If you are like most gardeners with a few years under your belt, every winter after the holidays you probably curl up on the couch with your seed catalog or laptop and start making a list for the upcoming growing season. While this is fun and can take hours, this really is serious business if you are growing for any reason other than pure fun. As a young homesteader I look at these first five to ten years as my learning curve, a time to single out varieties that can become tried and true residents in my garden every year. While I do have a fairly good memory, I also am pretty busy and have small children who take up 95% of my brain power daily. I want to remember details about what I am growing, not just whether I liked it and if it produced well. This is why I have started working on a garden record spread sheet. If I can rope my hubby into helping me I would gladly make it available as a print out in the few weeks!
Now, what is worth recording and what is being a little too detailed? Well, I believe in two different methods of record keeping: a journal and actual record sheets. The journal is where I tend to bring in more detail such as rain fall or watering frequency, growth patterns, when I fertilized, what kind of fertilizer I used, if I needed to replant any seeds, what I liked the taste of, etc. With a record sheet I record things like the planting date, did I start indoors or direct seed, first harvest date, average weight of harvest, last harvest date, etc. Many gardeners only use a journal (truthfully, I have been using this blog as my "garden journal" for two years now!), but I feel a record sheet makes things a bit more black and white for planning the next years seed nominees. For someone with limited garden space, forgetting which variety out preformed the other could cost me, literally! I would feel really silly if I ordered a vegetable that took up too much space and produced either small quantities or poor quality food. This doesn't mean I won't try new varieties once I find my basic stock for reliable yearly produce, but I will be able to more freely try these new varieties knowing we have back up if it's a disappointment.
In this generation of hybrid seeds, I can see why we are forced to keep records! There are so many out there and all claim to be terrific. Heirlooms are what I gravitate towards for many reasons but the most is that you have to know that it was good enough that someone painstakingly saved the seeds from their own plants. Think about this! At the end of the season gardeners weren't filling out charts to remember what they wanted to order next year, they already knew exactly what they were planting next year because they saved the seeds. Poetic, I think!
This year I ended up with more hybrids than I usually choose, mostly because I didn't choose them! I bought in a co-op with friends and while I enjoy the expectant nature of trying something new, I will be choosing all heirlooms next year so that I may start saving seeds. I will likely still order some seeds every year but I do think seed saving is an art worth sustaining for many reasons.
Another thing I will be keeping track of is what and how much I can grow in what sized raised bed. I had mentioned wanting to try the Back to Eden gardening method, but I am really in love with raised beds right now! The BTE method is not what I would call space saving and I have to say I love my tall raised bed we added this year, much easier on my back and needs far less water than my shallower beds. My intention is to make all the raised beds about 20"-24" tall. Likely we will make them 12' x 4' (48 square feet) and install 4-8 of them this fall depending on our funds and time. I would like to make a matching deep bed for the greenhouse to grow our cold weather crops in during early spring and late fall. Right now I am just amazed by how much just a 2' x 3' bed has been producing! So, I think it worth while to keep track of how much each bed size and depth produced and also with what spacing.
After learning a little more each year and investing in some quality materials I am thrilled with how well things are growing this year. I have learned that eight Swiss chard plants are enough for one weekly cutting but 12-16 would provide us with at least two and possibly some to freeze. Peas are easy to grow but you need a lot of plants to get a good crop! And, Russian kale has a stronger flavor than curly kale but with more tender stems. All these things will be going on the books!
Start those records while the season is still young! Til next time.