The Garden Notebook (In the Garden 2018 Episode 2)

In In the Garden by WDEV Radio

Original Air Date: May 5, 2018

The Garden Notebook is Important as a Rake and a Hoe

One of the most important tools for a gardener is a garden notebook. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound like much of a ‘tool’ but it is as much a necessity as a rake and a hoe.  Since we are now eyeballing the garden plot it is time to plan.  For you experienced gardeners you probably have a good idea what you are going to plant, still, keeping track of what was planted where is important information when you rotate your crops.

What’s Inside?

In my garden notebook I have a section for each of these: The Garden Plan, and Garden Map, a List of Seeds and Notes for Next Year.  I keep Past Years Plans and Maps, also it is helpful to record Harvest Stats, and I like to keep a Picture Scrap Book.  Helpful but not necessary is a Planting Log, Bed Journal of individual beds, an Inventory of Seeds, and it might be helpful to keep records of Temperature Highs and Lows for your location.

The Garden Plan and the Garden Map are two different things.  The Plan is what you want to grow.  How many Broccoli plants, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes do you think you need?  How many Brussel Sprouts or Green beans do you want to plant.  But the if nothing else the Garden Plan and the Garden Map will help plan your garden.

How to Start

To begin with, to decide what you want to plant in your garden I suggest that rather than starting with the beautiful seed catalogs that flood your mailbox in January, start with your grocery list.  What do you and your family use every week, what do you buy, then from the grocery list, make a garden list.  Decide what you can grow from that list.  Obviously, you can skip the oranges out of hand!  But salad greens, veggies, root vegetables, tomatoes and cucumbers, peas, green beans are all easy to grow and if your family likes them start with those things.  If no one like kale in your family, don’t grow it, that is unless you are attempting to add more leafy greens to your family diet then experiment by all means, try new things. 

Once you have your list then try to come up with a realistic quantity.  I talk to a new gardener recently who told me he was planting 100 tomato plants, I just about chocked, even I don’t plant that much! Start small and add because it is very easy to start starry eyed and get overwhelmed with large quantities and get discouraged. So, plan your garden like you plan your trip to the store with a simple list of what you need for seeds and plants. 

Drawing a Garden Plan

Once you have your list of seeds and plants, from your grocery list, now you are ready to draw out a simple garden plan.  If you are a beginner it is hard to know how much of each vegetable to plant.  Sometimes you have to work backwards or in a sense from both ends of the puzzle at once.  How much room do you have for a garden and how many permanent beds do you plan to put in, those decisions will help to determine how much you CAN grow.  Draw a simple map of the garden, I use graph paper, but notebook paper works just fine.  Sketch out your map.  Lets say you decide to start with 6 4×4 beds.  Sketch the bed and the start to place the veggies so you will quickly see how much you can plant.

Mapping Your Beds

I have approximately 50 4 foot by 4 foot garden beds.  It is a big garden and I have a pretty good idea what I want from it.  I like to store carrots so I plant 2 4×4 beds for fall harvest, I mark that on my garden map.  Broccoli and it is a cut-and-come-again crop so it lasts until mid-November and it’s delicious, I plant 24 plants after I check to see where I planted the last year and the year before so I rotate that crop.  I plant 6 trellis’ with cherry tomatos, six per trellis and mark those on the map. I plant 4 4×4 squares of garlic in the fall so I have already filled in that planting on the garden map. 

Also in the Fall I plant several 4×4 beds of spinach for the next Spring, again that goes on the garden map. We love to cook with leeks so I plant 96 leek sets in 24 squares.  Again, I mark it on the map.  I love to make Pesto so I plant 16 basil plants under a plastic hoop house, I mark this on the map. So you get the idea. Checking my maps for the last three years I rotate my crops and that is especially important for the Cole family crops like Broccoli, Kale, etc. The plan and garden map are essential tool for the garden.  Give it a try this season.

Listener Questions

Parsnip Troubles

Q: Parsnips are stunted and have multiple large roots, not a single as usual.  He did have trouble with germination and had to replant.  He had good soil, used sifted compost and the beds were dug deep.

