So what exactly are we talking about? Well, depending on your level of involvement in gardening, this could include a lot of different elements. How many times have you meant to start spinach seeds, but then realized the window for planting spinach in your area had already closed? How often have you looked at a plant in your garden with no idea of where you bought it or how long you'd had it?
Now, some of you with better memories and/or organizational skills are probably chuckling right now. The rest of us...well, we need a little help. I've been indulging in serious gardening for the past ten years and have yet to really get "organiz-ized."
So let's look at a list of gardening tasks and topics we may want to tackle:
- Seed cataloguing - What seeds do you own? How old are they? What company are they from? How well have they performed in the past when grown?
- Seed starting schedule - What seeds should you start, when?
- Plant inventory - What plants have you bought and from whom? Where and when were they planted in your yard? How did they do?
- Gardening chores - What calendar-based chores need to be performed each month (lawn fertilization, tree trimming, etc.)?
Only four bullet points...doesn't seem quite so bad, right? Just thinking about things in "pockets" of information seems to make more sense and brings order to the chaos.
Now, how do we really go about organizing all of this?
There are many different tools meant for organizing information, of course. Choose whichever one you feel most comfortable with.
Good with Excel? Spreadsheets are a great way to keep track of your various gardening projects, especially since the information is sort-able. For example, think about what it would take to keep a thorough spreadsheet of all the plant purchases you make over the next year. Here are some of the columns you might consider having for each plant entry:
· Common name
· Latin Name
· Company purchased from
· Online purchase? (y/n)
· Date purchased
· Invoice number
· Date received
· Size of pot
· Date planted
· Location where planted
· Additional comments
A separate worksheet can be kept for seed purchases, with additional columns as needed:
· Seed company name (if different from the retailer you bought them from)
· Organic seed? (y/n)
· Coated seed? (y/n)
· Date seeds started
· Indoors or Outdoors?
· Date of first germination
· Date thinned
· Date transplanted (if applicable)
· Seed packet lot info
Make it as simple or detailed as you like. I find that when looking back through my records, more information is almost always better than less. Were those lettuce seeds from Burpee or Renee's? When did I start those beets that did so well last year?
Another great thing about using spreadsheets (or databases, if you have that skill) is you can insert links to online references, articles and/or photos. Forgot what a Louisiana Iris ‘Creole Flame' is supposed to look like? Create another column for photo links and add the online URL or embed a photo directly into the spreadsheet using the copy and paste features.
There are many other gardening projects for which a spreadsheet approach would be advantageous: tool inventory, plant/seed swap tracking, frost dates, temperature and rainfall monitoring, etc. You can almost go a little overboard with it if you let yourself. The key is to keep the information current; once you get behind, it's hard to catch up.
Of course, even if you keep a spreadsheet, you'll want to maintain a file folder for actual paper receipts for plant purchases. If you frequently use a handful of mail-order companies, make a file folder for each company and file email order confirmations, invoices and receipts accordingly, along with the company's latest catalog.
I'll confess that my personal downfall in staying organized is keeping track of a chore schedule. I am terrible when it comes to following a calendar. Every year, it's inevitable that I'll plant my carrot seeds too late, forget to order beneficial nematodes, or totally miss the window for fertilizing the lawn.
So, I am determined to remedy this situation in 2011. While I still haven't decided exactly how I'm going to track my gardening schedule, at least I know what I need to do.
On the one hand, I think a written day planner would serve me pretty well. I would go through the whole thing at the beginning of the year, filling in needed chores on the applicable dates:
- Weekend of January 15-16
- Start tomato, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower seeds indoors
- Fertilize orchids
- Buy potato and onion seeds/sets
- Weekend of February 26-27:
- Apply Corn Gluten Meal to front and back yard
- Start radish (2nd crop), mustard and chard seeds (direct sow)
- Plant potatoes
Another option I'm considering is creating a monthly (or even weekly) gardening tickler file. At the beginning of each month or week, I'd pull the list of chores due and, hopefully, perform them. Once done, that month's list would be moved to the back until next year and the next month's list would move forward.
Again, the trick is making sure you regularly check your planner or tickler.
A regular wall calendar can be handy too, and might serve its purpose better if placed in a common spot where it will be seen often. As with the planner, simply go through it at the beginning of the year and write in the chores on the appropriate days.
Use your calendar for other reminders as well. For example, if you've found that your local nursery tends to put its fresh Christmas trees at 30% off the second week of December, write that on the calendar too. (After shelling out $100 for a lovely Fraser fir this year, I wish I'd known to wait a few more days.)
There are two good things about resolving to get orderly at the beginning of a new year: many organizational supplies (calendars, file cabinets, day planner inserts, index cards, etc.) are on sale, since nearly everyone in our society is making similar resolutions to tidy up. Also, there's not a whole lot else to do garden-wise this time of year, when the weather is fairly lousy across most of the country.
Being organized (or even "organiz-ized") is always a good thing - it can save you time, money and frustration. For successful gardening, organization isn't as much fun as being outside playing in the dirt, but it is a necessity, and the benefits will ultimately make the time you spend in the garden more enjoyable and productive.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 3, 2011. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)