My Little Black Book
By Lois Hoffman
Photo by Unsplash/Noémi Macavei-Katócz
I have a little black book and I wouldn’t want to get by without it. No, it’s not filled with past suitors or hush-hush phone numbers. It is filled with something much more important than that.
My little black book, which is actually blue instead of black, is filled with tons (literally) of little facts and observations about my garden from past years. You all know that gardening is my happy place and I would not have the success I have had without the info in that book.
Every year I try new plant varieties, new techniques, new planting schemes, etc. Some have been great successes and others, well, not so great. Good or bad, they all go in the book. This is how I improve, raise better crops, increase yield, gain a few strides ahead of the pests and am reminded of my flops.
Sure, during the growing season every little detail that I want to remember is crystal clear and, even though I am sure I will remember, well you know how that goes.
Along about March when the weather begins to break, I have literally been a couch potato for the past two months. I go through the same routine every year. I think maybe this will be the year that I won’t do a garden, it is a lot of work and the idea of getting back into the swing of things is pretty daunting and my muscles will groan all over again. But then, as I pick up the seed catalogs again, the enthusiasm comes back. Of course, it is then that I am hard pressed to remember what crop rotation I used the year before, and the year before that and the year before that and so on.
However, there are a lot more things that find its way between the covers of my little black book. Here are some of the more indispensable ones for me:
- Even though there are a couple varieties of tomatoes that are staples year after year, I can’t resist trying new species every year. When I stroll through greenhouses each spring, I see new plants and they beckon me to try them. So, I end up with ten or twelve different varieties. It is the same with cabbage, peppers and a host of other vegetables. Naturally, some strains out-perform other kinds so I make notes of which varieties do better for different applications.
- Pest control evolves from year to year. What works well this year is surpassed by something new next year. Being all organic poses a little more of a challenge because once you know what works, it is not always easy to find the product. Some commercial chemicals like Sevin can be found almost anywhere. Not so for organics, many have to be ordered online so it pays to keep track where I find each product.
- I keep a chart in the back of the book on what plants are complimentary to other plants. Even though I know some, it can be confusing when trying to remember when planning each year’s crop rotation and it is also helpful when doing succession planting throughout the season. For example, when my first planting of green beans is done, I don’t necessarily put green beans back in the that same place.
- Keeping notes on individual vegetables is also beneficial. It’s not only growing them, but in preserving them. Since Ron got me a food processor, I can a lot of tomato puree instead of just canning regular tomatoes. It is thicker, more concentrated and lends itself better to use in chili and other recipes. However, it is a multi-step process; core and quarter the tomatoes, stew until soft, then drain excess juice and acid off, put them in the food processor, then bring to a boil, put in jars and finally water bath them. This process is complicated but it eliminates peeling them. I would forget the steps from year to year if not for it being logged in the book.
- I make notes of how different varieties store through the winter. I used to think that onion sets were onion sets but some actually keep longer than others. So, this year I put white, yellow and red onion sets out and will dry them all the same and see which make it to spring. I will be making notes on this process in the book.
- Herbs. I love my herbs, they enrich food immensely. Even better when I grow my own. Besides using them fresh, I love drying them for use throughout the winter. However, some do better if dried while some I like better if frozen in ice cubes. Then there are a few that I only prefer to use fresh. I don’t even attempt to remember these facts from year to year; more pages in the book.
- I am not mechanical. Hard as I try, I can never remember what oil goes in what rototiller and how to winterize them in the fall. No need to when it is written in the book.
For me, my little black…uh, blue book is a lifesaver. It saves me time in not having to research the same things from year to year. Some things just seem natural and others are harder to remember. Now, I have a go-to for when my gardening memory fails me.
It also helps my garden to be better each year than it was the year before. When I follow one path and that ends up leading nowhere, I try another route. My little black book helps me to move forward and keep improving.
So, my little blue book is more valuable than an indiscreet traditional little black book. To me, it is more valuable than any amount of money offered for it. I would recommend that every gardener start his/her own little black book. Who knows, it may even find its way down a couple more generations and help their gardens to be better.
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