Expert tips on recording your homegrown highs and lows from RHS Horticultural Advisor Jenny Bowden
Many birthdays ago, in January, a friend bought me a garden journal. I had just created a vegetable garden at home and her present turned out to be a timely gift. I find myself turning to it throughout the year, but it’s in February that the big planning stage happens.
While the weather is still cold and wet outdoors, I revel in planning my fruit and veg growing year from the comfort of the kitchen. From here I look to the future, planning ahead to optimise crops, and narrowing down my seed order.
What is a garden journal?
Essentially, it is like a diary. My journal has plenty of blank pages, lined pages and several sets of squared ones for planning out plots. Now, at the start of February, is the first visit to my garden journal this year. I pull it off the bookshelf and open a new page. Any notebook will do of course, but being a fan of stationery, I love the idea of a purpose-built book, which oddly, I feel more motivated to use!
Why is it useful?
I decide what, when and where I’m going to sow, which sounds obvious, but being able to look back at timings is surprisingly useful. If you practise crop rotation
, plan out what’s going where well in advance (don’t forget to add an orientation arrow). Next year you’ll be grateful of the reminder of where your brassica and root veg beds had been.
As you sow, write down the date, but also note the compost you used. Once they've germinated, notice how different seedlings perform. Would this compost be more suited to potting on perhaps, or maybe you’d ‘never buy it again!’? Additional things to add are temperatures for germination (if using a propagator), weather conditions, or if certain veg did better planted as modules/plugs or direct-sown
I find it useful to record whether I start crops off on the windowsill or in the greenhouse, and then again once they’ve been hardened off
. What insect damage and diseases
affected your crops, and how could you avoid them next year? Sometimes it’s just a case of commenting ‘grow more’ when something was successful, yet you didn’t have enough of it for the pot.
Frequent use is key to using a journal, so set reminders to yourself on your phone, or leave it somewhere visible and handy, to ensure you regularly return to log your gardening progress. That said, when the season is in full swing (May-August) and you’re hoeing weeds like crazy and weighed down with watering cans, it’s likely you won’t be thinking of your journal. However, come harvest time, remember to jot down your yields - and what you most enjoyed eating!
Once you’ve harvested and created gaps, record any repeat-sowing
of crops such as beetroot, leafy veg or carrots, for future reference. Experimenting with timings can be a detail that takes your gardening skills to the next level.
Write down, or even draw, any nuggets of information that you’d like to remind yourself of the following year. Your gardening journal can become somewhere that you go to not just to make notes on seasons and weather, but to say how you’re feeling, as you approach your veg growing tasks on a particular day. Journaling is itself is a mindful activity that helps avoid any trepidation you may feel.
What I’ve learnt
Wait until the end of March to sow tomatoes
indoors (or in a heated propagator in the greenhouse). Young plants can’t go in the cold greenhouse or outside until summer, and too often mine became leggy when sown too early.
Record when you start harvesting each crop. As patterns emerge over time, you can even start planning your holidays to avoid clashing with key harvest times! Journaling may lead to you adjusting your growing habits so your veg matures just after you come home, without rotting, going tough or needing the neighbours to pick it.
Finally, I’m often inspired by new and unusual veg I see in other gardens or am introduced to by recommendation. Kalettes (like mini kale florets on a Brussels sprout plant) were one such example, with which I had first time success - see photo!
My journal is where I write these new ideas down ready for the following season. Sometimes, it’s RHS members telling me their successes with a novel vegetable that sends me to find my pen. So keep fresh, informed and inspired by keeping a garden journal of your own!
Pick of the crop
Look for the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) when buying vegetable seed or small plants. You can also download the RHS lists of recommended cultivars.
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About the author – Jenny Bowden
I’ve been an RHS horticultural advisor for the past 15 years, responding to the huge wide range of member’s gardening questions. My own sandy garden in Surrey is where I love to test plants’ drought tolerance in my dry, sunny borders. I also grow plenty of vegetables using the ‘no-dig’ method.