Published on 11/18/98

Keep a Garden Record Book -- Thomas Jefferson Did

"I wish I could remember the name of that great tomato I planted two years ago. I tossed the seed pack, though, and can't find my order form."

Sound familiar?

Keep records.

That's hardly new advice. "Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book" is fascinating reading because America's greatest gardener was an avid record keeper. If you haven't read this book, do it soon. It's a must for all gardeners.

You, too, can have a garden book. It may not go down in history, but it will be helpful over the years to come.

Enter the name of each variety, the seed source, lot number (if available), date planted and date harvested. Write down your evaluation of the crop, too.

Keep records on chemicals used, fertilizer analysis and anything of personal interest. All of these notes will help you plan next year's garden a little more efficiently.

Your garden record headings might look something like this.

Adaptability to area. Did it grow? Some varieties do well in either north or south Georgia, but not both. Others may do well in both areas. The microclimate (the plant's immediate vicinity) may also affect the success of a particular variety.

Earliness. When did it grow? The number of days from planting to maturity can vary considerably from one variety to another. You can use successive plantings of the same variety or several varieties of different maturity dates at the same time to extend the harvest season.

Maturity. How long did it grow? Some tomato varieties (determinate) set one crop, and the plant is through when you harvest the crop. Others (indeterminate tomatoes) can keep producing over time if you properly care for the plants and then pick the fruit as it matures.

Productivity. How much did it produce? With the same care, some varieties yield much more than others. Usually, hybrids outyield nonhybrids.

Quality. Was it good? Varieties differ greatly in flavor, texture, keeping ability and adaptability to canning and freezing. How you will use it may influence the variety you choose.

Disease resistance. What type of problems did I have growing it? Some varieties resist leaf and soil-borne diseases and nematodes. Resistance is important where these problems are known to exist or where you haven't taken proper prevention measures. Your county Extension Service office has a current list of recommended varieties.

Jefferson was the master plantsman and gardener. You can follow in his footsteps by keeping a detailed record of your gardening accomplishments.

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.