Getting Organized: My Garden Calendar

Sharon February 10th, 2009

Those of who know me in real life will probably already have noted that organization isn’t my strong suit.  So how to keep up with all the garden tasks is a chronic problem of mine.  I get particularly muddled in late spring, when there are plants to be seeded outside, tender crops to be hardened off in cold frames, and long-growing fall garden plants like brussels sprouts to be seeded for transplant later…. Gack!  I have a garden record book, of course, but that meant digging it out every day to see what I’m supposed to be doing and to do that I have to find the garden record book… ;-) .

 And then I discovered the garden calendar.  What a miracle it was – I realize this is one of those “duh” things that probably most of you have figured out, but for me, it was such a revelation that I can’t resist sharing. 

What you want is a regular old monthly calendar.  You can buy a pretty one on sale in late January, when they go to 75% off, since at least in my climate, you probably won’t need it until then, or you can simply print a copy off the web.  The point being, however, unless you have a very small garden, you need a calendar entirely devoted to the garden.

Then, you sit down and write.  I start by counting back 12 weeks from my last frost date (you can find this out from your local extension).  That’s when I start my earliest plants indoors (actually, I usually start a few greens before that, but they are few enough to not worry about).  I then list off every variety of plant that gets started that early – in this case, onions, leeks, scallions, a few early greens (to be planted in the boxes on the sunporch), hollyhocks, two tomatoes (for early container tomatoes), and a pot of nasturtiums (for early flowers).  Next, we move forward to 11 weeks, when I start most of the perennial herbs and flowers that I want to produce the first year.  Then to 10 weeks…9…8… and so on until the very last things I start indoors – melons that get just a couple of week’s head start before the really warm weather kicks in here.  Since we’ve had snow in late May a couple of times, it is safer to keep them in until the second week of June.

And I don’t stop at my last frost date – because remember, I’m succession planting year round.  So I put down the date I start my fall spinach and other greens – it is hot enough that they do better started in the house, which is a bit cooler.  I want container tomatoes that produce through December, so those get started come May, along with some late chard and kale.  Generally fall crops in my climate need to get started in July or August – the sort of thing I definitely forget if I don’t write them down.  And then there are plants that do best from seed and overwintered – nuts and trees often do best planted from seed in a nursery bed and left out for the winter with some mulch.  Those get planted in October.

Now I go through all the plants I’m going to direct seed, from the very first onions and peas in April (for all you people planing them now, yeah, I’m jealous ;-) ), to the last crop of spinach direct seeded in early September to be overwintered.  I list an approximate date – but remind myself that if things dry up early in late March, I can put the peas in then.  This does require some knowledge of your place – you can start by using recommended dates from your local extension, and adapt them as you go. 

One way you develop this local knowledge is to keep track of the weather, and that’s something else we use this calendar for – we use it to jot down the first robins in January, the temperature fluctuations in March, rainfall, etc…  All that info eventually gets transferred into the garden record book, but I found that if I had to dig out the book, it often didn’t get written down at all, in the assumption that I’d just remember it.  Guess what – I didn’t.

Then I add other project information.  Ok, so I ordered some fruit trees – I have the habit of ordering trees online, and forgetting when I requested that they be sent.  And thus, the string of “oh, craps” when the box of fruit trees arrives to be planted just as we’re neck deep in some other project.  This way, when I flip to May, I can see that the apples are coming.

Pruning goes on the list.  Fruit trees in January and early February, the lilac bush after flowering.  So do animal projects – we put down the goat due dates, the days our chicks are expected to arrive and the day by which we need to have cleaned out the barn from winter.  Now this doesn’t always make me do these projects on time, but the site of the list of projects for May makes me realize that getting this done in March is going to make me a lot happier.

Do I ever ignore the calendar?  Sure, I do.  But the good thing about it is that if I don’t get the ageratums and sweet peas started on the week I listed, it is easy to draw an arrow down to the next week as a reminder.  I’ve also found that it saves me work on the other end – no need to write in the garden records “started broccoli” on a particular date – I can just flip back to the calendar and see when broccoli was on the list.  If there’s no arrow, I actually started broccoli – yay!

One additional trick I’ve learned is that after I’m done organizing the calendar, I make shoeboxes – now this might be overkill for those of you with small gardens, but for me, it is a great help.  Each box is labelled with a week (made ‘em a while back), and if you were a different kind of person than me, you might cover them with pretty cloth or paint – mine still look like shoe boxes.  But for each week, there is a box of seeds – thus, I don’t have to go hunting for the Hokkaido Blue Squash seeds when I’m ready to plant them out.  I divide the box into “direct seed” and “start indoors” sections for each week.  For someone with a smaller garden, one shoe box with a set of dividers for each week might be sufficient.

Now if this sounds like an enormous amount of work, the other good thing is that you only have to do it once.  You see, next year, you can take last year’s calendar, and with a few amendments (ie, you remember that you should have started the kale earlier and the container tomatoes later), you can just copy it all over to next year’s calendar.  I save them, too, because I enjoy seeing them and comparing notes from previous years.

For me personally, the “hanging on the wall in front of your nose” method of showing what has to be done and what has been done is the only one that works.  I offer it up to the similarly organizationally challenged!


4 Responses to “Getting Organized: My Garden Calendar”

  1. eden says:

    For those of us who don’t yet have gardens rivaling the magnificance of Sharon’s – whether through lack of ambition or due to 1/8 acre lots (BTW – do people honestly have ‘suburban’ lots of several acres? Here in the Philly area I’ve yet to see a suburban lot of more than 1/4 acre, except with houses that sell for more than $1 million post-bubble) – I posted a guide to garden planning on a local food blog that might be a better fit.

  2. Thanks for the organizational tips. These are actually quite helpful to me in planning this year’s garden. This is only my third year gardening and I have found that I really need help keeping track of what to plant when and even just recognizing when things are ready to harvest. Lots of flowering broccoli last year! Ooops.

  3. Alyse says:

    this sounds very much like what I did this year – I am a *very* newbie veggie gardener – but I have big dreams. I looked through all my seed packets and put all the info for starting dates on a Google Calendar. I started my first three or four things this weekend! (Ground Cherries, Thai Eggplant, dianthus and english daises)

  4. Janet B says:

    It looks like some of the issues you are encountering when you file could be solved by using software to keep track of your files. You can try The Paper Tiger Filing System to help you better keep track of your files. Give it a try! We are a BBB A-Rated business and are always looking for ways to help people file!

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