Gardening season is finally upon us! If you’re like most gardeners, you are looking forward to planting seeds with the full expectation of making this the best gardening year yet.
While much of gardening comes down to experience, diligence, and creativity, having the right tools makes a big difference. One handy tool is the garden journal.
Advantages of Keeping a Garden Journal
- Permanent record. While you can keep gardening notes on loose sheets of paper or sticky notes, the chances of you finding and referring to these notes in the future are slim to none. When your notes are in one place, whether that is a binder or a real journal, you have access to valuable information.
- Memory aid. Really, are you going to remember what’s going on in your garden from one year to the next? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably not. Write down important information. It will save you a few headaches.
- Simplicity. Writing in a garden journal gives you an opportunity to condense your thoughts and observations into key information that you can use.
- Learning tool. By noting our successes and mistakes, we have a road map to use in future years. This helps us build expertise quickly, since we are not wasting time repeating mistakes.
- Sharpen observation skills. Part of becoming a green thumb is observation. If you have a journal that invites you to note your observations, you might just find yourself looking for new ways to fill the pages. Your powers of observation improve, and so does your understanding of your unique garden.
- Proof of progress. You really are developing a green thumb, and your garden journal contains proof. A review of past journals can keep you motivated and spark ideas for overcoming current challenges.
- Gardening memories. If you have gardened long enough, you have undoubtedly made some great memories. A glance through an old journal can bring recollections back as though the events happened yesterday.
What to Write in a Garden Journal
- Garden plans. Did you know that a garden journal can double as a planning tool? You can use your journal to keep track of seed lists, garden maps, and planting dates. This is an especially good use of a journal, since it keeps all of your gardening information in one place.
- Frost dates. While you can find average first and last frost dates for your area easily enough, you will have much better results if you track the frost dates in your own garden. After several years, calculate the average. Does your garden tend to be warmer or cooler than the surrounding area? It makes a difference!
- Signs of the seasons. Let nature be your guide. Every spring comes a little earlier or later than the last one. With practice, you can learn to plant in sync with the seasons. A journal can help you keep track of signs to look for.
- Crop rotations. Don’t let diseases or nutrient deficiencies build up in your soil! Hang onto your map and planting records. Having access to last year’s information is a big help. Having access to the last three years’ information is even better.
- To-dos. Keep track of gardening chores and how often they need to be done. While you’re writing down what you observed today, jot notes on what you need to do tomorrow or in a week. Staying organized is suddenly quite easy!
- Experiments and their results. Are you trying something new this year? Write it down, and be sure to note the results as they arise. Not only does the process of writing cement information in our heads, but even if we do forget we have a permanent record to refer to.
- Notes on favorite plants. Need to remember when to cultivate the asparagus bed? How to prune the blackberries? Where to plant nasturtiums to take advantage of their pest-repelling properties? Keep pages in your journal specifically for notes on plants that you grow every year. Now you don’t just have a journal—you have a personalized reference book!
- Favorite varieties. Likewise, keep track of your favorite plant varieties. Note which tomatoes were the easiest to grow and which lettuce tasted the best. When it’s time to buy seeds again, you’ll already know what kinds to get.
- Pests and diseases. Every gardener (particularly every organic gardener) has a list of “bad guys” that they count on battling every year. Improve your warfare strategy by recording the habits and preferences of the bug or fungus in question, then list ways to deter or destroy it.
A Final Tip
The most important thing to remember about keeping a garden journal is that it should be simple. If wrestling with a bulky binder feels complicated to you, you may very well give up on your journal before the season ends. If writing a detailed essay on your garden every day feels complicated to you, you probably will avoid the task like the plague.
Find a journal that invites you to jot down your thoughts. Then write down only what you are interested in remembering.
The Family Garden Journal
Our 466-page journal offers room for both planning and observing, featuring a shopping list, a planting schedule, a garden map, a maintenance page, a daily journal, and pages for notes on plants, pests, and diseases. Preview sample pages and more information here.
Just getting started?
Whether you are still in the early planning stage or are trying to overcome your first obstacle, one of the best things you can do is to read extensively. Many others have walked the path before you. Why not smooth your own learning curve and take advantage of their experience?
