Record Keeping Systems

I’m curious about how we all keep records!

Here are the two garden record-keeping systems I use currently.

Digital system:
I have a spreadsheet where I write down what I planted where. I use that primarily to help me remember what a particular plant might be, because otherwise I’m prone to forget. I tried putting labels in my garden, but they blew around or got buried in mulch, which was a nuisance, so I decided a spreadsheet was easier.

I have a separate sheet in the document to write down what I’ve harvested that year. Anytime I harvest something, I update it, which usually takes only a few seconds. Mainly I do this because it’s heartening to look back and remember what worked. (Grin.)

Handwritten system:
Whenever I collect seeds, I write a note to myself about what species and variety it is, anything relevant about the plant it came from (“The only plant that survived this year,” or “Survived a frost that killed off the others of its variety,” for instance), and anything relevant about that particular fruit (“First fruit to ripen” or “Sweetest flavor this year,” for instance). Then I put the month and year at the bottom. I stick the note in the bag with the seeds.

Admittedly I have tiny handwriting, so I can fit a lot of information on a tiny scrap of paper, if I feel like it.

I usually have a separate bag for each seed harvest. With cucurbits, this tends to mean a different bag for each fruit. With everything else, it tends to mean “whatever plants of this species I collected this batch of seeds from at this time.”

What do you do?

1 Like

Great topic!

Probably my most important organizational tool is a set of Artline Garden Markers that, unlike the regular modern Sharpie ink blend, does not tend to fade as much in the sunlight:

I’m trying to get better and better about including actionable information when I label containers of seed, sign tape, and everything else.

Another key tool for me is a giant, sprawling Google Doc. Some parts of the doc are well-structured and some are chaos. It includes notes on what is planted where and it is also where I am developing my annual farm calendar.

Another tool is that I have been taking photos and using my phone to add annotations labeling things are planted and any other key information. Once I label a photo, I make sure it’s in a Google Photos folder called “Where is it planted?” which I have shared with my partner. It automatically is synchronized from my phone to the web where we can both look at it and add/update the information.

I’m attaching an example of a photo from that shared folder which I took to help me remember where some things were direct seeded last spring.

I love this. I like using my phone camera to record things as well – I may not always have a notebook with me but my phone is always in my pocket, and it’s so easy. Do you take photos of progress throughout the season? Anything other than planting locations?

For my pepper project this year I tried to take a photo once a week so I could look back and see how things performed over the season. I ended up mostly taking photos of “events” like first flowers, first fruit, etc , and it has been useful to look back – the phone automatically timestamps the photos so I can check what dates those things occurred.


As a rule, I don’t do a lot of record keeping except in memory. My gardens are small enough, I remember wat was planted where.

There are exceptions of course like this year I found a couple of very flinty ears in my corn. I want eventually for my corn to be all flint, so while the whole crop was just mixed, I put seeds from those two ears in individual packs so I can make sure to plant a higher number of them compared to the rest.

Used to, every year, I would resolve to keep better records, what I planted, where I planted, date I planted and so on but ended up not following up. I finally just accepted that I’m too lazy to do it and gave up.

I’m making an exception next year but just for one of my crops. Every individual plant will be observed and photographed daily, from sprout to harvest with all the data entered in Google sheets.

I really like that notated photo idea, going to see if my phone can do that.

[missing comments]

Now that you ask about which crop, I’m copy/pasting from a post I put over on OSSI a couple days ago.

I’m planning next season’s sweet potato project. I have clippings of 10 different plants from what I’m calling the “ornamental” class growing in the south facing kitchen windows. They vary in leaf shape, color and vine growth habit. What they have in common is prolific blooming and lack of large storage roots. They all matured seeds and are all sprouts from 2022.

I have storage roots from fifteen different plants of what I’m now calling the “culinary” class. These also vary in leaf shape and color and to a lesser degree in vine growth type. Most are in the bushy range or semi-vining, with a couple large vine types. These all make nicely sized storage roots of the clump root type. Root skin and flesh color varies with most being white fleshed. About half are “best of the best” clones from 2021, 2020 or 2019 and the rest new sprouts from 2022. These also all mature seeds.

In preparation to begin planning for some kind of marketing and distribution late in 2023 or 2024 I’m setting up a comparison trial for 2023. The trial will include 100 newly sprouted plants, along with clones from “best of the best” and some commercial clones. The commercial clones I’m considering are the most recent releases from university breeding programs (Covington) from North Carolina State University and (Evangeline) from Louisiana State University and maybe a couple of popular “heirloom” varieties as well.

My own clones and the university clones will be compared to each other in production, flavor and so on as well as similar comparison to newly sprouted plants.

The newly sprouted plants will be closely monitored and documented for the following.

