Life is Just a Bowl of ....... Spreadsheets!

By Jim Janke | Dec 27, 2012

You’ve heard it here before: keeping good garden records increases your chances for success. It doesn’t matter if you use a spiral-bound notebook, 3x5 cards, notes on a garden diagram, or a computer file, as long as the information is easily retrievable. You’ll be rewarded for your record-keeping efforts with a better garden.

I use computer spreadsheets to help manage every aspect of my garden. These tables save me time and money, and remind me to do routine tasks. Here are some examples of garden information I keep in spreadsheets.

A complete list of shrubs, trees, and perennials. This table includes each plant’s common and Latin names, flowering time, ultimate size, planting date, and other notes.

A list of garden projects. Things I want to do but might forget if I didn’t write them down somewhere.

Garden maintenance and fertilizing calendars. Different plants have different requirements for pruning, spraying, and fertilizing, and these calendars help me keep everything straight. The maintenance calendar also has reminders for seasonal tasks. The fertilizing calendar includes the type and quantity of plant food needed for each application.

Seed price comparisons. You’d be surprised at the difference in prices for the exact same seed from different companies. For example, Wave® Petunia seeds can cost as much as 50 cents each or as little as 30 cents each at the seed companies I normally use, and when you need 100 seeds or more, the difference can add up. Shipping and handling costs also factor into where to buy, and looking at a table of comparisons makes decisions easy.

Crop rotation schedules. Make a diagram of your garden, and number the beds. Recording what crop was in each bed each year makes crop rotation easy.

General notes on each year’s plantings. Things I want to do differently in the future.

Soil test results. This spreadsheet calculates how much lime and fertilizer I need to buy, and helps plan where I’m going to take soil samples the following year.

Mulch and soil amendments. When did I add compost to each veggie bed? How much mulch it took to cover a particular slope?

Conversion factors. How to make up a quart of insecticidal soap or fungicide from concentrate. The quantity of sulfur required to lower the pH by one number. Combining 10-10-10 and 0-45-0 fertilizers to make 8-17-8. How many tablespoons in an ounce.

Rainfall records. Knowing the precipitation your garden gets daily is extremely important for keeping your plants healthy.

Successive plantings. I plant lettuce and beans in small quantities every so often to get a continuous harvest. In one table I can see the number of seeds I planted, germination rates, and when the crop started and ended. With this information I can adjust planting dates and quantities if there was a gap in any particular crop.

(My 30+ years of other seed starting records are kept in a relational database that allows me to access historical data by plant type, print a seed starting calendar for the current year, and generate custom reports.)

Consider using spreadsheets to store your garden information. If you are a spreadsheet novice, Haywood Community College has an introductory course.

For a Halloween party a few years ago my costume was a sheet with a hole in the center for my head. If I kept my arms by my side I was a bed sheet. If I extended my arms out sideways I was a “spread sheet.” How exquisitely appropriate.

Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 828-456-3575. © 2013 NC State University.