Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Growing year to year

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

As we work to grow our gardens, bringing fresh, healthy and organic food to our tables it's easy to get caught up in the process of picking our plants, choosing varieties, finding recipes that we'll use to preserve our harvests and just generally revelling in the excitement of either a new growing year or in the harvests that we're so enjoying as they come in. I've done it, I still do do it to some degree, but I've also learned that there are other things that I need to find some time and discipline to do. One such thing that we've been really making a concerted effort towards this year is our record keeping. It's not one of the glamorous parts of homesteading but it is, I am finding, an immensely valuable one.
List of this years preserved harvest items.

We kept our records this year, in a couple of very cheap spiral notebooks that got incredibly beaten up throughout the year. They were effective and easy to add things to though, and now that the majority of the growing season has passed us here in the northern hemisphere it is time to reconcile all the notes and charts into one location. For us that means digging into a stash of three ring binders that we salvaged from my office that were bound for the land fill, no need to waste after all. The types of things that we have added or will be adding are lists of things like what we grew this year, what we'd like to try next year, what and how much we put up for the winter and anything else we want to keep track of.
Detailed Journal of 2008 harvest totals.

This year for instance, we made it a personal goal to keep records of the weight of every item that we harvested. It allowed us to not only get a very realistic idea of how much total food we were able to produce on our own land, (over 500 lbs so far.) but it also will allow us to go back over the records in the off season and see what really did grow and produce well in our garden. Maybe we need to start earlier or try a different location, or maybe we just don't think a particular crop is worth the effort. Good records will help us to remember until next year and aid us in making adjustments to next years garden plan.
Charts showing what was grown where to help with garden rotations next year.

And that's another thing we have in our records, charts of what we grew and where we grew them. This is probably one of the things that I would say is a mandatory thing in any garden record book. I don't know about you all, but I can't remember from spring to summer what I planted where, and have made the mistake of growing the same things in the same places many times. Good crop rotation is one of the best organic gardening practices you can implement. It helps to keep pests from building up in one area, and minimizes the chances of species specific soil-born diseases from taking over. They don't need to be too detailed either, the ones in the picture above took me ten minutes to throw down on paper. I did have some notes in the beat up spiral notebooks, but most of the info I still remember. That won't be the case in February or March I assure you.
Keeping good records isn't one of those romantic, back to the land, idealistic things that we generally have come to mind, but in my opinion is one of the basic skills that we can build from the start to help ensure our other efforts are "fruitful". I encourage you to at least get a basic notebook, and start building that habit of jotting things down as they happen. Keep track of what you harvest, what kind of bugs you're seeing, weather patterns or anything else you think you may want to remember. You'll thank yourself later!
Grow on!


Yabusame said...

I don't know why but I love keeping records. I can see that when I finally get my garden going I'll be drawing up charts and planting maps galore.

Posh And Trendy said...

You're on the right track for sure.. I've always kept a journal of my gardening. Most people think they'll remember the next year but they don't. It's so important to have records of what grew best and where.
Besides it's so neat to compare each year to years past.

amanda said...

very helpful idea...i will def. maintain a record next year!

mamawhatthe said...

Thanks very much for this post. Record keeping is something I've been giving a lot of thought, but really sort of struggling with as far as layout. I know I won't keep up with anything too complicated, and then I'll regret it. I've had trouble visualizing how it might all come together. Seeing your pictures along with the text was helpful. Thanks!

mary said...

Thanks for the reminder! I have kept records of seeds we've purchased and planted each year but not our crop rotations. You are right, it will be hard to remember exactly what grew where by Spring. We are planning on expanding our garden next year, so record-keeping will become a real necessity then. I will start, with our Fall plantings, making a chart of what is where in the garden. :)

Sadge said...

I have five garden beds - each one the same size, running along a 50' soaker hose. The hoses are laid down in an elongated "S" shape, so I can plant some things in blocks and just vary spacing within the bed for others. Each bed is a different type of crop - the fruiting bed, the roots bed, the early/late bed, the corn & beans bed, and the vining bed. It's easier for me to rotate around a five-year cycle instead of thinking individual crops, but of course, you have to work within your own space restrictions.

EJ said...

Thanks for the inspiration.
I keep a weather book. Mine is a "Gardeners Journal" from Lee Valley. Each page has spaces for 10 years of entries per day. It's great for keeping track of weather, first & last frost, other small events. I now have 4 years of notes (my neighbor has 40+ years) and its very interesting to see what happened previously. We do forget so easily.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

My garden records are invaluable, I just use a spiral notebook with all my info jotted down as I plant. I keep track of variety, date planted and my rotation all in one place. Amendment requirements are different for different crops and I keep track of those also by type, amount and date applied.

Each garden and greenhouse gets a separate page, and when I start comparing notes from one year to the next, it gives me a clearer picture of changes/or not that I need to make.

Another useful thing I have found useful,is also writing the sowing date on my seed packets or envelopes, some crops are succession sown and when I look at the packet, I can tell when the last sowing was, without consulting my notebook.

Excellent post!

Carrie said...

What a great post! I have never thought of keeping a record. You give great reasons to start one. Thanks to you now I will start, next growing season of course.

Dani said...

How timely. I just started doing this yesterday after being inspired by Barabara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I hadn't thought to add garden layout but that is a terrific idea.

P~ said...

I'm so glad this post was well received. As I said, It's not really one of the things we imagine fondly in our visions of the simple life, but truley does make a difference over time. Great suggestions added here too.

silversewer said...

We grow as much as we can on our allotment. Every year my OH draws up a plan for the next years planting, we use a 4 year rotation plan, so we do not grow in the same place twice, so each year each family of veg is moved up 2 beds, thats because we grow 2 beds of spuds, this year we cropped over 100lbs of spuds from 22 tubers.

We weigh everything and also keep a note of the type of veg that do well on our soil and grow them again the next year.

We have a tame nurseyman who grows organically and because we do not have a large freezer, nor room to put one we buy plants from him, he will split a box for us. which is very handy, and we can buy so many plants and then go back and get so many more 3 - 4 weeks later......if we sow seed we end up with a lot of food we cannot store or eat, so give it away.

This year for the first time we have had an excellent crop of carrots........they were sown quite thickly, so we pulled some tiny ones and ate them whole and left the rest to mature, I am now pulling big ones, we have had a couple of frosts, so I will have to pull the rest and store them in sand in our shed with the onions, garlic and spuds.

OH has his garden diaries right back for over 20 years, gowing in the different places we have lived.

He keeps them on the computer now and prints them off, when a page is full, we have a couple of lever arch files we put them in for future reference.

han_ysic said...

I have been keeping records I think since you mentioned the big weigh in Phelan. I am up to nearly 26 kilos since June this year. Love seeing when things are coming in, keeping track and planning for the future

Aurora said...

I learned recordkeeping in 4-H. In this context it made sense, keeping track of time and resources spent in correlation with what you got out of it.

I like to keep weather records like my old ranch boss did. Interesting to track patterns in this way.

Jen said...

I'm a very new suburban gardener - just starting my first seeds. Is there no online program that will automatically pull in weather info, help tell you info like when to sow what and where based on your frost dates, help design beds, etc? Then we could download the data so we can save it forever? Just wondering...I've developed some time consuming spreadsheets but there must be a better way!