found online At This Link. Elevation for your garden can be found At This Link. USDA hardiness zone for your garden can be found At This Link.

After that first page I have 16 labeled divider sections to the notebook. They are as follows:

Frost Dates & Phenology 
Fertilizers & Soil Amendments
Tools & Supplies
Brassicas
Beans
Squash
Potatoes
Herbs
Roots
Greens
Alliums
Cucumbers
Tomatoes
Fruits
Trees
Soil Tests

The pages for Frost Dates & Phenology, Fertilizers & Soil Amendments, and Tools & Supplies, are just simple lined pages with a heading, like shown here…


Last and first frost dates are important information for us northern growers. For phenology (not to be confused with phrenology), I limit it to recording the dates of forsythia bloom (time to plant peas) and dandelion bloom (time to plant potatoes). Purchases of fertilizer, tools, and so forth are recorded in the appropriate sections.

The Annual Pages

Most of the pages in my journal are “annual pages.” Here is a picture of a blank annual page…



Here is a picture of the annual page in my journal for zucchini, filled out for the 2015 garden year…



Here’s an annual page for carrots (in the “roots” section). I created this page before adding lines to my journal pages…


You will notice that the pages are filled out neatly. But I did NOT fill them out neatly when I originally recorded the data. There is no time during the gardening season to neatly fill out a garden journal, and my “system” takes that fact into account. I’ll have more to say about this subject shortly. But before that, I need to tell you about the Perennial pages…

The Perennial Pages

Berries of all sorts, along with plants like asparagus and rhubarb are recorded on a “perennial page.” Here is a blank copy of the perennial page…


Here is a picture of a perennial page in my journal for the four elderberry bushes I planted in 2014…



The perennial page format also lends itself to being a page for recording experimental ideas in the annual sections. For example, I had an idea for growing my own onion sets in one gardening year to plant the following year (I wrote about it HERE). So I created a special page to document my idea and how well it worked. Here it is…



Recording Data

As I mentioned above, there is little time to neatly record the data in your journal during the gardening season. So just don’t bother with it at that time. Wait until winter. It’s a whole lot easier to record data from the previous gardening season when the season is over and you are thinking about your next garden. However, you do need to have the data. Here’s how you get it.

Simply print out some annual pages and some perennial pages before the gardening year starts. These will serve as rough worksheets for accumulating the data for your journal. Fill out the information for every seed and plant ahead of time on the pages. Add some blank sheets for drawings and notes. Put these sheets all together on a clipboard that is conveniently stored near your garden. Here is a picture of an annual page with the data for some plants already filled out. This particular page corresponds to the Johnny's seed order that is shown on the first page of my journal (as seen in the photo above).  I've taken the time now, before the busyness of the garden season, to get these pages ready.



When you plant, jot down the information. Then take a few minutes every so often in the growing season to walk through your garden and make evaluation notes on the pages. Nothing has to be tidy or orderly on these work sheets. The important thing is that you make notes. Here is the worksheet for zucchini in my 2015 garden…


Here is a clip board with some of the worksheets and other notes from 2015...


Those papers are what I needed to make nice, neat journal entries here in February, as I am anticipating and planning my garden for this year.

Conclusion

So there you have it. That’s my simple, logical, useful, Whizbang  Garden Journal system. It’s the kind of garden journal I wish I had started 40 years ago. As it is, I hope to get another 20 years of gardening experience under my belt, and this journal will be a big help. After I’m dead and gone, it might be a big help to someone else.

Get The PDF Pages

If this garden journal idea resonates with you, and you want some help with it, you can purchase a PDF file with the pages all made. Just download the file onto your computer, then select and print the pages as you need them. Hole-punch them to go into your binder. You should be able to assemble an excellent garden journal for less than $20, including the cost of the PDF pages, which I am selling here. 

The PDF file will include the Cover page, First page, Annual page, Perennial page, Tools & Supplies page, Fertilizers & Soil Amendments page, Frost Dates & Phenology page, and a blank lined page.

