Keeping track of your garden history

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

Following up on what's been discussed on the "what's happening" threads, this is the way I organize my garden history.

In the past I have tried notebooks, spreadsheets, a custom database program, online programs and other options. They were all either too cumbersome for quick reference or didn't have proper index. So I went old school.

Image 1 is my humble file box. I can tell already that it will only last a few more seasons before I need a bigger box! Or, I may split into cool weather and warm weather crops. I purchased the index tabs, index cards and box for $3 at Big Lots.

Image 2 & 3: I have a standard format for the cards. In general, what the seed source told me about the seeds (or in some cases, plants) goes up at the top along with where I got them and what year the seeds were packaged for. Pertinent dates go in the middle, and the bottom and back are for notes. The upper right hand corner has the year and season, plus seed characteristics (i.e. hybrid, organic, etc.). Finally, a check or an X indicates a final verdict -- either absolutely don't grow again, or make it a regular. Not everything gets a mark -- and few items get a check!

The cards go in the file in order of vegetable type, common name, year and then season (with the newer seasons in the front.) I can reference anything I have grown within seconds and how it did -- which is really helpful to do right before placing catalog orders!

I only track annual vegetable-type plants with the cards.

Image 4: Finally, I keep track of what got planted where and when with a diagram of my garden area in Visio. I create a new page for each season from template and plan the space, then I can take the sheet out into the garden when planting seeds or for reference. Many sheets have come back inside with dirty scribbles on them -- the paper is no replacement for reality, but it helps! This also helps me rotate my crops.

Image 5: In fact, I have my whole property mapped out with what plants are planted where. Some of the bigger items have in-ground tags, but I'd spend a fortune it I labelled everything. So the diagram helps me figure out what variety of daylily is planted where, and so forth. I also use this map to make plans for future garden domination projects.


Like all systems, it will no doubt evolve over time, and what works for me may not work for you. So I'd love to hear what other people do -- I may pick up some good ideas!

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Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Thanks for sharing your system with us, Nicloe.

I have set up a system in MSWord and MSOffice (under tasks) to keep track of what and when to sow. Unfortunately, I have carpel tunnel in my writing hand, so cannot keep a file box system such as yours.

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

Honeybee, I'm a computer programmer by trade and I have medial tunnel syndrome (which is the other set of fingers/side of the wrist than carpal tunnel), and handwriting is actually less painful for me. :)

If I got fancy (or my handwriting got worse), I could *print* the index cards. But that seems like too much trouble to me.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Thanks, NicoleC!

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

NicoleC - my daughter is a software engineer and has a similar (or possible the same) problem with her hand as yourself. She has learned to switch from hand to hand to avoid pain.

She also produces and maintains this web site for Classica Homes for whom she works fultime.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

I've got a bazillion index cards and can't find one!

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

Yep, I work double-handed, HB, and use a special keyboard and mouse. It helps, but believe it or not, the one thing that helped the most was changing the way I slept to be sure I didn't sleep with my elbow bent. I used to sleep on my side with my arm under the pillow -- bad news for nerve problems. Nerve glides also help when it flares up.

Can't wait until I retire -- I'm a lazy gardener and it never hurts by elbow/wrist!

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Thanks for the tip about Nerve glides. I know my daughter does some exercises, but didn't know what they were called. I'm going to do some research for myself. I'm sure some of these excercises would help me, too.

When I lived in South Florida working full time, I wore a brace on my wrist/ forearm at night to keep me from sleeping on my hand.

I am retired, but the carpel tunnel never really goes away, I'm sad to say.

When I do a lot of work digging with a hand trowel, the pain gets worse.

Sometimes I feel like tying my right hand behind my back and making my left hand to more of the work!

Hallowell, ME

The only thing I keep track of is where I plant what so I can rotate my crops better. I'm basically lazy.

Central, TX(Zone 8b)

Must say the card system is better than notebooks - which I always seem to misplace. I saw this method used at a propagation nursery outlining how to propagate certain plants, kept in a big binder with pockets on plastic pages for holding the cards.

Suggestion: Also note the weather for that growing season. Some varieties may do better one season and not the next depending on climatic conditions and your micro-climate. Another reason for planting more than one variety.

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

Garden_Sass, I sometime include particular weather notes, but for general things I keep a monthly log, that way I am not writing the same weather notes on a bazillion cards.

Ultimately, my goal is to find THE variety for me to start with, and then save seed from year to year. I have some I know already, like toms and cukes, but each year I experiment with a new crop. Several months ago I read a study where they had shown that plants pass on information about specific pests and how to guard against them in a single generation, so developing my very own micro-variety based on a variety already proven for my area should help in the long run.

Central, TX(Zone 8b)

You're absolutely correct - developing your own "land race" adapted to your own micro-climate and soil is an admirable endeavor. Best wishes toward that goal...

Murfreesboro, TN(Zone 7a)

I am sure I would knock over a card system, as I am so very graceful. That does seem like a good way of organizing thing, though. I also map everything - I am just not good at tags.

I maintain a set of hand-written journals that is year over year. Each journal contains 1 quarter of the year (3 months) and contains about 5 years. I use the plain leather bound journals from Barns & Nobles that are filled with graph paper. They used to come in red, blue and black, but recently have only seen black. I am slowly (very slowly right now as I am moving 2,200 miles to TN in 3 weeks and my journals are all packed) putting them on-line here:

Weather has been interesting to track. Although the actual dates change, it is interesting to see that weather phenomenon where I am have very often occurred during the same week each year.

NicoleC, I'd be very interested in hearing about your experiences in adapting a cultivar to your climate, as I am hoping to settle in my "forever" home in a few years, and wish to do something similar. Do you have a blog or somewhere that you will chronicle your efforts?

Thanks for your ideas, everyone - always interesting seeing how other people do things (and see which ideas I can use to improve my garden, of course!).

Houston Heights, TX(Zone 9a)

Thanks, Nicole. I like the simplicity of your plan. Ive made "starts" at a lot of systems, got lost in them and gave them up. I believe I could do this consistently.

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

No blog, kmom. I used to have one but there few readers I had wasn't worth the effort. The only ones I'm saving so far are tomatoes -- Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and German Striped. I have to admit I have the nicest tom plants I have ever seem this year with NO pests, but it's a strange year here and I don't know if this is coincidence or not.

Brooksville, FL(Zone 9a)

Great idea on tracking the gardens, I'm just creating a spreadsheet in excel.

You can thank Steve Jobs for the computer wrist problems for inventing the mouse. If we could have the function keys working again, there would be way less issues. I've had surgery on my wrist/and 2 places on the elbow, and after 15+ years I'm back to starting to have problems. I gave up using the mouse with my right and went to my left as I'm ambidextrous anyway. I even go as far as to change my mouse clicks, that really drives folks crazy should I try to use my mouse, but hey, if I can hold off any more problems with my right than great.


Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

Jan, the function keys work fine on my computer; I use them extensively. I do have one or two commands programmed to override the software commands. If yours aren't doing what you want, you can override them.

Oh, and you can thank Douglas Engelbart for the mouse.

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