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When you’re picking cucumbers, green beans, and tomatoes every day just to stay on top of the garden, it’s sometimes important to remind yourself that this is what you have been waiting for. It’s also useful to write it all down, so you can remember, from one year to the next, just how many rows of beans you planted and how many pounds or pints of beans you harvested.
My own records are not what they should be. Like my father, I take a lot of pictures of newly picked vegetables, mostly to establish bragging rights. This photographic record is always interesting — and sometimes actually impressive — but nothing beats good notes.
In the past couple of years, I have developed a new strategy. Instead of writing my harvest report directly in my garden journal, I keep a clipboard in the kitchen just for this purpose, so I can take a few notes as soon as I come in the house. Last fall, my amazingly productive greens garden at my community garden plot grew enough kale, collards, and Swiss Chard to share with three friends, and every time I came home with a bag full of greens I divided the haul into bundles and wrote down exactly what I had harvested. (Later, I transferred the tallies to my garden journal.)
Of course, I took lots of pictures as I went along. Since it was my first year growing greens in my community garden plot, I wasn’t trying to beat my previous record: I was just learning how much I could expect to grow in a 4-foot by 12-foot raised bed. It was a lot.
It doesn’t matter whether your notes take the form of nicely turned sentences or just a few words. Thomas Jefferson, who kept gardening notes for decades, was in the habit of making chronological notes and keeping a spreadsheet in his Garden Book. Do what works best for you. It is useful to have a record of the variety names of your crops, so you’ll know, for example, how the ‘Minnesota Midget’ melons you planted last year compare to the ‘Ambrosia’ melons in this summer’s garden, and how they both tasted.
Planting and harvesting calendars also help you learn what to expect to harvest, and when. Check University Extension publications for your area, and look for something like this calendar, from Kansas Extension (see above). I keep one of these tucked into my garden journal. It reminds me to take advantage of succession planting, by starting to make room for a fall broccoli crop while I’m still harvesting summer squash. This year, I’m working hard to make my garden notes and my garden journal better than ever. I annotate the calendar as I plant and harvest, take a lot of pictures, and try to sit down with my journal as often as I can. It’s time and effort well invested. Write for a few minutes, close the book, and let time work its magic: in a few years, the sweet pungency of those memories will be overwhelming.