Starting out to grow food from seed to harvest can be a daunting task if it’s your first time. I am a firm believer that having a green thumb is not something that you are necessarily born with, like being a talented musician. Rather, it’s something that can build up over time with experience, observation, and enthusiastic interest. And having the correct information and knowing how to plan is one of the key cornerstones to success.
Especially as, let’s admit it, I doubt we’re all gifted with massive balconies or garden spaces. Space is a limiting factor when it comes to gardening and food growing. That’s why we created the Garden Journal! It supports you throughout the season to be confident growing your own food from seed to harvest! Here’s how we grow food from seed to harvest with the garden journal…
1) Prepare for the season: decide what to grow
Narrowing it down to a manageable combination of plants is one of the things that most gardeners will always fail at. But I really urge you to think about this sensibly.
In the beginning, it’s all fun and games ordering 25 varieties of seeds, and beginning to sow them. It all seems so under control as you prepare your first seed trays, and observe your little green babies bursting through the soil. But a few weeks down the line when it becomes a horizontal Tetris game of balancing growing babies and limited space. Things start to get a bit hair-raising and overwhelming. Suddenly all those babies are needing individual pots, and space and sunlight…
The Tips section helps you think about what you can feasibly grow, based on your garden’s conditions (e.g. temperatures, amount of sun, and space), how quickly you want to be harvesting what you’re growing, and what grows best next to what, among other things.
Because, every single garden and gardener is different. Say you have a growing space that is partially shaded for most of the growing season (it gets 4-6 hours of sun but not much more). The Light Requirements page lists 60+ veggies, fruits, and herbs that will thrive in partial shade.
Have very limited space? Flip to the Container Size Recommendations page to see all the plants that will do just fine in small pots.
Want to be harvesting in under three months? Flip to the Days to Maturity page to find the speed demons. You may even decide you want to focus on plants that you can continually harvest! There is even a page with tips for crop rotation in container gardening (hint: root vegetables are winners for being the least needy). All the necessary tips to decide what to grow are in one, easily readable and carefully thought out place.
The Companion Planting pages lay out in chart-form which plants make good companions and which do not. Simply find the veggie, fruit, or herb you are planning to grow and scan across the rows. If there is an X, it should not be grown too close to that plant. A check mark means they may do especially well together. If there is an X next to another plant you were hoping to grow, don’t necessarily ditch one! Just put a little distance between them, like they’re feuding siblings. Want to learn more about companion planting? Have a peak at our article Companion planting for tomatoes, potatoes, and brassicas or our Incompatible Vegetables Garden Poster.
The next point to consider is what shape or space your plants will occupy while they are growing. Is there space to, say, grow lettuce under your tomatoes once they have grown a bit? Or radishes under your peas? This inter-planting concept ensures you’re using not only the horizontal space but thinking vertically.
To start off, I would recommend writing a list of around 6-8 varieties of vegetables that you want to start out growing, alongside a few herbs and leafy salad greens, and perhaps some flowers. If you need a recommendation on some good easy plants to start with check out our other article 15 easy things to grow and why.
2) Layout your growing space
Having a semi-compact list of plants that you know work with your conditions and desires is such a huge step. With that in hand, the next step is quite fun. Grab yourself a cup of coffee or tea, a paper, and pencil and go and sketch out your growing space.
In the Design your growing space section, gridded pages with some lines for notes give you the space to dream up how your garden will look in the space you have. It may sound simple, but you can save some big headaches by drawing out what goes where.
Without this step, I have arranged everything, not liked how it looks, and had to drag really heavy pots around until it worked (it was a good workout!). Or, bigger problems could happen, like putting something more permanent somewhere where it doesn’t get enough sun. Drawing out the current space including sunny and shady spots, and then arranging everything to your liking is a game-changer. Also think about companion planting here; who should be placed next to who and who should be given a little distance?
Try and draw a good estimate that realistically represents the space. Enjoy drawing it: have fun and make it as beautiful and creative as you like. One recommendation that is helpful but entirely up to you: write down your space’s actual dimensions and then convert them for your drawing. For instance, 2 cm on paper represents 1 meter in your garden space. This might be a bit much for some, but others love this kind of cartography exercise.
3) When to grow: plan your sowing schedule
Once you know what you’re planting and where, the next thing to do is to start to plan out the dates of ideal sowing time and estimated time to harvest.
