Now is the time of year the green-fingered among us reap the benefits of hours spent working in the garden over the past year. All of our hard work comes into fruition, and we see that our efforts in all weather were not in vain. Crops we’ve tended to so carefully are now laden with tasty vegetables and fruits. But this doesn’t happen automatically: we need a little more than luck to create a mini “Eden”. This is why keeping a garden journal can be a priceless source of information.
Why is a Journal Necessary?
For plant people like myself—and generally anyone wishing to have a successful gardening plot—a garden journal is a necessary piece of kit. Much like our life journals, we all like to have a handle on what we are planning to do and when. We also record what we have done, and when we have done it.
We can note details of positives and negatives, re-think pitfalls and celebrate successes. By keeping a chronicle on literally every aspect of your garden throughout the seasons, you can get the best produce from your veggie garden. You can also avoid making the same mistakes again and again, wasting both precious time and money.
Let’s look at all of the aspects needed to create a productive, successful garden plot and address a list of topics for creating the invaluable garden journal.
I know this seems to be an obvious one, but the need for good quality, worked soil is THE most important part of a garden As with all life, we need to put the background work in creating a good base to enable us to prosper. The garden is no different.
All plants need soil’s structure, drainage and nutrients to perform their greatest work. New beds can be worked on at any time of the year. Drainage aggregate can be added to the soil in situ, as well as aged farmyard manure. Alternatives are manure pellets, home-made rotted down compost, or leaf mold. This should be dug through the mud with a fork until the added mediums are well mixed together and there are no large clumps.
Notes About Soil Amendments:
On existing beds, the best time of year to carry out soil maintenance if after harvesting. I cover my growing beds with a good layer of manure in October – November. After a thorough dig though to eliminate any clumps, I let the oncoming rain and cold spells do most of the work for me.
Rain transports these essential nutrients through to the subsoil. Frost then breaks down the soil structure. This enables lighter work in springtime when preparing the beds for a new growing season.
By preparing your soil in this way, you can manipulate the acidity/alkaline levels and nutrients within different garden areas. This can be achieved by adding more soil conditioners, manure and even lime in some cases. Additive types depend on where you’re going to site plant varieties with specific soil needs.
Record notes of these changes and additions in your garden journal. They’ll be a solid reference for the following year’s plans.
Which Plants, and Where?
This topic marries well with what we’ve just discussed, hence it’s next on my list!
Everybody has favourite veggies, which are incorporated into the growing list year after year. Some years they’ll do better in a certain spot than others. As such, we know that we need to have a rotation system within a vegetable garden. This ensures that essential soil nutrients are not depleted in the same spot every year. This doesn’t just have a negative effect on the soil—plants will be less healthy, and in turn, less productive.
There are many crop rotation guides available online. One that I’ve found easy to follow and informative is on the www.growveg.co.uk site.
The basic rules are based on either a three- or four-year rotation scheme using the eight crop families.
- Brassicas (cabbage family)
- Legumes (bean and pea family)
- Solanaceae (potato and tomato family)
- Alliums (onion family)
- Umbeliferae (carrot and root family)
- Cucurbits (squash and marrow family)
- Chenopodiaceae (beetroot family)
- Miscellaneous (which covers all fruit, herbs, chicory, artichoke, sweetcorn, asparagus, okra and salsify)
By following the crop rotation method, you can ensure that your soil retains essential nutrients. In addition, soil-borne disease spread is reduced.
Note all rotation planting planning aspects in your garden journal to help you plan next year’s beds. Your produce success rates are another important factor to record. There are sure to be some plant groups and individual varieties that perform better than others. These are worth noting down to remind yourself for the following growing season.
Garden Pests and Diseases
I for one, have spent many an hour scouring for slugs and snails on my veggie beds. They like nothing more than sweet, fresh growth, and nothing irritates me more than finding my precious plants nibbled away. When you have a garden, you really do need to take local wildlife into account.
