Time to observe your garden

3 Things to Observe in Your Garden for a Successful Harvest

So your garden is all planted and you’re excited to be growing food. But what should you be observing in your garden? Knowing what to watch for can help you have a successful year filled with abundance for your family and community. Keep reading to learn more about what you should be observing in your garden!


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You have to spend time in your garden to really understand how it’s doing. This is a big reason why putting a garden close to your house is a great idea!

The more time you spend in your garden, the more you will be able to observe your garden, and the better gardener you will become. While there are a lot of things you could observe in your garden, here are 3 questions you should ask yourself to guide your observations:

  1. What critters, and wildlife in general, do you see visiting your garden?
  2. How moist is your soil?
  3. How are your vegetables doing?

When you observe your garden with these questions in mind you’ll be able to address problems better, and you’ll have a better idea what’s working.

This way you can avoid surprises and make informed decisions.

One reason to make these observations is to be able to deal with pests better and know which predators you need to attract to keep the pests in balance.

If you don’t observe your garden, you may not notice pests—or the predators that are helping you control them.

You might also make the common gardening mistake of over watering. Plus, when you observe your vegetables, you’ll learn which varieties do the best in your garden, which can help guide your future decisions.

But don’t worry—observing your garden isn’t hard, and can be a lot of fun. To help you out we’ve made a free and easy-to-print checklist of what to observe. Make sure to grab it before you scroll down and take it out with you the next time you’re observing your garden!

Observe Your Garden Wildlife

Observe your garden to know what wildlife is visiting.

I spotted this flicker hanging out on one of the snags I put in my garden. I’m always seeing birds perched on these snags, which is one reason why I put them there.

Take a moment to just sit quietly and watch your garden. Take a moment to just sit quietly and observe your garden.

What do you see visiting it?

Do you see birds? What about butterflies? Any other critters?

Try doing this at different times of the day and even at night. You may be surprised how much wildlife you end up seeing in your garden.

Wild Tip:

I like to walk my garden at night before going to bed to see what sorts of critters are there. I put on my headlamp and just walk slowly through the garden. Sometimes I see frogs, and I often find centipedes and black ground beetles (all great predators of garden pests).

But this is also a great time to find slugs. If I find them on sensitive plants I will pick them off. Sometimes I call this my “slug patrol”!

You should also take time to observe your vegetables up close. This will let you spot the smaller visitors to your garden, like ladybugs, but also aphids. You can also learn to spot damage to your plants caused by pests.

But also take time to just enjoy observing your garden.

One time in the early morning, I got to watch a hummingbird taking a bath in water that had collected at the base of a large leaf on a shrub growing in one of my hedgerows just outside our kitchen garden.

I really love moments like that.

Wild Tip:

Consider making sit spots in and around your garden. These could be as simple as some wood rounds or as complex as a bench swing. The key is to create space to sit where you can observe your garden and the living world around you.

But observing the wildlife in your garden isn’t just about enjoying nature.

Your observations will tell you what wildlife is already visiting your garden and what pests you have.

Based on those observations, you can start to make decisions about what to do with any issues you have in your garden.

Here in western Washington, slugs are common, and I’ve often found them on my vegetables. But I also noticed that predators like black ground beetles, frogs, garter snakes, and centipedes are also visiting my garden.

All of which will eat slugs and/or their eggs. But frogs are a rare visitor, and so are garter snakes.

This observation has led me to decide to create more and larger habitat features including a new small pond next to the garden.

The new habitat features and the new pond will help to bring garter snakes and frogs to the garden, which should in turn reduce my problems with slugs.

I also noticed that I didn’t have a lot of lacewings, hoverflies and other beneficial insects. Based on that observation I have planted hundreds of perennial flowers near (and in some cases inside) my garden to attract these insects.

All of this is based on observations of wildlife visiting my garden.

Make sure you take the time to observe your garden so you know what sort of wildlife is visiting your garden.

How Moist is Your Soil?

Don't forget to mulch your garden!

My garden is well mulched. As a result, I rarely need to water it. The soil is almost always moist.

Another thing to observe in your garden is how moist your soil is. Often people are told to give their plants the equivalent of 1 inch of water every week.