Price: $3.00

Click the "Add To Cart" button to purchase the PDF download now:

Add to Cart




11 comments:

vdeal said...

Great system Herrick. I have been keeping garden/weather journals for over a decade in a program called MacJournal. Of course, it is date based but with search functions that helps. I like your system and may use it to supplement mine. Lots of good ideas here.

suey said...

i know this isn't the ideal place for this question, but after perusal of this site from many angles, i still haven't been able to find further writings re: what happened when you planted einkorn &/or emmer wheat...did u plant it? did it grow? did you like it enough to plant again?...i saw one other blog line where a man from ohio planted it and loved it, but he was asking info re: how to harvest and hull it :/...guess i'm wondering about that too. thx for any answers you have, sue

Herrick Kimball said...

vdeal—
I did see some different computer garden journals online, but there is something about an old-fashioned paper record that appeals to me.

Suey—
You must have been reading my monthly blogazine from back in 2012. I did plant some vintage wheat. A couple of very small patches in my garden, just to see how it would grow. And it grew well. I think I still have a small bunch hanging from the ceiling in my workshop. However, since I did not have a good garden journal back then, I have forgotten what kind of wheat I grew. So I think this was the ideal place for you to ask the question! :-)

Unfortunately, like many things I think I'd like to grow, I don't follow through with them all. Or I do follow through with them eventually... like years later. I would like to return to the idea of growing ancient wheat on a little larger scale someday. Sorry I can't be more helpful.

Everett R Littlefield said...

Hi Herrick, Spent a lot of hours this winter trying to set up some sort of coherent record of my gardening endeavors. What I have done for the last ten years is to lay out all my garden plots on graph paper, and just mark on it what was planted where in each one. Then I made notes all over the damn place with arrows pointing to the particular pants. This in addition to keeping a daily running commentary on what I did for that day, what got planted etc. Not very neat or orderly to say the least. So this winter I went to the Johnny's catalog and cut out the description of each and every GENERIC plant I grow, taped it to a full blank page and put on a label tab for each one. On the blank page I had made some attempt to do what you did with your individual "cards" listed vertically. Basically an epic FAIL!

So I just ordered your setup and tomorrow seeing as it is going to pour for two days, I will begin setting up your system!! I have all the info that you listed in those neat little squares, so now I am just going to have to go through it all and Get er done!

You just seem to keep coming up with the solutions for a lot of things tat have plagued me for years. OBTW, I ordered 3 each of Gooseberry Black Current and Elderberry plants from that nursery you mentioned. They made no mention of State restrictions, so I assume there is no problem. We don't even have any white pines out here. Mostly all Japanese and Colorado Blue Spruce. I planted 24 of them alongside my "wetland stream" that only flows for about 5-6 months, and they all but 3 died over the summer! $2400 literally, Down the Drain, Thank you Rhode Island DEM.


vdeal said...

Herrick,

MacJournal isn't a gardening journal per se but just a journal program that I use to keep chronological notes. I'll use your system also. I still need to come up with a way to map my garden. The first step is easy but then showing succession plantings without it getting messy is the problem. I've thought of some sort of transparency that can layover for each new planting.

Scott Cooper said...

Hi Herrick,

Thanks for posting this. I don't have nearly the experience you do but I have enough that I've encountered the same struggles. I can't count how many times I've read on a blog or in a book about the importance of "keeping a good journal" but they all make it sound much simpler than it proves to be. I think your approach is probably the best I've seen but it's also one of the few (maybe only?) that I've actually seen described. More often than not, I see a list of the "information you should keep" but no discussion of how best to do it.

What you've hit on is the difference between a diary/journal and topically organized set of records and I think you're generally correct in the logic/usefulness of the later for reflection but I also think you somewhat overstate the problems with date-organized information. To me, it's more about which method to use when. If you use the right approach at the right time and for the right reason, I think they blend well. I have spent a great deal of time this winter trying to perfect my garden planning and I think that is where the date-based approach has a lot of utility. i.e. think sequentially when planning and topically when reflecting on the how well/not the plan worked.