Rabbits, deer, pigeons, mice, and many other hungry critters all have a place in the world. Just not in the growing vegetable garden. I’ve found that a month’s hard work can be undone overnight. Taking the time to properly fence off your growing area and protect it from larger garden pests is a must.
Obviously, snails, slugs, moths, and flies can get in anywhere and also cause devastation. Note in your garden journal what kind of infestation has happened, on which crop, and at what time of year.
There are many flying insect pests including aphids, green flies, black flies, carrot root flies, and cabbage moths—all waiting to infest your plants. The list of pests is vast but the end result is the same. Infestation causes diseased, less productive plants and eventually plant death. Disease spreading to other plants is also a significant factor.
All pests can be eradicated by using the pesticide for that specific insect. I also make a note of the brand or formula I’ve used to get the infestation under control as there are so many to choose from. Avoidance procedures for certain pests are the best way forward. Use netted cages for brassicas now to avoid mass-infestation of cabbage moth. This something I learned from my first year of using a vegetable growing journal.
Unfortunately, good plant growth is not always guaranteed. Even when we’ve tended the soil, fenced the boundaries, and given protection from all of the nasties which we have just addressed. Sometimes plants get biological disorders that can lead to poor growth, leaf discoloration, bad production rates, and bud drop.
Many of the problems in this area can lead to the fact that the plant is undernourished and unhappy. Sometimes under- or over-watering can be a problem. These are issues that need to be noted in your garden journal and used as a reference for future seasons.
Keeping healthy, nutritious, growing soil will help plants withstand attacks from all pests and diseases, so this is a real must. Some plants have a higher nutreitn need than others. This is where your notes on soil manipulation notes come in. Maybe you’ll need to add more drainage or manure than usual where a particular plant family is going to be sited.
All of these additions will aid you in your quest for the perfect vegetable garden.
Keep plants clear of debris, dead, dying leaves, and pesky weeds. Allow the plants space to breathe and grow in a clear space, and you’ll help to provide ideal conditions for good, healthy, productive plant growth.
We can control many aspects of our growing garden, but we have absolutely no control over the weather. We’re reliant upon warm enough spring temperatures to prepare the seed bed and start sowing seeds. Without the correct temperatures, seeds won’t germinate and we’ll have an empty veggie plot. Or less productive, since planting will have to be started later in the year.
An unexpected frost can cause havoc for tender seedlings planted once we thought all cold snaps were past. Inclement weather can be a huge problem for the humble grower. I’ve often run in darkness, loaded down with straw and fleece to cover the tender plants on my plot. Many gardeners have been caught out, but all will agree this is the best way to learn and not make the same mistake again.
Excessive heat is no less destructive. This too can make a vibrant, well-looked-after, watered plot to shrivel and wilt within a day.
High winds and storms can completely ruin staked plantings such as peas and beans. I’ve found the remains of my bean row in a different part of the garden on more than one occasion—many of the plants simply ripped from the ground. Fruit cages are another easy target for high winds, where destruction from the elements can happen within a matter of minutes and take a whole year to recover.
Mark all these weather notes in your journal to help you avoid certain mistakes. For example, doing so can enable you to cope with a hot spell by installing a better watering system.
Final Notes for your Garden Journal
Keeping a garden journal ensures that you don’t repeat mishaps in the future. Whether it’s sowing your seeds too soon, being unprotected against pests, or wrongly choosing your site, make notes for your future self to learn from. Reminding ourselves of potential problems enables us to site our plants in less vulnerable positions, and make changes to planting plans in the coming seasons.
Remember to make positive notes as well! Did you grow a particularly tasty tomato variety? Write that down so you can plant it again next year. Was one of your bean varieties happy in a new spot? What about new insects showing up because of pollinator flowers you planted?
Definitely mark down the little joys and successes you experienced to help keep you excited and motivated.
All of these reference points show the practical benefits of keeping a journal purely for the garden. What I haven’t spoken of yet is the joy of re-reading my own past journals. Doing so makes me realise how much I have learnt, and how much better I’m getting at it!