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I’m a Gambler, I Garden

May 9, 2011

Anyone who gardens or farms is somewhat of a gambler.   Running the gauntlet of gardening can be trying at times but the reward at the end is always worth it.  Garden records from my garden are one of my most useful tools.  Comparing my notes from year to year can help me see what works and what doesn’t.   A garden notebook can be as elaborate as you want, or it can be simple.  Mine is just a school notebook with a page devoted each year to each garden space.

In my notebook I allot each bed or row a line.  I jot down the variety of vegetable and the date planted.  On each page too, I also write down any soil prep and the date and what type and quantity of amendments I apply.


What I find about my garden notes are that planting dates from past years really help me plot out what I need to do in the here and now, and help me make decisions on when to plant.  Sort of a personal planting calendar – not one that follows old folklore – but one that actually fits my garden and conditions.   None of the quaint dates in the almanac fit my garden, if I planted potatoes on St Patrick’s Day I would be a sad gardener, because my potatoes would most likely be rotten or would freeze out.  Soil conditions are everything and soil conditions are very dependent on the weather.   We have been experiencing almost steady rain and cool temperatures now for some time.  Ten degrees cooler makes a huge difference in the soil temperatures which in turn makes a huge difference in planting times.

I told you my plans for the greenhouse were likely subject to change.  And after poring over my garden notes for the last two years, I decided to plant some of our first garden in the greenhouse in lieu of cover cropping one entire half of the space.  Here is the gambling part.  Do I plant regular crops in the greenhouse space that normally don’t need cover?  Or do I wait and hope for a stretch of good weather so I can plant my garden on time?  I decided to plant.  Last year I wasn’t able to work any garden soil until June 13th, and it took until the Solstice to get most of the gardens planted.  Normally the solstice is my absolute cut-off for some of my crops for over-winter harvesting.  Any later and they don’t mature in time, so I was really behind the eight ball last year.   I didn’t plant some heat loving crops at all last year due to the cold conditions.  A compressed growing season is OK if you get the heat units, but if you don’t, it is just a short growing season.

With all that in mind I limed the soil and started shaping beds, adding compost and planting a miniature version of our garden in one-quarter, leaving one-quarter for buckwheat.   (The other half will be devoted to warm weather crops.)  Really I am just adding another succession planting by doing this, my reasoning being that if the weather continues on this cool trend I may not be planting until June again, which will mean a delayed harvest.  I’m still ahead any way I look at it, I planted short season varieties and should be able to harvest them easily by the time I need to plant my winter crops in the same space.

Planted so far:

Beans – Maxibel Haricot Vert
Beets –  Early Wonder Tall Top
Carrots –  Nelson
Chard – Five Color Silverbeet, Charlotte, Fordhook Giant, Golden
Cilantro – Santo
Cucumber – Marketmore 76
Kohlrabi – Kolibri
Lettuce – Parris Island Cos, Merlot, Flashy Green Butter Oak, Little Sweets
Onion – Walla Walla
Strawberry – Tristar
Summer Squash – Raven, Cocozelle

I am so glad we decided to go ahead with the greenhouse, it is making all the difference in our food supply this year.  And I am really glad I have jotted down some garden notes so I can base my decisions on more than just speculation.

Have you found keeping garden notes has helped you from year to year?

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2011 7:49 am

    I need to keep a garden notebook! I have planned on doing it every year, but have yet to actually accomplish that….

  2. Radel permalink
    May 9, 2011 7:53 am

    A quick question. How do you haul water to your cows when the ground is so wet? Or even haul anything? (compost to garden etc.)? Do you take any special measures or precautions?

    • May 9, 2011 12:43 pm

      Radel, I am blessed with verrrry well drained soil and fairly healthy pastures but that doesn’t mean I abuse it. Some creative fencing on my part during these rainy periods means I only have to deliver water to the cows every 4 days ( about) since the grass is lush and it rains most days, they aren’t even emptying a 100 gallon trough in 4 days. If it was drier and they needed more water I would just switch to a larger trough size and still only fill the troug every 4 days. Saves gas too, if I walk – and its way less of a pain to walk.

      As for the compost, I usually wheelbarrow that to the site. I am not using very much, just as a bed amendment and it’s pretty light and only about 200 feet away.

  3. Marilyn permalink
    May 9, 2011 8:22 am

    It looks so nice in there! Great to be able to plant cover crops in the greenhouse – hadn’t occurred to me to do that, but what an interesting idea (as opposed to barrowing in all nutrients every year).

    And what a blessing to have this space to go to and work in, when it’s cold, rainy, and just a little dreary…

    I think I have identified the spot for my hoophouse.

    And, yes, keeping notes is critical. I like your idea of a page per space – probably both sides, eh? and perhaps a page for overall notes – weather patterns that affect the whole of the system.

    I so love your blog. Thank you for doing this.