As an example, I'm going to try your tri-planting of carrots this year. I laid out a plan, relative to my zone/climate, the method you describe, and information about the particular varieties I've chosen. So I have a date-ordered list of "tasks" for everything I'm planning on growing in each of my beds. For the carrots, it includes sowing, checking for germination/raising the discs, thinning, and harvesting. When paired with the date-organized "plans" for everything else, I get a nice list of what I expect to do each day/week. Of course, I don't expect everything to happen according to plan but it's much easier to work with one than without and I'm hoping it will prevent me from forgetting things (didn't you post about forgetting to check on some of your carrots last year?). As I try to grow new things that I don't have any experience with, I hope I will find this method of planning useful in terms of knowing when to expect to be able to harvest, etc. then I can record actual efforts and observations topically, as you do.

I also think having year/date based information to refer to better facilitates rotation. For example, when planning, it is useful to quickly see that I grew a heavy feeder in bed #7 the previous year, and now I may want to plant a legume. That can take the form of a simple chart or list but it's still year/date-based. Otherwise, I'd be flipping through each topic/plant trying to find bed #7.

Dawn Goryca said...

Thank you so much for creating this! I've been struggling to keep date based garden records for the past two years. (I've only been serious about gardening for the past three years) This is a much more logical approach than anything I have tried so far. I'm excited to organize all the info that I have scattered around from the past two years.

Unknown said...

This makes more sense than the scribbled Notepads and OpenOffice Files. Now to come up with something that works for the beehives...

RonC

anonymousagrarian said...

Herrick,

I mostly agree with Scott's comment. I think you have hit upon a wonderful solution, one that I will adopt in my record-keeping practices, however I think your tone of voice may overstate the negative side of the daily diary concept. My opinion is that they are best used together.

I have always used an academic calendar as my diary. It has a few major flaws for this purpose, but is the easiest thing to find that fits my needs. I have to accept that it goes from July to July instead of January to January, and there often aren't enough blank note pages in the back for the crop-specific notes which you have combined into an ongoing separate journal (genius idea). What is nice about an academic calendar is the obvious part - it efficiently uses the time and space available to me. I like the kind that uses each bifold for one week - 3 days per page (Sat/Sun split in one space), with a monthly calendar between each month, as well as ideally one or two blank note pages between each month.

On each day, I write the temperature at dawn and mid-afternoon, and a brief few words about the weather, including any rain measurements, and then I jot down short and to the point what it was I accomplished that day. I may use the monthly note pages for a to-do list, to organize thoughts, to theorize about an idea, etc. or to doodle garden planning diagrams or some other such things. I can very quickly look through the previous few pages and determine approximate average soil temperature to estimate optimum seed planting dates that in reality aren't best measured by what date it is, but what season the ground is in.

If you exclude the daily diary from your note-taking, you run into the same problem you explain about ONLY keeping a daily diary, just the inverse of it. When I want to see what was going on in April of last year, I would have to go to each individual crop page and see what I was doing with that crop in April. There are many instances where being able to look back at a DATE from last year would be useful, rather than just a crop, hence my conclusion that these two methods are strongest when used in conjunction with each other.

Keep publishing your genius ideas! So many of us appreciate them.

Sheryl at Providence Acres said...

I have always kept a garden journal. I'd be lost without it! I keep it in a binder so I can add pages and pockets for magazine pages and so forth. I might add some of your ideas!

James Johnson said...

Elizabeth L. Johnson said,
Thanks, thanks, thanks, Herrick! I, too, am among all your commentors who've tried to keep a garden journal, but wasn't quite organized. I, also, have spiral notebooks, and spiraled 3 x 5 note cards heither and yond in a variety of drawers and book shelves of information that I just couldn't seem to organize together. I really like the idea of listing per vegetable, and I think I will somehow use it for our orchards, too.