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A garden journal will help your harvest

I like the idea of writing with a pen or pencil. I actually lament that cursive isn’t as prevalent in the elementary school curriculum as it was when I was a kid.

For those of you in my age bracket (I am on the cusp of Gen Xer and baby boomer), you may remember the Big Chief writing tablets with the dashed lines to help you understand height requirements of your letters. Unfortunately, they didn’t help me make a capital Q or Z or that a lowercase m has three humps and a lowercase n has two.

That said, after all those years of training, I have relatively illegible penmanship, and the only thing I write in cursive is my signature, which is just a random assortment of crossed letters and loops.

Thus, I type, and spell-check (hopefully) makes sure I don’t misspell too many words.

In a couple weeks, my Master Gardener students will learn about the importance of writing, or even typing, when it comes to how things are growing. I highly recommend that they use a steno pad, pocket-sized spiral notebook, desk calendar or even a phone or tablet. Observe. Write stuff down, even if it doesn’t seem important. I can tell you firsthand that even though you think your memory is still sharp as a tack, it’s not. I bet many of you don’t remember what you did last week, much less last growing season.

If we take the example of the vegetable garden, I would want you to take note of:

Weather: When was the last frost of the spring (or summer) and the first frost of the fall? What are the minimum air and soil temperatures (don’t forget, seeds will only germinate when the soil reaches a certain minimum temperature and that lots of things die when the temperatures reach 32 degrees). Which direction is the prevailing wind, and what parts of the garden stay cooler because of shading or get blazing hot in late afternoon? Every spring, I get bombarded with, “When is the last frost?” To which I reply, “Where do you live?” My last frost can be, and is, very different than a friend who is less than half a mile away. If you live on the west side of the north Animas Valley, your frost can very well be different than those on the east side. Microclimates exist all over this area, and it’s best to learn from your specific environment.

Seeds and starts: What varieties did you buy, and where did you get them? Did you like them? When did you transplant those tomatoes and peppers, and when did you direct-seed the lettuce and carrots? How was the harvest? If you preserved the harvest, how well did they hold in the basement/freezer/root cellar? Pests: It is not uncommon for pests, like insects and fungi, to return to your garden about the same time every year. So instead of cursing them, prepare for them. For example, if you see that flea beetles are ravaging your arugula greens around the end of May, then start covering your plants with floating row covers or frost cloth a week or so earlier. Be a plant nerd and be proud of it. But don’t write in cursive because you will never be able to read your own handwriting.

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.

Darrin Parmenter