*Days to germination
*Color and shape of leaves
*Internode distance between leaves
*Type of vine growth, bushy - vining - semi vining
*Number of flowers overall
*Number of flowers per cluster
*Ability to accept pollen and mature seeds
*Thickness of primary stem where it enters the ground
*Date of first blooms
*Response to temperature extremes
*Susceptibility to insects, specifically Japanese Beetles
*Type of root growth
*Configuration of root growth
*Color of root skin
*Color of root flesh
*Size of roots
*Shape of roots
*Number of roots per plant
*Sweetness (before curing)
*Weight of roots per plant

Along with determining a true germination rate of seeds, I want to know if traits observable during the growing season can be used to predict the root type, prior to actual harvest. If so, it will be useful in the future for eliminating undesirable plants before harvest time, perhaps even before they bloom.

I may also grow a few that I suspect of being self-pollinating in semi-isolated spots just to see what happens. My very first seeds came from a self-pollinating, rootless ornamental. I think it would be very cool if some self-pollinating culinary plants could be confirmed. Those plants might be very useful in expanding breeding projects with sweet potatoes.

I will also be recording daily weather data and types of pollinators visiting the flowers.

Tracking and recording way beyond anything I’ve done before! :grin:I’ll also be publishing YouTube videos at least twice monthly.

(EDIT) I’ll primarily be using Google sheets to enter the observed data for each plant and then use sort and filter functions to see what I can find out as far as relationships between observable traits. And I just looked, and my phone does let me add notes to a photo, that might be very helpful!

(EDIT some more) each plant will be individually tagged but also identified by location, such as (Bed A / Row 2 / Plant 1) and so on, in case the tags fade or get lost. Each plant will have its own observation sheet with spots for all of the above information. The notes sheets will mirror the layout of the Google sheets.

(EDIT, one more time) my other projects will continue but they may have to largely get by on autopilot for a season.


My record keeping is basic. Labels in seed trays/garden with name and date sown. I use 2B or 3B pencil as it doesn’t fade or wash off. Just got to keep damp fingers out of the way. The labels are mostly white plastic. I have a number of bright yellow ones for marking something special - alerting to a cross I’ve done or to highlight that seeds need to be saved etc.
Seeds are stored in paper envelopes/bags with name, date harvested and sow by date. I’ll note anything remarkable on the packet, particularly things like flavour and texture.

We have a Google spreadsheet showing which varieties are planted and when, and what trays the indoor starts are in. We also use the Garden Planner software to show where everything is actually planted outdoors. Seeds go into labeled coin bags, one for each variety (though with landrace this will change). Grease pencils are good for outdoor marking.

I’m not much of a record keeper. But my method for tracking squash tastings has improved over the last few weeks. This would only apply to anything where people have to cook and taste multiple things at a time: I cut open 5 squash at time, scoop seeds onto separate, numbered, paper plates (I reuse them), with a few slices from each squash. Then, using parchment paper, I add the slices and write the numbers next to the slices. This way I can do multiple batches and set up a tasting with 5-15 different squash at time, and confidently track everything. Squash gets scored (target is 10% best, 40% pretty good, 50% below average/compost).

Emily S
Smart! That seems very organized to me.

Do you eat them all after you’ve opened them? I think I’d be overwhelmed to have 5-15 squashes I needed to eat all at once. I suppose freezing or canning all the extra flesh to eat later would be a good option, though.

Julia D
I don’t try to eat them all! I give squash to all my neighbors. When they are saturated I give it to the food bank. Local community dinners. Stuff like that… and I still have at least another 100 to get through…

1 Like

Overall, I think I’m not really doing the kind of record-keeping that someone “serious” about their growing would do, but I have a day job full of that nonsense and only so much endurance.

I carefully track everything that goes into my grexes. My wife carefully tracks everything planted in “her” square-foot gardens even though I do most of the tending. When starting seeds in flats, I use popsicle sticks that sometimes go out to the field. When starting seeds in an aerogarden (I have two), I draw a map of what’s in each pod and then they’re planted out usually with a popsicle stick label. I replaced plastic tags with wood because the wood just becomes mulch for next year rather than having to be collected at harvest. I also have some copper-on-wire tags when I want a taller label. And I take a lot of pictures from planting through harvest, but I don’t do a whole lot of much with them other than scan back through them as a reminder. And I recorded a lot of my harvest this year on a Permies thread: documenting my calories grown (pep gardening forum at permies)

1 Like

I use a paper diary. I love Molskine extra-large dot note books, but am using a Leuchturm 1917 large hardcover dot notebook.
Left hand page is a notional gardenbed map, where i draw a stylized block map of my two main gardens, and note where each crop or individual plant is planted. The facing righthand page is a running sheet, where i write the date, and brief notes - eg my last entry
29Nov Sow one batch Bendigo MX Butternut to N end front swale
Sow New Kuroda carrot for comparison Kitchen Bed 4A

Usually one double spread per season. Use pencil, and can add annotations.
Individual crop records or scoring notes go to hand drawn tables in back of book.

For added redundancy, I use soft aluminium plant tags that come with a copper wire for attachment (I get these from an arborist supplies in packs of 1000). These are embossable with an old ballpoint pen, so form permanent markers. These get attached to either trellises for climbing plants, or cheap bamboo stakes for shoving in the bed. Stake labels always go on north or east side of each batch depending which garden I’m in.
At seed harvest, the aluminium tag gets thrown into the harvest bucket, then after cleaning the tag goes in the seed storage bag (usually a ziplock), which also has a paper label inside and Sharpie notes on outside… I often use the same tag next season, and just emboss additional date of planting.