While there are many excellent books we could recommend (just check out our bookshelf), we have picked out 10 must-reads to get you going.
Need to identify a plant in your pasture? Start here. Although a little technical, it is well organized and supplied with a glossary and illustrations for ease of use. The plant descriptions include useful notes on suitability for livestock where applicable. (Not from Kansas? Search Amazon for a guide tailored to your state or region.) Read our full review.
To solve problems with insect pests, you must first be able to identify the culprit. This guide offers descriptions of 850 species, liberally illustrated with color photos. Bonus: It includes a section on beekeeping! (Not from Kansas? Search Amazon for a guide tailored to your state or region.) Read our full review.
How to start a farm business in 10 steps. This is a concise introduction to the questions you will have to answer as you get started. Learn how to write a business plan, find funding, choose venues, price products, meet legal requirements, market effectively, and more. Helpful resources are provided each step of the way. Read our full review.
Need equipment for your farm? See if you can build what you need before you buy something. This book offers ideas for projects useful around the farm, the garden, and the house alike. Whether you need a fence, a compost bin, a simple animal shelter, or just an easy way to bale hay on a small scale, you’ll find plenty of inspiration here. Read our full review.
Great starting point for animal health research. Covers the basic care of cattle, horses, goats, sheep, swine, poultry, rabbits, dogs, and cats. Each chapter begins with the basics of animal housing and feeding specific to the species in question, and then moves to a discussion of the symptoms and treatment of the most common health problems. Advice on home vet care basics, such as first aid and administering medication, is also provided. Read our full review.
Is a garden or orchard part of your plan? Make sure you have this encyclopedia on your shelf. If you have a question, whether about the needs of a specific plant or about implementing a sustainable gardening practice, you will find a concise answer here. No wonder this book has stood the test of time! Read our full review.
4. Stocking Up
Whatever type of food you need to preserve, it is almost certain that you will find directions in one of the editions of this classic. The original edition offers good old down-home cooking, while the third edition was made for the health-conscious crowd. Both include substantial information on making the most of your harvest, whether it be fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, or meat. Read our full review.
If you intend to grow field crops in Kansas, this one is not optional. (Good news—it’s free!) Multiple charts tell you when to plant and at what rate. (Not from Kansas? Check your local extension service to see if they offer a similar resource.)
This one is a must! Even if farming is your hobby, you can still benefit from the valuable planning tools provided in this book. In five straightforward steps, learn how to write a business plan that you will actually use. Identify your values, recognize your current position, develop your vision, examine your options, and choose your path. Worksheets and examples help you through the process. Highly recommended—and it’s free! Read our full review.
1. You Can Farm
Need inspiration or ideas? Give this one a try. Joel Salatin shares valuable tips for successful and profitable farming, drawing from his experience along the way. Learn how to choose enterprises that will work for you, then develop your farming philosophy and dive into direct marketing. You don’t need a large land base or a well-filled wallet to get started. Salatin demonstrates that it is your mindset that makes the difference. A must for all beginning farmers! Read our full review.
Pierce’s disease (PD) is a bacterial disease of grapes named for Newton Pierce, who described the disease in 1892. The bacterium species is Xylella fastidiosa.
A grape plant is infected when insects, particularly sharpshooter leafhoppers, carrying bacteria bite the plant. Bacteria then take up residence in the vascular tissue of the grape and reproduce, forming large colonies that block the transport of water and nutrients. Symptoms typically first appear in hot, dry weather.
- Scorched leaf margins.
- Leaf drop, leaving stalk behind for a characteristic “matchstick” appearance.
- Patches of immature bark on stems.
- Dieback of cordons, the “arms” of the vine.
- Shriveled grapes.
There is no effective treatment for Pierce’s disease. The outcome depends on the variety. Grape varieties fall into three categories:
- Susceptible: Varieties that will eventually die if infected with Pierce’s disease.
- Tolerant: Varieties that may recover if the winter is cold enough to kill the bacteria.
- Resistant: Varieties that will recover, but may still spread the bacteria to other vines.
Susceptible varieties showing symptoms of Pierce’s disease should be destroyed. Tolerant varieties should also be destroyed if the symptoms appear two years in a row.
