In my last post about gardening, I asked if you’d like to see inside of my gardening journal and planner (also sometimes called a garden diary)… and there was a lot of interest! While there are tons of pre-made garden planners you can buy and download, I ultimately decided to make my own last year. It worked so well for me that I’m sticking with it this year, too! So today is all about a tour of my somewhat messy notebook and how to use a garden journal to plan a vegetable garden, keep track of growth, and stay organized during the whole growing season — and now you’ll know just how bad my handwriting is!
All About MY DIY Garden Journal & Planner
Before we dig into the nitty gritty details of my actual garden journal, let’s answer a few high level questions in case you’re not familiar with what one is and how to use it!
What is a garden journal?
Essentially, a garden journal is a tool used by gardeners to keep track of important information about plants, gardening tasks, and overall garden progress. It can be in the form of a physical notebook, binder, Google doc, or even an app, but the purpose is the same: to help you stay organized and informed about your garden. I did a lot of research before starting mine to see what other people and companies recommend. I’m definitely someone who is happiest when I make my own version of something, so I knew the DIY route was the best best for my own personal garden diary.
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What do you write in a garden journal?
It can be really overwhelming to know what to keep track of as a beginner gardener — speaking from experience! My opinion is that you’ll figure out what you need to track as you go and that using a binder and a DIY approach is the easiest way. But as an overview, here’s what I document in my garden journal:
My Garden Map
The first section in my garden planner notebook is dedicated to my garden plans. This includes to scale drawings on graph paper of each garden bed as well as an overall map to the entire garden. I use the individual garden bed maps to figure out how many plants I need in order to attain my desired yield. It can also help me figure out my succession planting and co-planting.
To figure this out, each section of the drawing is 1×1′ so I then determine how much of a vegetable we’d want to eat. Then, I figure out how many plants that would equal based on the amount of space each plant needs (this info is usually on the back of a seed packet). I like to use washi tape to block out the number of 1×1′ boxes each veggie would need to make sure I have room. It’s a loose plan, but still definitely helps!
My Gardening Calendar
Next, I have a section dedicated to the entire calendar year. This is truly the most important part of the entire notebook to me because it’s where I keep notes about every single thing I’ve done in the garden. I love having a record that I can refer back to year after year! Here’s what I keep track of:
- Planting dates, especially first and last frost dates: I write down when I started seeds, planted starts that I bought, succession planted, etc.
- My fertilizer schedule
- Notable weather conditions: I keep track of high and low temps, late or early snow fall, and heatwaves
Other info that gardeners keep track of in their garden diaries can include:
- soil types
- any pest or disease problems encountered
- moon phases
- hours of direct sunlight
By recording this information, gardeners can analyze their garden’s progress over time and make more informed decisions about future plantings and maintenance. Now that I’m on my second year of our vegetable garden, looking back on my 2022 gardening journal has been hugely helpful!
This section is where I write notes about each thing I planted. For example, beans have a dedicated page where I track all of the pertinent information. Then tomatoes have a dedicated page, same for squash, pumpkins, garlic, etc. A page for each one!
Typically, I write down the seed packet details so I know what I planted, when I planted each and how I started it (direct sow vs indoor start). Then, once a plant is a producing, I start keeping track of when I get my first harvest and how long I can harvest. This info is especially critical in helping me figure out what I want to plant this year! Looking at this example, the Dragon Langerie seeds from Uprising Seeds performed exceedingly well and I will definitely be planting them again this year!
Notes, Inspiration and Ideas
And lastly, this section is dedicated to notes I take while attending workshops, as well as ideas for new beds, garden structures, interesting seed catalogs, etc. When I first started my garden, I didn’t have this section, but very quickly learned that in addition to being a record-keeping tool, a garden journal can also serve as a source of inspiration and creativity for gardeners. While researching, I found that tons of gardeners use their journals to sketch out garden designs, note new plant ideas, and brainstorm ways to improve their garden’s aesthetic appeal. Some people get really fancy with it and also include photographs or clippings from gardening magazines or websites to reference later! Maybe one day I will graduate to this level of gardening.
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How do you make a garden diary?
I took a very low-tech approach to making my garden diary (probably because I have a deep love of school supply shopping). To start, I invested in a few things:
- a sturdy 3 ring binder: I chose a binder because it was the most flexible option for me to add/remove pages and sections
- dividers: these allow me to organize each section of the binder so I’m not flipping through page after page of notes
- calendar pages: truly the most important element of my garden journal, I keep track of everything on these pages! From when I started seeds indoors to my frost dates, weather conditions, and my fertilizing schedule, every single things I did for my garden is documented here. I especially love the calendar pages pack I use because I can make a to do list at the start of the month.
- loose leaf paper and graph paper: I use the loose leaf to write notes and the graph paper to map out each of my garden beds (check out my post about planning the perfect garden for my tips!). I opted for loose leaf paper that has a reinforced edge to make the pages a bit sturdier.
- clear binder pockets: perfect for holding plant tags, loose papers, seed packets, etc
- clear sheet protectors: gardening is messy, so if you have any papers that are important these help!
- ruler: I like this one because it has a hole at one end, so I can keep it in the binder as well
Here are the exact supplies I use for my gardening notebook:
How to Use a Garden Journal for a New Gardening Season
As I start to think of my 2023 garden, I find that I am constantly referring to last year’s notes. For example, one of my tomato varieties didn’t produce nearly as much as the others, so now I know not to bother trying to grow it again. My notes from last year are also helping me to better understand how many of each plant we need in order to fully sustain our needs instead of buying from a grocery store.
I also like to use the previous year’s calendar as a reference point for this year… or not! Because we had a very late winter last year, I wasn’t able to plant anything outdoors until May. Knowing that this year, I am investing in structures that will extend my growing season and help keep plants warm. Hopefully this means harvesting veggies sooner, but also getting started sooner.
And lastly, I use my notes to determine if I need to buy new seeds, which seeds I want to plant this year, and what I need to do differently. I literally sit down with my awesome rainbow seed organizer and plan it allllll out over the course of an afternoon.
So tell me: do you use a garden journal? I’d love to know if yours is pre-made or if you’ve DIYed one along the way and adapted it over the years! I’m always looking for more inspiration for my gardening hobby, so leave a comment and tell me all about yours. And if you have any questions about my notebook, leave a comment and I will do my best to answer!