I’m kind of a nut when it comes to organization and planning, and it may border on overkill. Sometimes I think I may spend more time with this than I do in the garden. I do most of this organization work during the winter when I have the extra time on my hands. When garden time comes, all I need to do is minor updates & notes. My methods for organizing and planning are not specific to high-altitude gardening, but are extra helpful when planning a garden that only grows in a short season, or for making full use of limited space in the greenhouse year-round.
When I begin the process of seed selection for the year, I begin an Excel spreadsheet. Mine looks something like this. I start this process in January, and get seeds ordered in February, before the varieties I’ve chosen are no longer available (which has happened before).
I begin by deciding what types of plants I plan to grow, and make a list. The first 3 columns show whether I will grow them in the greenhouse, the cold frame or the outside garden. Then I begin looking at various websites and books that I have, to determine what varieties I might like. I add notes about whether they are organic, how many days to harvest, the vendor, price and miscellaneous notes about the varieties. I start with a BIG list, then begin to delete those I decide not to order. Eventually my list looks something like the one above, which I can sort by vendor, then go to that website and use this as my order list. The varieties with blank spaces indicate seeds I already have on hand.
After this, I have plenty of time to add information about all these seeds to my notebooks, and to look up information regarding when to plant the seeds, whether to start them indoors or in the garden, etc.
For this process, I use Microsoft One Note. I prefer the Microsoft Office desktop version, but it is also available as a free app, available for Windows or Apple operating systems, or online with any browser. I use this extensively for all my garden planning and note-taking.
These are the main sections (Tabs) I use:
- PLANNING: links to websites I refer to, companion planting information, seed companies, etc.
- BEDS: information about what treatments have been given to each bed in my garden
- GREENHOUSE: general planning information for the greenhouse
- HI-ALTITUDE: various information about high-altitude gardening, my weather and frost date information, best types of vegetables for high-altitude, etc.
- FUTURE: ideas to explore in the future
- NATURE: I keep logs of when I view various birds, squirrels, deer, elk, antelope, various wildflowers, etc.
- PESTS: pests I see, what I do about them, information about pest control
- SOIL & AMENDMENTS: information about fertilizers, soil amendments, etc.
PLANTS: This is a group section with sub-sections including: Alliums, Beans, Beets, Brassicas, Carrots….you get the idea.
- Each of these sections contain pages of what I’m planting, including all the varieties I’m planting, dates started, transplanted, harvested, days to harvest, notes about how they did, etc. I also include growing information here.
Here’s a look at my “Brassica” section (under the “PLANTS” group) as an example, showing the page of 2017 Greenhouse Brassicas:
This year I’ve made a separate One Note Notebook, I call “Guffey Veggies”. I used to keep all this information in one notebook, but it got too full of stuff and hard to organize. Now I’m using this “Guffey Veggies” notebook to keep notes on all the seeds I choose. Since I order most of my seeds online, it’s easy to copy and paste this information into the notebook for future reference. Those pages look something like this:
PLANNING & PLANTING
One more thing I did this year was to create a spreadsheet to help me know when to start each vegetable for the greenhouse, the cold frame and the outside garden. It looks like this:
Let me explain this!
- WHERE: Greenhouse, Cold Frame, or Outside
- SPECIES, VARIETY: vegetable to plant
- DAYS: Days to maturity
- HOW: whether I will start this inside in soil blocks, or direct-sow outside
- START: the day I will start the seeds. This is automatically calculated from the columns that show when I plan to transplant out, and the number of weeks/days the plant will remain inside before planting.
- WEEKS INSIDE, DAYS TO TRANSPLANT: weeks, days from sowing to transplanting out.
- TRANSPLANT OR START OUTSIDE: gathered from growing information I’ve collected
- OUT ETA: The date I plan to transplant or sow outside
- HARVEST ETA: This is the date transplanted out + the number of days to harvest.
- 2018 ACTUAL HARVEST: to be filled in as the summer progresses
This spreadsheet can be sorted as desired: by coldframe, greenhouse, outside, by start date, etc. Right now I’m finding it most handy to sort by start date, so I know what I need to be doing in the coming weeks. As you can see, I’m planning to plant outside in the coldframe sometime around May 15. This will depend on the weather—some things may go out sooner or later than the 15th.
Hopefully all of this is helpful to anyone reading. Everyone has their own way of doing things, and others may do just fine without all this time-consuming organization. If you just “wing it” you may be just as successful, but I find it helpful to do all of this and keep track of what I’m doing so I can go back the next year to determine what worked and what didn’t.
For instance, last year I started my fall plantings of beets, cabbages, broccoli and a few other things too late. They just didn’t have time to grow before fall. I also found that starting most things in the ground last year wasn’t successful. I am glad to have all of these dates & information written down from last year. This year I will start almost everything indoors and plan to transplant them out after they’ve sprouted and gained a little growth. (I will still start carrots & peas outside, but that’s about it.) I know that in my cool weather, the harvest dates for almost everything will be later than expected, but I used the published “Date to Harvest” anyway. I will compare this with my actual harvest dates.