Purchasing varieties that resist or tolerate Pierce’s disease is a critical first step. Muscadine grapes naturally resist Pierce’s disease. Other PD-resistant varieties have been developed within the last few years, but they are still in the experimental stages and not yet readily available. Home growers, therefore, still have to rely on tolerant varieties.
Further control of Pierce’s disease consists of eliminating sharpshooter leafhoppers. Besides using pest control methods as necessary, keep the vineyard mowed. Also, locate your vineyard away from woods where the bacteria might be lurking.
Fire blight, found across North America, is a disease to be reckoned with. Caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora, this blight affects:
- Cane fruits.
The disease is most likely to appear after a mild winter and during a wet spring. Insects transport fire blight bacteria from plant to plant when the hosts are flowering.
- Brown leaves with a singed appearance.
- Dead leaves clinging to tree instead of falling.
- Shoots curled downward, similar to a shepherd’s crook (see photo below).
- Amber droplets on shoots.
- Sudden shoot death.
- Wet, oozing bark.
- Fruit death.
- Rapid plant death.
Unfortunately, there is no effective cure for fire blight once it strikes. The best option is to cut down and burn the affected tree, bush, or canes to avoid the spread of the disease.
If you want to make an attempt to save a valuable fruit tree, you will have to prune heavily, but cautiously. Choose a dry day to work so that bacteria spread is minimized. Cut off blighted twigs and branches at least 12 inches below the sites of decay. Collect the infected wood in a plastic bag to be burned when you are finished. Sterilize your pruning tools between each cut with a strong bleach solution.
Because pears are extremely susceptible to fire blight, growing pears on a large scale is not advised in Kansas. While you may be able to grow a few pear trees, doing so will make growing apples very difficult because of the increased disease risk. If apples are your priority, destroy all pear trees in the vicinity.
To further prevent fire blight in your orchard:
- Select plant varieties resistant to the disease.
- Avoid weakening the tree through excessive pruning.
- Spray trees and canes with copper or white vinegar in the spring.
- Keep insects in check.
- Avoid the use of high-nitrogen fertilizer, which encourages the rapid growth of soft, disease-prone tissue.
Young people continue to enter agriculture, according to the last USDA census.
Most young farmers have limited capital to work with, and they frequently find outside financing difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. With land prices remaining high, they typically buy small properties when they first start out and purchase additional land as they save money. This paradigm leads naturally to the rise of intensive farming methods and profitable agripreneurship.
Many millennials find the standard commute-work-commute routine to be unfulfilling and unappealing. They are actively seeking meaningful opportunities to make their living, work that will enrich them more than just monetarily. Not surprisingly, these young farmers are also bucking the commodity system. Their goal is not just to get by financially—their goal is to make a difference. These agripreneurs are raising value-added food that they can believe in. They seek quality every step of the way, even if they do not obtain USDA organic certification. Most agripreneurs meet customer needs through direct marketing, and they actively take part in building their communities.
One common characteristic of agripreneurial businesses is a reliance on streams of income. Instead of focusing on a small handful of commodities, agripreneurs frequently raise a wide variety of plants and animals on the same farm, often including specialty crops such as vegetables and exotic livestock such as llamas. Furthermore, they often incorporate other types of businesses into their operation, dipping into agritourism or supplementing their farm income with book sales, for instance. Some agripreneurs, particularly women, augment their income with an off-farm day job. Surveys suggest, however, that most prefer to avoid taking government subsidies whenever possible.
Environmental issues have dogged agriculture ever since the advent of industrialization. Some issues have attracted the attention of the average American, not just the environmentalist watchdog.
In response to public demand, many commercial pork producers predict that more attention will be given to animal welfare over the next few years. Scientists will continue to improve the humane livestock handling facilities that they have developed so far. Steps will be taken to eliminate the buildup of odor-producing wastes. Livestock may even be slaughtered on-site to avoid the welfare issues associated with trucking live animals to distant packing plants.
In the field, integrated pest management (IPM) already has a steady following among producers of all stripes. However, its focus continues to shift with time. Growers of field crops are using IPM to reduce their pesticide inputs, resorting to chemicals only when crop damage approaches the economic injury level. More producers may start using IPM in the near future to tackle chemical-resistant pests.