This common advice forgets that healthy soil is full of water.

Which leads people to make a common gardening mistake—watering too much!

But when should you water your garden?

The key to watering your garden is not to go off any one size fits all rule. Every garden is different.

Instead you should observe your garden and learn how to tell when to water and when not to.

The first thing to observe in your garden is: are your plants showing signs of water stress? Wilting can be a sign of this problem.

If your plants’ leaves are all wilting, then they may need watering. But sometimes it may also just be too hot. And while your plants have plenty of water, they’re still unhappy about the amount of sunlight.

This is one reason why people in really hot climates sometimes put up shade cloths over their gardens.

Wild Tip:

Wilting can also be caused by damage to the roots of your plants. For example, if the roots get eaten by a critter. If only a single plant is wilting, then this may be the cause.

This brings us to the main thing you need to do to know if you need to water. Stick your finger in the soil!

If the soil is nice and cool and moist near the surface, then you shouldn’t need to water. There is already plenty of moisture in the ground.

Take a bit of the soil in your fingers and smell it. Healthy soil will have a nice earthy smell, just like a forest floor.

Wild Tip:

One of the best ways to keep your soil nice and moist is to add a layer of mulch over it. Without a good mulch layer, your soil will likely turn dry and either hard or powdery. Check out these 2 posts to learn more about mulch.

  1. What is Mulching? The Complete Introduction to Mulching
  2. Mulch Types – What You Need to Know

Every few days I do this test to see how my soil is doing. I do this even if my plants don’t show any signs of heat stress.

By taking a moment to stick my finger in the ground to check the soil I can easily tell if the soil is drying out or staying moist. As long as it stays cool and moist, I don’t worry about watering.

Wild Tip:

The possible exception to this rule are newly transplanted plants and very young seedlings. These plants may need extra watering to give them time to get their roots established. But if the soil is moist at their base then they will likely be fine. Just watch for signs of water stress like wilting.

Observe Your Garden – How Are Your Vegetables Doing?

Observe your garden to know what is working

I took this picture of my garden last year in 2019. Looking at it I can see which vegetables were doing well and which weren’t. This helped to guide my planting choices in 2020.

The last thing to observe in your garden is how each of your vegetables are doing. This may seem obvious, but don’t just wait till harvest to watch your veggies.

This year I planted out a mix of different lettuce types. All sorts of different varieties, and they were all mixed together.

It has been really interesting watching them grow.

One thing I learned is that while house finches seem to like to eat young lettuce seedlings, they left the red ones alone. I’m not sure why but this makes me think that next year I may grow more red lettuce varieties to see if that helps with the finches.

I also noticed that the green varieties tended to grow faster, but they also had more pest issues.

This is an example of what you can learn by watching your vegetables. You can get a sense of how different varieties of vegetables do in your garden.

Another observation I made this year is that 1 of the 3 types of carrots I’m growing had poor germination. I will likely skip that variety in the future.

But observing your garden—and the vegetables growing in it—will also tell you which vegetables need a little help.

This ties back to pest issues and when to water. But you may also notice that some vegetables are crowding others. This may mean it’s time to thin your veggies or even remove older, less productive ones.

But it all comes back to observing your garden and paying attention to your vegetables. You don’t need to be an expert gardener—you just need to observe your garden. Your garden will teach you over time, if you let it.

Taking Time to Observe Your Garden

A kitchen garden can be a beautiful place!

Gardens aren’t just places to grow food—they can be a beautiful addition to your property, and I hope you will take time to enjoy and observe yours.

The 3 questions highlighted in this post aren’t the only things to ask yourself when observing your garden. But they’re a great place to start.

As you observe your garden and work on answering these questions, you will come up with new, more specific questions.

The answers to those questions will be what guides your future decisions.

But the key is to just take time to observe your garden. I highly recommend putting a simple bench in your garden or just outside it.

Or just keep a folding lawn chair where you can easily grab it.

Then start a routine where you take time each week to sit and observe your garden. The more you do this, the more you will understand your garden.

So what sort of observations have you made in your garden? Leave a comment below sharing what you have learned by observing your garden.

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Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.

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