Want to learn how to grow your own food? Be sure to take notes about your garden and how all your plant babies flourish or struggle to become a better gardener and grow more food for your family, friends, and neighbors.
Four years ago we lived in a 56 story high-rise in downtown Chicago. I never had a garden growing up. I had little idea how to care for plants beyond watering them. The idea of having our own garden sounded more like a fantasy than reality.
When we moved to Philadelphia, we found a house that fit our family so well. And with a whim of luck, it came with an amazing garden courtesy of the previous owners. They laid the foundation and created the backbones of a really awesome garden without which I’m sure I would be far from where I am today.
Getting started with any new challenge or habit is half the battle, and the previous owners gave me a really great head start to learning this new gardening thing.
Growing Our Own Food
I don’t have a particular interest in gardening for the sake of creating a pretty yard and growing lots of beautiful flowers, but I absolutely adore purposeful gardening that bears fruits and vegetables for our family. I love that my boys can learn about the process of growing food and understand all of the energy and resources it takes to grow a small seed into something they can eat for dinner.
I also know that our food supply chain is pretty fragile and broken. We are heavily reliant on food grown and transported around the world among a handful of large companies. This makes us particularly vulnerable to catastrophic events that have the capacity to cut off food supply even when such events don’t happen in our own regions.
Further, the food supply system has unjust distribution that feeds privileged people like my family in abundance (so much so that we waste a significant amount of food collectively) while at least 1 in 5 families in the United States endure food insecurity. Suburban grocery stores are filled with food while urban areas, primarily home to marginalized communities, are often food deserts subject to limited access to nutritious food.
Gardens won’t fix our broken food systems but they do provide broader and more immediate access to nutritious food that can help alleviate some of the food inequity while we work to rebuild our food supply chains to be more just and equitable.
Many of us, from rich to poor, haven’t a clue how to grow our own food. We’ve become so disconnected from food that we just know it comes from a store. We have little knowledge about its path to the grocery store shelves or restaurant tables.
We need to revive the relevance of gardening in our culture, and that involves a learning curve. Taking notes and recording our observations as we learn is so important in becoming more comfortable in the garden and more effectively growing our own food to feed families, connect with nature, and decolonize our food supply.
Taking Notes In Our Home Garden
The first summer we lived in our current house, I didn’t do a whole lot with the garden. We spent the first six months doing renovations and living with my in-laws. I felt like the next six months we spent getting settled in the house.
I had a friend help me plant starter seedlings, and then I took care of the garden for the rest of the summer on my own. I learned a few things that first summer of gardening, but I didn’t take a lot of notes about my experiences. Live and learn.
I came to realize that taking notes would be particularly important in understanding my garden and learning how to make it better. I could track which fruits and vegetables grow well in our garden, where they grow well, and what doesn’t grow so well. I also could track where I grew things in prior years so that I could rotate crops and help keep the soil healthy.
Last summer, I grabbed a notebook we had on hand and set to work on more active and intentional learning. I drew the layout of our garden and where I planted each of the crops. I created a few new raised beds, added a peach tree, and tried growing things we didn’t grow previously.
This summer, I took some handwritten notes and drew another layout of our garden. I also created an Excel spreadsheet with each of the seeds we planted to track which containers held which seeds, when they were planted, transplanted to the garden, and how long each step took.
Using this spreadsheet, I tried to be thoughtful about when food would be ready for harvesting and space out when items would be ready to eat. I didn’t want to have an entire garden of food all ripe at the same time. We’ll see how well I executed on my intention in the coming weeks and months.
Taking Notes Is A Great Way To Learn From The Garden
Taking notes and being a little bit more thoughtful about what I plant and how it grows has already taught me so much more. I can make adjustments along the way to make the most of our garden and hopefully understand how I can do even better each successive year.
If you’re gardening or growing your own food, consider keeping a small notebook or use my garden notes worksheets (which you can download below) to jot down observations over time. Include information like:
- Name of the plant, including details about the specific type (e.g Black Beauty Eggplant instead of just Eggplant).
- Date you planted the seed.
- Date you transplanted to the garden.
- Observations about whether it survived.
- What conditions or weather occurred as it thrived or died?
- How was the soil in which it grew?
- How much water did it seem to need (a lot or not much)?
- Did animals or pests damage it?
- Did it do better if you added fertilizer or compost to the soil?
There are lots of observations, beyond what I listed above, to consider that could help you better understand what makes the plants grow well and how to make the garden better each season. Despite the best of intentions, most of us won’t remember everything a year later.
The garden drawing also helps ensure you can rotate crops in subsequent years. Different plants need different nutrients from the soil and each replenish the soil in different ways, so moving plants to new locations each year typically makes for healthier plants and healthier soil.
If you want to borrow my cheat sheet for taking notes in your garden, pop in your email and you can download the printable worksheet. Print (or use as a PDF) as many copies as you need to track each of your plant babies!
I’d love to hear how you improve your gardening each year. Do you just read books? Do you listen to podcasts? Do you take notes and learn from your own experience? Share your ideas in the comments so we can all continue to grow more of our own food and decolonize our food supply.