Confessions of a Non-Journal Keeper
Contributed by Kerry Lake, Master Gardener
Do you keep a garden journal? Perhaps like me, you start with good intentions, then as the summer comes into full swing, the journal-keeping slows down and quickly ceases. Most, if not all gardening books, magazines, and blogs recommend keeping a journal. Journal-keeping is an invitation to observe and note what is happening in the garden on a daily basis. The better our observation of our gardens, the earlier we spot any potential problems. This gives time for research, find the best solution, and avoid disasters. It also helps us to see patterns on a year-to-year basis for frost dates and soil temperatures, first harvests, length of harvest, or flowering time year to year. This year I resolve to keep a journal of my garden (if I say my New Year’s resolution out loud maybe I’ll be more likely to keep it? I’m hoping so!).
I started by taking a look through some books already on my book shelf to see what they recommend for journal keeping.
In Vegetable Gardening in the Northeast by Marie Iannotti, the author recommends keeping garden records in a spreadsheet, via online programs or a digital photo journal. I have been using my digital photos on my computer, but haven’t yet found a way to add text to the photos. I didn’t grow up using a computer and find they aren’t always intuitive or as easy to use as I’d like.
I also took a look at the journal entry samples in Week-by-Week Vegetables Gardener’s Handbook by Ron Kujawski & Jennifer Kujawski. This is a great guide to vegetable gardening with sample charts to guide us through seed and seedling planting dates. These sample guides continue throughout the growing season providing guidance on what needs to be completed in the garden for those weeks. I found that with only 8 lines available for that months’ observation of the vegetable garden there is not enough room to track daily. And there isn’t any place to add photos.
Ideally, for my own garden, I want to keep track of what is happening in my deck garden as well as my perennial beds and the tree and shrub borders. I want to track how well or poorly all my plants are doing, what pollinators and other insects are visiting the garden. Because I want to use Integrated Pest Management to control any pests and diseases in my gardens and not rely on pesticides, it is important for me to observe and identify insect eggs and caterpillars when they first appear. Keeping a tally of the jellies, jams, pickles, and foods that we freeze in my journal would also be great. So my conundrum is the desire for tracking more information means I need a larger journal for my daily observations yet I need to balance that with the limited time I’ll have to write during the busy summer season.
As a visual person, I lean towards both taking photos and reviewing my photos from previous years. However, by the time I have finished downloading the photos into my PC, I have forgotten to make note of any problems. I would love to find a different solution for my garden journal-keeping, one that combines photos and written comment; a method that would keep me engaged the entire gardening season. In winter when reviewing all this gardening information, having all the information in one place would be most helpful - having photos on the computer, and only a few notes in a datebook is confusing - trying to line up dates was tiring.
The solution came to me through the Upper Valley WMMGA Holiday party Yankee Swap. My swap was a book titled Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. Here were little illustrations with corresponding observant text. While this book extols the “discovery of a whole new way of seeing the world around us”, I can easily use this method for my garden journal.
While Keeping a Nature Journal wants us to explore the natural world, transitioning this method to a garden journal will be easy. Record each day’s date, temperature and weather, include a quick description of my little illustration, or a note to self for further research. For those not accustomed to drawing, the authors advise starting with a simple outline. Included are little lessons on how to draw trees and leaves, birds, animals, and insects, even the clouds. There are examples of journal pages from children age 10 to, let’s say the more experienced adult. All of these sample pages include small sketches with some written text. What about my photos from the garden? I will make a note on the daily entry to the date and photo number of any photos that I download onto my PC. No more searching for hours! An artist sketch book with a spiral binding will be the ideal journal book for me. The emphasis is that the journal is center of my garden information, not just the photos on the computer.
The next step is making this a daily habit. In The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg, discusses the golden rule of habit: there is a cue, there is a routine, and lastly there is a reward (good or bad). In order to change the habit, the routine (middle part) has to change. To start a new habit, there needs to be a strong cue. My cue will be to have my journal and pencil on the breakfast table, so it will be the first item on my daily to-do list. I will start now in January so that by April when our gardening season begins, this will have become an important part of my day. Each entry should only take 30 minutes. For now, the entries could be part of a daily walk, a view from a window, or at pre-determined destination, but soon enough will be in my garden. To further my resolve, I will write that days date at the top of each blank page (for the entire year) so it will be obvious if I have forgotten to record a day. My reward will be having my garden year documented. I will be able to answer my own question of when the Shasta daisies first bloomed and for how long, when did we pick the first peas or chili pepper, how many pears did we get from the ‘non-fruiting’ pear tree this year. My reward will be the pleasure of time in my garden every day, to switch off the world as a type of meditation, to embrace my connection to the nature.
Here and now I am stating that my new year’s resolution is to keep a garden journal throughout 2017 and be more successful with my garden observations than I have in the past. Will you join me?
Here are some questions to help get you started: What’s worked in the past? What hasn’t? What kinds of records do you enjoy keeping, written or does the idea of little drawings appeal to you? What information is most helpful when planning next year’s garden, starting seeds, or buying plants? How often will you keep this journal- daily, weekly? Where will you store it? How will you remember to do it- i.e. cue? And how will you keep yourself accountable- i.e. rewards? (Hint: neither guilt nor willpower alone will do the trick).