Maximizing my harvest of homegrown veg is this awesome ever-changing puzzle. For over a decade, I’ve been assembling and reassembling the pieces, trying to find the key to being the best gardener I can while getting the most from every square foot of my garden.
There are two things I’m sure of.
The first is to listen to your garden like you’re on a third date with a fascinating, funny, sexy rich suitor. I mean you get in there, lean across the table, actively pay attention, hang on every word, and bat your eyelashes a little bit. Listen to your garden like you are falling in love and you will learn. Nothing I write here, nothing any book says or any TV show demonstrates can hold a candle to the generous mentorship of your own good earth if you just show up and listen.
The second is that ink lasts longer than memory. When you’re putting the puzzle pieces together for the tenth or twentieth time, it’s easy to forget the little love notes your garden has whispered into your ear.
- Were the carrots in this bed when they did so well five years ago? Or was it over here?
- Did the broccoli like being intercropped with the tomatoes?
- Was that big root maggot problem with the cabbage in 2011 or 2010? Dare I risk the spring cabbage in that soil again?
- Will my garden embrace the seedlings we will grow together in March or must I wait patiently until April?
- Does she love me more if I gift her compost, or bloodmeal?
- What’s the sweet pepper that ripens so well here? (It’s King of the North, FYI.)
Keeping records makes good gardeners better gardeners. Your garden is a generous soul, and will give and give and give as long as her basic needs are looked after. She’s not taciturn, but at the beginning your ears will probably be filled with confusion, and it might take you a few years to work out what her needs really are.
That’s okay. If you take notes, and if you pay attention, you and your garden will start speaking the same language far more quickly. You’ll find your kismet. Your early, whirlwind romance will age beautifully and gently into a life-long partnership, the kind of thing that moves into your soul and becomes an easy extension of yourself.
I don’t keep garden records because I particularly love data entry. I do it because my garden relies on me to do the scrapbooking in our relationship. She has no overpriced paper, no glitter gel pens, no funny stamps. Her embellishments can’t be contained inside a binder; they unfurl themselves in lime and chartreuse in the spring and dust the ground in gold and crimson every fall.
So it’s up to me to chronicle the ups and downs of our relationship, to be a better listener, to remember the details, and I do this by writing the moments down.
It’s not all romance and whimsy, of course. Good garden record-keeping is as practical as vegetable gardening itself.
When I have at my fingers…
- the cherry tomato my kids couldn’t stop eating
- the right time of year to start my fall broccoli
- the potato that yielded so well in containers
- the watermelon that actually ripens in Seattle
- the right size pot in which to start summer squash
- how to squeeze two crops a year into a space instead of just one
…I have the world’s most priceless gardening book, because it is customized for my yard, my soil, and my experience.
2015 is the year you should start keeping gardening records. They don’t have to be fancy, but if you promise to be consistent, I promise you will learn more about your garden in one year with good records than you can learn in three years without.
So, look, here’s my shameless plug: I sell a really awesome downloadable Garden Planner & Journal. If you don’t have a way to record your own love letters to and from your garden, maybe take a look at what I use?
I designed The Garden Planner for veggie gardeners – for myself, really – based on what I needed to get even better at growing veggies. A bunch of people bought it, and many gave me really good feedback. This is the fourth year I’ve sold it, and I think it’s just getting better and better. It’s versatile, comprehensive, attractive, and you can use it forever.
For the first time the Garden Planner also includes some really awesome free bonus content, including an offer of free Danvers heirloom carrot seed from my friends at High Mowing.
Sales of The Garden Planner are the number one way I pay for the upkeep of this site. If you like it, and you want to buy it, you’ll be directly supporting this site and you’ll pretty much have my eternal love.
If my record-keeping solution isn’t right for you, that’s ok, but do find something. The time and energy you put into jotting down a few notes about your garden throughout the year will be repaid a million times over with higher yields, accurate timing, better varietal selection.
Most importantly, you’ll improve communication with your partner in this whole thing: the garden herself.5