Harvesting More than Veggies

Written by Olivia Sanders, Dig In! Assistant Manager 

When you imagine a gardener’s work, you probably don’t think of clipboards or databases. Recordkeeping will probably slip to the bottom of your priorities list if you’re gardening for the same reasons I am — to be outside, work with your hands, or be physically active. However, taking notes can be extremely rewarding as you track the progress of your plants. Think of it as another type of cultivation in the garden: sowing seeds of observation allows you to “harvest” new farming knowledge.

Dig In! exists as an educational model for sustainable farming systems, and keeping records is one of those systems. We invite you to see our process and its outcomes for 2016, and we welcome your feedback and commentary. Attached to this post are three documents that describe our observations from this year and offer insights for future improvements:

Garden Journal The Garden Journal is a breakdown of our knowledge “harvests” in the categories of insect management, cover crops and mulches, irrigation, and weeding. 
Crop Overview The Crop Overview shows how long it took each crop to grow, including dates they were planted and harvested. 
Harvest Tracker The Harvest Tracker (the most valued of all databases at Dig In!) tracks the total weight of the vegetables we produced. (skip to the bottom)

If you can’t read those documents, some highlights of our knowledge “harvests” include:

  • Onions can reduce pest pressure from cabbage moths
  • Potato beetles caused the spread of disease in our potato crop
  • It took our bulbing onions about four months to mature
  • We produced a total of 6,500 pounds of food this year!

These documents all started with simple note-taking on the farm. We wrote down all the tasks we did each day and basic observations about weather, plant growth, and insect pressure. These little bits of information seemed frivolous to write down at the time (trust me), but when we sat down in the winter to consolidate the data, patterns began to emerge. The data began to show us the full picture of the farm, and helped us connect problems with their causes. All these notes will help us become better gardeners next year, and they were pretty easy to create!

Recordkeeping practices can help home gardeners as well. If you want cabbage and carrots for coleslaw in time for your big Fourth of July cookout, you can look at last year’s notes to see how long it took those things to mature. Or if the squash bugs got to your summer squash (like us this year), you could try planting them a week earlier than you did before. However you want to use your records, I suggest just diving in to explore what they can show you. Every garden has a story to tell if we listen!

And what did the Dig In! Garden’s story say this year? Together we can produce healthy food for all! Last year, Dig In! Yancey Community Garden produced over 6,500 pounds of food for our neighbors. And as always, a very sincere thank you to all of our dedicated volunteers, donors, and community partners who make our work possible. We are looking forward to another abundant year of growth with you in 2017!

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