Thoughts On Garden Tracking

Thoughts On Garden Tracking

Over the past week I’ve been thinking a lot about keeping records. I love to keep records (if that wasn’t painfully obvious from the seed bank wiki – and that’s just what I upload to the website!). And it’s not just gardening. I’m an avid spinner and knitter, and I have books and books of notes on all of those as well. For gardening though, those are probably the notes that I refer back to the most in future years. I like to compare and contrast when things go out, weather notes, general observations, etc.

My go-to for the past 10 plus years has been using the website (I’m not associated with the ownership, I just love the site). It’s full-featured and you can really dial in specific notes and events for each plant or garden. You can download reports and harvest numbers. You can link plants to seeds and see the progression of how long you’ve been growing out a specific line. It’s an amazing site. But, and here’s the rub, the data is located on somebody else’s server. This week there were some pretty major server errors, and an update and fix that took quite a long time. I fear the website isn’t quite as closely maintained as it once was, which really got me thinking about what would happen to all my notes and data should the worst happen and the site completely disappears.

This is a broader conversation about the current state of our data, and a push for everything being Cloud-based, but I’ll avoid getting too bogged down in the weeds.

So, this past week I’ve been looking for other options. I’m pleased to say is almost back up to 100% (although there are still some bugs, which again aren’t being fixed too quickly), but it’s definitely got me nervous. I want something that’s assured that I won’t lose everything. I started searching for downloadable programs that would do the trick, I decided my back up shouldn’t be something that could also disappear. While there are some downloadable programs out there, most of them focus on physical garden plans, or larger agricultural purposes. None of the options I found had the ability for the cross-referencing seed and planting. There were some non-garden journalling programs, but that’s not what I wanted either (I can do that easily enough in a word processing program).

Of course, there’s the physical notebook option. That was my first idea, but for gardening because of the sheer number of notes and plants I have, it would get unruly quickly. Honestly, I’d also just prefer to have something on a computer. I also very much like to have a photo attached right to the plant page – one of the plant and one of the fruit (in the very least), and having to print off multiple photos and attach them to the notebook was not something I could see myself doing regularly.

So, I broadened my idea of what to use, and decided to go with OneNote.

It’s not the best solution. The best solution would be to have something exactly like Folia that I can download to my computer, but that’s a bit of a pipe dream. What OneNote does offer though is the ability to cross-link from one thing (a seed page) to another thing (a plant page). I’ve created a section for 2019, and I’m debating going back through and creating previous years so I can have all that data logged as well for future reference.

The other problem with OneNote is that it’s also cloud based, and unless you pay for the Office monthly subscription (I’m not going to do that), you can’t save a copy to your computer. But what you can do is save a PDF of the whole notebook, allowing for an additional back up. Also, honestly, I’m a lot more confident in Microsoft’s servers not going down and having everything be wiped out than I am for Folia’s.

So, OneNote it is. I went through a thought about how to best set it up. I don’t need anything overly fancy (I’ve been very spoiled by Folia) but what I did need was separate pages for each planting, separated by year, and then the ability to link back to the bigger seed page. While the plant pages will change every year, the seed pages I want to be able to keep a running tally of things like germination tests, and what plantings came from what seed batch.

OneNote Seed Tracking pages (click to see larger)
Example plant page with crosslinks back to the seed page (click to see larger).

The other handy think about OneNote is that you can create templates that automatically pop in for each section. I created one for the Seed Tracking pages, along with the plant pages in the 2019 section, which speeds up the process quite a bit.

I haven’t quite figured out how to handle my harvest tracking. My initial thought was that all of these – including plant and seed pages – were going to be separate Excel pages, but I realized that got unusable very quickly due to the sheer number of pages in each separate workbook.

But for harvest tracking, it might be the way to go. I can keep a running tally, then have it all added up automatically. You can add an Excel sheet to OneNote, but it just places it in as an uneditable table. So, what I’ll probably end up doing is keeping track in Excel, then at the end of the year, pop that into OneNote when no further edits need to be made. It’s a bit finicky, but at least all the information will be available in one spot.

So far I’m pretty happy with this not-as-ideal-as-Folia set up, amd I feel like it will work for my purposes. I can link different plantings to seed pages, and relatively easily keep a running tally of different events through the season. I can pop in pictures to the plant pages easily, and the whole thing feels organized enough so that I can quickly go over past year’s notes.

I’d be interested in hearing what you guys all do – feel free to jump into the comments section, or send me a message on the contact page. I’m always looking for ways to improve my data keeping skills.