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We are by no means the most organized gardeners. We often have ambitious plans that get half-followed or have to alter our plans when the unexpected arises.
But there are a few things that we always try to keep track of – simple things that can make a big difference in our vegetable garden efforts. If you’ve never kept a garden journal, or if you feel like it would add a layer of work to your garden that just isn’t worth it, consider starting with these five simple items that we feel offer the best return on effort.
1 Your Garden Map – creating a map of your vegetable garden, or even your fruits or flowers, can be key when you’re staring at a plant wondering what the heck you’re looking at. You may think as you are planting that you’ll easily remember which row was broccoli and which row was collard greens but I promise you at some point you’ll stand there going “huh, which is which?”
In addition, a garden map is a great tool for annual planning – if you keep a map of what you planted where each season you make it much easier on yourself to rotate your crops. Rotation is essential for avoiding some of the pests that can hibernate in the soil and re-emerge. Why plant potatoes right where last year’s potato beetles are hiding out waiting for another round?
2 Your Annual Planting List – Keeping a list of the seeds and seedlings that you buy and plant on a regular basis is a great tool for creating a shopping list for the following year. We keep a long list of our baseline veggies and each year we use the list to inventory what we still have in stock, whether the seeds are too old to use, and what we need to buy. We also indicate which veggies we plant from seeds and which ones we typically wait to buy as starts.
3 Your Seed Starting Schedule (and last frost date) – Veggies that can be started inside have varied schedules, typically based on the date of your last potential frost. If you have a good idea of the typical range for the last threat of frost you can create a seed starting schedule that will last for years to come. It will remind you right from the start when you’re going to need to make time for planting. If you can group the seeds (we typically identify three rounds) you make the whole process more efficient.
4 Your Notable Successes – how many times have you said to yourself, “I feel like we never have any luck with _____” (fill in the blank with a type of veggies) and then one year – boom – you have an awesome harvest. For us, this happened with broccoli. The difference was planting it under a row cover. This year, we know from the beginning that broccoli has to have a reserved spot under a row cover. The same goes for pest control - if you discover that your spinach always gets attacked by slugs or your peas are always eaten by rabbits, make note of these issues and head them off from the start. You can essentially create a checklist for the conditions that seems to lead to the best success.
5 Notable Missed Opportunities or Failures – One year, we planted Okra. No matter how hard I tried to remember to pick it early and often for a nice tender fruit, I just never seemed to be successful. I’m not saying I’ll never plant Okra again, but I know from experience that I just might be too busy to catch it at its prime. Likewise, last year’s ground cherry crop from just 3 or 4 plants was total overkill. I think we still had a big bowl full in the fridge in November. Writing down the things you want to remember about what doesn’t work can be just as important as writing down what does. Make note that 1 or 2 ground cherries will be just fine, or jot down that you need to makes sure you leave more space between your tomatoes and cage them earlier. Why make the same mistake twice?
You might be the type of gardener who plans out their garden square-foot by square-foot and notes every pound of tomatoes you harvest or bug you deter; if so, this advice might seem elementary to you (and I applaud your skill).
But, if like us you sometimes feel like you’re just gardening by the skin of your teeth, these 5 items can be a great first step in helping you to make the most of your garden year-by-year.
What else do you track??