    • May 9, 2011 12:47 pm

      Marilyn, you’re welcome! It is nice in there – I don’t have to worry too much about the rain, except when I come out to go to the house 🙂

      I never thought when I started keeping my garden notebook that it would be so interesting as I looked back. I am so glad I started it now. It is easy to forget when there are so many details. It really helps me track my rotations too.

  4. May 9, 2011 8:39 am

    Garden notes would help if I could actually make some. Sometimes I start out well, and then it all goes to h*ll. Quite a bit gets recorded on my blog, I’ll just have to make do with that.

    It’s been one of the worst gardening springs I can remember in a long time. The main garden which is on a south slope is doing okay for the potatoes. Planted them first half of March, most are up. The greens came up and did nothing. I’ve reseeded. Mice are devastating things in the greenhouse, so I’ve got some traps to set tonight. Rabbits or mice are doing a number on the broad beans and peas. I’ve put chicken wire around them. The rain, rain, rain and the cold nights are certainly hitting some things hard. I remember one exceptional Spring when I had new potatoes and snap peas to sell by the May long weekend. This year our pear tree is flowering a good 5 weeks behind last year. I have a feeling that when the heat comes, it’s going to hit us hard.

    • Marilyn permalink
      May 9, 2011 9:08 am

      Oh, yeah. Mice. Note to self….

    • May 9, 2011 12:50 pm

      Karen, I agree it is a cold and dreary spring for sure! Mark me down as jealous, we have had no fruit tree blooms showing yet except some wild inedible plums and even they are barely making a showing. Looks and feels more like March around here!

      I’ll be glad when the heat finally does come – it never lasts long enough to really complain and as least it cools off here every night no matter how hot it gets. Fingers crossed for some sunny days soon 🙂

  5. May 9, 2011 12:17 pm

    Nita I love seeing your seed lists when you post them – so helpful! I too am doing all early or ultra early short season things this year. I’m ready for crummer!

    • May 9, 2011 12:51 pm

      Annette, thanks! I need to list all my other stuff too that is waiting in the wings. I am really hoping for more summer than last year 😦

  6. May 9, 2011 12:29 pm

    I keep telling myself to start a journal, but so far I just jot the dates of planting on the calender hanging in our kitchen.
    Warm wishes, Tonya

    • May 9, 2011 2:53 pm

      P&JL, LOL I keep cow breeding, calving, and butcher dates on my wall calendar! Makes for interesting conversation 😉

  7. May 9, 2011 12:35 pm

    I have a garden note book, but it seems that one month I am all over it then next thing I know it’s been two weeks or more since I recorded anything!I’m trying to get better with it!!

    • May 9, 2011 2:54 pm

      Jenna, that’s the way my canning records go – I start out with good intentions and then it all falls by the wayside when I get into the thick of canning and preserving season!

  8. May 9, 2011 4:02 pm

    I don’t know why, but I’m strangely resistant to keeping those notebooks. I love them, I love seeing other people’s but I just continue to resist keeping my own. Same with cheese and preserving records.

    I have greenhouse envy….

  9. T.Lisa permalink
    May 9, 2011 5:58 pm

    I always look forward to getting your updates and ideas…thanks! I do love to keep my garden journal. I like to take notes in the beginning of the season and then again at the end where I make notes of what went well and otherwise. I have been doing it for 3 years – this will be my 4th. Like you, I love to look back and review/remember. I am in the high mountains of Eastern Arizona (7000 ft) and our weather has been beautiful but we struggle with late freezes. Everything will start to bloom with 70 degree days/40 @night then we get a 20@night and it sets some of my flowers back a bit. Dang!! I guess we all have our challenges. Garden plants won’t go out until the end of the month….just in case! Good luck with your garden this year….we all need a little luck, don’t we?? Lisa

  10. May 10, 2011 9:08 am

    LOL I just got my journal out from last year to see how many hills of spuds I planted……it was pretty simple……it said………planted garden and that’s it. I guess I need to be just a little LESS simple 😉

  11. TBirdsmomma permalink
    May 10, 2011 8:03 pm

    I’m so glad you mentioned this! I just started my first journal this year on my birthday (in Feb) and already it’s been such a big help. I no longer have to wonder, “How long has it been since I seeded those carrots?” etc. I’m recording anything to do with the garden, seed starting, chickens, compost, weather, wildlife (e.g. first hummingbird), and perennial plants (e.g. first asparagus poking thru, first daffodils in bloom).

    I’ve given each day of the year a page… recording the date at the top of each page even if I’m not writing anything else for that day. I try to at least record weather, temps etc. for each day but I’m not being too hard on myself about this because I don’t want to get frustrated and give up. Just do what I can.

    I’m looking forward to next year when I get to go back to the beginning, add to each page and compare the seasons. Wish I had it for last year.
    It will also be nice to keep track of what has been planted where, for crop rotation purposes.

    PS I really appreciate your comments about chicken breeds. Common sense prevails!!!!

    Love LOVE the blog. Do you sleep, girl? After all that work you still find the time to maintain such a fabulous blog! Awesome.

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