A: Stunted, twisted, knotted or forked roots have three possible causes.  Over fertilization, improper soil preparation and Knot Root Nematodes.  Raw manure can have too much Nitrogen for the root crop, or too much high nitrogen fertilizer will do the same.  Soil preparation ensures fine soil structure, if there is big lumps of clay in encourages the roots to divide.  Lastly, and this look like the problem, is Root Knot Nematode.  The only solution for nematode is strict crop rotation.  Also some Green Manure added into the rotation helps with nematodes.

Fiddleheads that are ready to harvest.

Fiddlehead Harvest

Q: Matt in Northfield ask when the fiddleheads were ready to harvest.

A: When you see the Rhubarb start to show their red crowns it is time to start looking. Joel brought in some fiddleheads from his cultivated patch he originally planted as a way to tell when the wild fiddleheads were ready.  It turned into a very large patch.  Also I mentioned that in some of the cooler spots the fiddleheads come in later than in warmer bottom land near the rivers.

More on Perfect Soil

Q: Norm in Bristol wanted to know more about the Perfect Soil mix I mentioned last week and if the beds had to be one foot deep. 

A: The bed for most plants only needs to be 6” deep.   I use spruce boards 2” x 6” x 8’-0” long to make my beds.  Deeper beds are for specific crops like large storage carrots and Daikon Radishes.  The Perfect Soil Mix is 1/ 3 Peat Moss, 1/ 3 Vermiculte and 1/ 3 Compost.  To fill a 6” deep bed requires abut 3-5 Gallon buckets of each.  To this I add 1 cup each of Lime, Sea Kelp Meal, Organic Fertilizer, Rock Powder or Azomite. 

Soil Ph

Q: Joe in Sudbury was curious what the Ph of the Perfect Soil was, if it as Acidic or Alkaline.

A: It tends to be on the Acidic side, that why I like to add the lime when the bed first made and once a year after that.  This does not preclude using soil test kit to double check your soil.

Pets and Lawns

Q: Al in Williamstown wanted to know what to do about the brown spots in his lawn from his dog going there all winter. 

A: The dog’s urine is very acidic and kills the grass.  The simplest treatment is to use a hand rake to mix in some compost into the brown spots add a sprinkling of lime, then replant the with grass seed.

Soil Amendments

Q: Norm in Bristol called back asking what the list of soil amendments was, he couldn’t read his writing on one of them.

A: For a 4’x 4’ bed add 1 cup each of: Powdered Lime, a balanced mix of Organic Fertilizer, Sea Kelp Meal, Rock Dust or AZOMITE Powder. Once when you are making the bed and then at least one a year.  Add this to the Perfect Soil Mix in the raised beds.


Q: Bob in Waterbury Center wanted to know how to fertilizer to use for Rhubarb.

A: Rhubarb is a heavy feeder.  If you have a source of manure it is an excellent fertilizer but I have found there are unwanted travelers in manure like a lot of weed seeds so I no longer use it. I recommend an organic fertilizer with a balanced NPK like Pro Gro 5:3:4 at least in the Spring but even better  if you fertilize two more times during the season.  And don’t forget to water even after you stop harvesting, that is make a good hardy root stock for next years harvest.

Nitrogen from Hair

Q: Merv in Marshfield explained that he was a barber and used the left over hair in his garden but found that his Nitrogen was too high, what can be done about that.

A: It seems impossible but it is a problem to have too much Nitrogen in your garden.  If you have this problem the easiest solution is to plant heavy feeders like Squash, Corn, and Cabbage. But it is possible to use an excess of Nitrogen by mulching your soil with bark or wood chips. One indicator of too much Nitrogen is your tomato plants are healthy but don’t set fruit.


Q: Brenda in Huntington wanted to say how great it is to plant Arugula this time of year because it is so fast growing and delicious. 

A: I could not agree more.  It is often an ingredient of Mesclun Mixes because it add so much flavor to a salad a compliment to any lettuce salads.

Next week we will talk a little more about the garden plan and the explore the ideas behind succession planting.   

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