We can’t stress enough how helpful it is to visualize what the gardening year is going to look like. The Annual planting calendar asks you to write the plant names in the left column and the months of the year across the top. It then asks you to fill in lines for ideal sowing and harvesting dates for each plant.
Sowing times are especially important. Because if seeds are planted too late, they may not get the full amount of growing time or the initial temperatures that they need. Writing this out early, as soon as you know what plants you want to grow, ensures that your seed babies get in the ground at their optimal time. For harvesting, it is important to understand when you’ll be spending more time picking and cutting. But it is also important to compare it to the actual harvest date. Because once again, every garden is different, and noticing what may be growing differently in yours allows you to make adjustments.
By writing these key dates down, you’ll see that your late sprouting broccoli goes into your growing space (pot, bed or containers) a lot later than, say, your early spring salad. Or that you need to get your peas in as early as possible, but your harvest of them will be over way before the summer is out. Which means you can plan to get another crop in after your peas, therefore maximizing your space.
The Monthly Calendar then lets you plan out the season in more detail. Write down a watering or weeding schedule, dates that you will be away and need someone to babysit your plants, or even when to have friends over for a post-harvest dinner. Write it all down, and then adjust it throughout the season. More garden dinners… yes please!
4) Plant your seeds and help them grow
Sowing seeds while staying present
Now this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the start of the season!
The Plant Profiles section provides guided space to write down information about each plant you’re setting off to grow. This info can be combined from the Tips section, the seed packet, books, etc. The important part is that it’s all ending up in one space.
Say you’re setting out to plant with your seed packets. The packets show info for depth and space between plants… and it’s all going swell until you need to start another row. The info for spacing between rows isn’t on the packet, so out comes the phone or back inside you go. By using the journal, all of the necessary info has been filled in beforehand. So, instead of whipping out your phone when you have to start the next row, you can just look back at the journal. It’s all right there.
Track your green babies until harvest time
Seeds are planted, now what? This is usually where things can go wrong if you’re intending to grow food from seed to harvest. Going in blind to caring for your new plantings, with only the information on your seed packet, can be really tricky. The Garden Journal will take the guesswork out of gardening for you to have successful harvests.
Not only does Plant profiles give you prompts for sowing information, it allows you to record and track all sorts of information. Just like with the sowing information, there are guided spaces to write down how to care for each crop.
There is also a log space to record your activities throughout the growing season. This is so important! At the end of the season, it will be impossible to remember all of the details that are important to think about for the next growing season. Did weeds end up impacting a certain crop? Simply look at how often you weeded. And then think about how you can add in a little extra time the next season for that task.
If you don’t write it down, you may feel like you weeded all the time when in reality it’s just not your favorite task so it felt like it was a lot of time. Is a crop not doing well for reasons you’re unsure about? Recording all of your observations when you first start to notice signs will help your research tremendously. Pinpoint the date, how the plant looks, and anything else you notice (insects, fungus, soil moisture, etc.). Use this data to find some answers.
Often, we’ll do what we think is necessary at the moment to fix the problem, but it doesn’t get fixed, and by the end of the season we can’t remember exactly how the plant looked, the identity of that insect, or whether it was June or July when the first signs appeared.
5) Last but not least: Using the journal to connect
One of the exciting things about gardening is that there is a huge, excited, and knowledgeable gardening community all over the world. And they will be so happy to help troubleshoot problems. A lovely benefit of using this journal is that you’ll have all of the information at hand to help the community find solutions to your challenges. And we all know there are a lot when growing food from seed to harvest! By providing details about what conditions the plant had and what exactly you saw and when, answers will be found in a snap (and friends will be made).
On the other end of the spectrum, perhaps our favorite aspect of the journal is that it allows individual people to be present in the gardening process. It is so hard to immerse yourself fully in something these days, with the abounding distractions. But we have seen how letting ourselves be immersed in gardening. With just a journal and a willingness to make mistakes, it helps create calmness and peace of mind.
We have also seen that journaling helps to connect to those states. So we included a Notes section at the end of the journal to write about anything. It doesn’t have to be plant related, just whatever comes from being able to be present. This journal presents the chance to bring it and a pencil outside, and to let yourself be there. You and the plants. Learning to watch what’s happening, write it down, think, draw, wonder. Put your hands in the dirt, and feel the beauty of growing something yourself.