Even in conventional circles there is excitement over the potential of naturally derived biologics. For example, natural bacteria can be used to protect roots from nematodes. Major chemical companies are expected to continue developing their lines of biological products for battling a host of pests, weeds, and diseases.
Meanwhile, water usage for irrigated crops continues to increase. Researchers are scrambling to find solutions that will protect the long-term viability of critical aquifers such as the Ogallala Aquifer in the Kansas High Plains. New highly efficient irrigation systems are already in the field. However, it remains to be seen if improved irrigation systems can counteract the increase in water usage due to an expansion of irrigated acres.
The last USDA census also shows that more farms are producing their own renewable energy. In fact, on-farm renewable energy production more than doubled between 2007 and 2012.
Cucumber mosaic virus does not affect only cucumbers. It also targets:
The disease is primarily spread by aphids, but it can also be spread by cucumber beetles and on gardening tools. The virus overwinters in perennial weeds.
- Stunted, unusually bushy plants.
- Thin, rough, curled leaves with mottled coloring.
- Reduced yields.
- Small, bumpy, misshapen fruits.
There is no cure for cucumber mosaic virus. Diseased plants should be destroyed immediately. Nearby weeds should be pulled and destroyed, as well.
If cucumber mosaic virus is a recurring problem in your garden, switch to disease-resistant varieties. Also try to avoid planting host species in close proximity; separate the cucumbers and the tomatoes, for instance, with another vegetable that is not susceptible to the virus, such as corn.
To break the life cycle of cucumber mosaic virus, destroy any weeds that it might hide in, particularly catnip, milkweed, and ground cherry. Also control aphids, cucumber beetles, and other potential insect vectors.
Summer can be very busy, but don’t forget to learn and brainstorm. Spend some time enjoying nature, researching animals, and growing healthy plants.
- Brush up on your birdwatching vocabulary.
- Discover how wood type affects the sound of your guitar.
- Explore the 11 physiographic regions of Kansas.
- Learn about rare and popular breeds of livestock.
- Consider growing beans as a field crop in Kansas.
- Find out why healthy plants are bug-resistant.
- Decide if a raw diet is right for your pet.
- Weigh the pros and cons of soaker hoses.
- Identify Kansas wildflowers and grasses.
- Live the cross-centered life.
As its name suggests, bacterial wilt is a bacterial disease affecting cucurbits, such as:
Watermelons are rarely affected by bacterial wilt.
Note that bacterial wilt of cucurbits is different than the various bacteria-caused wilt diseases of corn. These corn diseases are caused by different organisms and spread by different insect pests.
Bacterial wilt of cucurbits typically cannot survive or spread without the assistance of cucumber beetles. Erwinia tracheiphila bacteria spend the winter in the digestive systems of the beetles and are then transferred from plant to plant as the insects feed during the growing season. The bacteria take up residence in the xylem, or water transport tissue of the plant, and block up the flow of moisture. Once a plant begins to succumb to bacterial wilt, it attracts more cucumber beetles. The cucumber beetles then ingest more bacteria, and the cycle continues.
- Rapid wilting.
- Sudden drying out.
- Pale, streaked leaves.
- Excessive branching.
- Whitish strings of bacterial slime oozing from stems when cut.
- Excessive flowering.
There is no cure for bacterial wilt. Remove and destroy affected plants immediately.
If bacterial wilt is a problem in your garden, choose resistant varieties when possible. Unfortunately, no muskmelon varieties have been shown to resist bacterial wilt.
Because the bacteria involved are dependent on cucumber beetles for survival, any measures taken to control the beetles will greatly reduce the risk of the disease:
- Till plant debris under in the fall to destroy insect shelter.
- Rotate garden crops.
- Deter cucumber beetles with floating row covers.
- Kill cucumber beetles using handpicking, sticky traps, natural predators, or natural or chemical insecticides.
If you use diatomaceous earth (DE) to beat your garden pests, you will probably appreciate the Dustin-Mizer.
This is a hand-powered device that will help you apply a fine dusting of DE to your plants.
Operation is simple:
- Assemble the Dustin-Mizer.
- Fill the bin with up to one pound of DE.
- Point the nozzle toward a plant.
- Crank the handle to apply DE.
Not much to it, but the Dustin-Mizer sure is handy if you use DE.