Emily S
Wow, those are impressive notes, Gregg! Do you use the information in future years as well as in the year you first record it? I can think of a few purposes those notes might serve long-term, as well as the obvious immediate benefits of knowing where everything is.

Gregg M
The layout maps are useful for year on year rotations, figuring out what recruits from dropped seed might be, and sometimes for future planning.
Sometimes in-bed labels get lost, particularly for biennials and perennials like topset onion accessions that sit in the bed for a few years, so i can go back and check. (unfortunately i didn’t write in the topsets i pulled from a (very late) bed prep for summer veg yesterday, so will have to do a growout to see if they are different to my usuals.)
The notes are useful for tracking back info on breeding projects, particularly if some new trait or observation comes up and i need to figure out where it might have come from, or some random cross occurs and i want to figure out what’s going on - or someone asks me about provenance or breeding questions .

I keep minimal records.

I write the phenotype (and/or species), and the year seed was harvested onto a label that goes into the jar of seeds. If I combine jars of seeds, all the labels from multiple years go into the jar.

Sometimes, I keep a planting map. I wish that I would do that more often.


I like the idea of keeping all the labels if you decide to combine seeds into one jar.

I’ll probably use your method with beans, and just stick them all in a jar. One of the reasons I want a wide range of varieties in all different colors that cross wildly is because I think a jar of multicolored beans will be really pretty to look at. (Grin.)


The main reason I like to keep phenotypes in separate bags is so that I can determine how many of each I want in my population mix that year before planting them. If I have ten phenotypes and room for ten plants, I’d rather have one of each. It’s also useful to have some idea of whether a squash plant is vining (and should be planted next to the fence) or bush (and should be planted further away, to let the vining ones have the fence).

1 Like

One good reason to keep separate, or atleast mix with even amounts, is seediness. If you mix all then you might inadvertently favour seediness. Atleast I had some watermelon that were a bit too seedy for my liking and had like 10x more than some others. Something like beans where amount of seeds tell more or less that it makes more harvest in your conditions it would be positive selective pressure.

1 Like

That’s a very good point! Favoring seediness would be a good thing in crops where the seed is the harvest (for instance, beans), but not in crops where you want fewer seeds (for instance, most fruit). That didn’t even occur to me.

This is was my first year of landrace gardening. For most of my seeds I make a little piece of paper with species and variety along with date and notable information (if any). I also make planting maps of my garden to keep track of where things were. I put the most efffort into labeling tomatos and peppers, then squash, and not so much with okra. With okra I put my best, Zambian Landrace II into one bag, then earliest (one of my Cajun Jewel) in another, and finally gathered all the rest in September and put them in a bag I labelled “everything else 2022.” Maybe I’ll tweak it next year.

Selecting for seediness was something I worried about too. I don’t want a sunflower “gaming” my selection process by producing more but smaller seeds. Even with peppers, where I’m less concerned with seed size, if I accidentally select for seediness plants will end up investing more energy into that and less into other aspects I might prefer. At the same time, I need plants to set seed, so I can’t ignore seed quantity either.

My solution, which I haven’t put into practice yet so take it for what it’s worth, is to cap the number of seeds I save from each plant. I might decide I’m willing to save up to 10 seeds per plant this year. If a plant produces too few seeds, it gets penalized but still has a chance to contribute any other desirable characteristics to the next generation. If it produces more than that, it doesn’t get any extra selection benefit.

The catch is that if I do multiple rounds of harvesting, I’ll need to keep track of what comes from what plant somehow. That’s a record keeping problem I haven’t quite sorted out yet! Maybe I also need to select for uniform ripening on a single plant in order to simplify things for me. (I hadn’t even thought about the amount of detail I need to keep records on as something I could select for until now, but hey why not?)


Maybe you could simplify it by tying a ribbon around every plant you’ve already saved seeds from this year?


I have also been taking pictures of my garden events. The plan is to then document the photos in my garden notebook. I am terrible at it though. Are you organizing your garden photos in any way? I really want to make the information I am documenting through my photos helpful for future reference. But in a lazy no pressure kinda way so that i might actually accomplish it. :wink:

1 Like

Before I get into mine for this year, I have a question. How do you put where you planted something (which is spatial information) into a spreadsheet? Is it like, second plant from the north end of the east bed is X, and beside it to the south is a 1’x1’ patch of broadcast Y?

I ask because I’ve never satisfactorily managed to fit spatial into a spreadsheet, beyond general area.

I’ve tried to fit things spatially into a spreadsheet, and it didn’t work very well. So I switched to a simple list system. It looks something like this:

Garden Bed 1:
(Species planted, and exact varieties if there are any) planted in (description of location).

There may be a better way to do it. That’s how I’m doing it currently.

1 Like