October 3, 1997

If you live in a part of the northern hemisphere where the seasons are well-defined, right now you are probably tempted to be resting on your gardening laurels. After all, the days are getting shorter, and if you haven't had a frost yet, you will soon. Your late corn and beans are tapering off; besides, with all the canning and freezing, who has time to spend on the garden? Problems like weeds seem less pressing. It is true some of the perennial varieties are storing reserves below-ground, waiting for spring; but certainly their damage seems remote right now, and they've pretty much stored all the energy they will at this point. Also, their annual cousins don't really have time to set viable seed from here on out, so they are less of a concern. If you live somewhere milder, like the Pacific Northwest, you might have a winter garden coming along; but the bulk of your planting ended some time ago, and you're just counting the days until the harvest.

Each of us anticipates the gardener's mid-winter ritual: Curling up next to the fire, a steaming mug in one hand, and our seed catalogs in the other. This is usually when we take stock of what worked, and what didn't, and the new things we'd like to try! But it makes more sense to take stock now, while the triumphs and failures of this past season are fresh in your mind.

It is the rare vegetable variety that succeeds everywhere. The wise gardener always grows something new, in order to compare with what has worked in the past. Did Everest broccoli hold up during that heat wave? Which carrot sized up faster in the cool soil of spring, Artist or Kuroda? You'd decided to grow Brandywine tomato this time, after hearing the Rodale folks rave about it; was the taste as good as you expected? Think through this gardening season, and write your observations down now. When December and January roll around, you'll probably remember most of it; but some of the details will certainly have slipped away.

Now I'd like to suggest that you make an early New Year's resolution. Repeat after me: "From this day forward, I will diligently keep a garden journal. I will start now, with my memories of this season; and will record my gardening successes, failures, thoughts, and activities." This diary of your garden doesn't have to be fancy. I record mine using Word, but a simple text editor like Notepad or TeachText will do; or even (and I realize this is a radical concept) notebook paper in a binder works great. The big advantage to writing on your computer is the ease with which you can search the past records. Keep a separate file for each year. At a minimum, record the dates you plant and transplant; when your last (and first!) frost hit for the year, and when your harvests occurred. It can be very helpful to also note how good (or bad) the weather is in a particular month, since that will have a great effect on how certain crops do in that particular year. Be sure to list specific variety names! If you want to see how Trionfo pole bean has measured up to Blue Lake over the past three seasons, you'll need more information than just "Started harvesting green beans today. Plants are doing well."! Most important of all, record your failures. George Santayana was certainly a great philosopher; but I'm guessing he was also a gardener.

On to another topic: Now is the time to be ordering seed catalogs! Here are some of the companies whose catalogs I find worthwhile, in alphabetical order:

The Cook's Garden
Johnny's Selected Seeds
Park Seed Company
Stokes Seeds
Territorial Seed Company

Remember, when ordering seeds, that it is best to search for a company whose trial grounds (where they test grow the vegetables) are in as similar a climate to your own as possible. This is especially true for crops which are not well-adapted to your area (for example: melons for cool climates, or broccoli for warm climates).

You might also find it worthwhile to read my Seeds FAQ sometime before placing next year's seed orders. I will be discussing seeds in depth in a future article.


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This page was last updated November 18, 2013