Recordkeeping…in the garden?

Recordkeeping is just a work thing. Or is it? It’s actually everywhere. Good recordkeeping – though a lot more valuable, is not as common.

Sometimes in big business and large organisations it’s hard to see the impact good recordkeeping has on you and your work.

Keeping good records helps you make decisions, keep track of projects and bills, what you need at the supermarket (are we still talking about work?), and removes the likelihood of the same mistakes being made over and over again thus wasting our time and our money. Time that could be better spent relaxing and money that could be better spent…well…relaxing! Working, I mean working…

It’s information awareness month, and we’ve been looking at the value of information. Instead of talking about recordkeeping at work – like how records support business decisions, and having access to the info you need at your desk – we’re going small scale … and personal. We’re talking recordkeeping at home and even in the garden.

You know what it’s like at home – receipts have a spot to go before filing, bills go in that special spot on the desk ready for payment, the filing cabinet is neat and tidy and everything has a nice label… No? Just me?

We’ve all had moments of frustration when you’re unable to find elusive bits of paperwork, the receipt you need to return that item, or even things such as that awesome photo you took of your partner that you really want to frame for their upcoming birthday…but you cannot remember where it is saved…or with what device you took it…or how the heck you can find it within the short timeframe that is looming.

Now if said photo was well titled, with correct metadata applied and in a folder of similar subjects – possibly even backed up in another folder in the cloud– it would be super easy to find. Problem solved!

And it’s not just your photos and stuff. Think about building…err home maintenance. Picture this: while searching frantically for the previously mentioned photo unfortunately you overbalanced the storage boxes of devices, photos, memory cards and everything else that is thrown into that box in the study that holds…well anything and everything.

On the short but devastating trip towards earth the corner of the box has made a mighty indent into your beautifully plastered walls bringing plaster dust and swear words into the surrounding atmosphere. “I can patch that,” you think weighing up the looming possibility of having to paint the small patch or the entire study …if only you could remember the name of the paint that resembles a pale green frog in the filtered light of the rainforest’s dawn.

The easier solution would be to find the name of the painter you used when you moved in…surely they will have recorded what colour and type of paint they used! Another search begins for the quote, or invoice, or receipt from the possible saviour tradie. But alas the paperwork for the maintenance on the house is mixed through junk mail, old catalogues, unopened superannuation mail, cockroach baits and ironically cockroach poo and those other 237 items of paperwork that you thought at one stage or another ‘probably should keep this…’

After not wanting to waste anymore of your precious afternoon looking for the needle in the haystack you decide to move the filing cabinet a little bit to the left as an interim solution to hide the damaged wall. Unfortunately there will come a time where we can no longer move the filing cabinet due to the large amount of damage it covers…metaphorically speaking!

I’m leaving the damaged wall in the study behind and heading to the veggie patch – I did promise you some gardening for all of the budding green thumbs out there. This is where my work colleagues drumming good recordkeeping into my head has really helped me personally.

Being semi self-sufficient might be a dream for a few but nothing tastes better than food we have grown and harvested ourselves. One major issue for vegetable gardens (or for anything these days really) is the cost.

Recently I purchased two new raised vegetable gardens – and this is where the recordkeeping should begin. The gardens themselves cost a lot more than 3 months’ worth of fruit and vegetables bought from the markets however I want to make sure that this is not going to be a fruitless exercise (pun intended!). But before I start planting, I need to ensure I keep a tally or record of how much money I am spending. Also, I need to keep the receipt for the raised beds as that will form the proof of purchase if down the track a warranty issue needs to be raised. Not too much can go wrong with corrugated iron garden beds but you just never know!

Considerations in this early part of the ‘project’ are to make sure I can find these receipts if ever required. Is it a manila folder job or do I start a folder on my laptop and scan the receipt in? I went with the digital approach (how very 2018 of me!) and set up an appropriate folder and desktop shortcut customising the icon to the tree to make it easier to find.

Back outside and the next part of the project is the layering of the soil, compost and other materials to fill the garden beds. Again, the cost is a factor and that’s recorded, but possibly more importantly, I need to make sure that I can record what materials (Lucerne hay, organic compost and garden soils etc.) I have used too. I can then use this to correlate with the level of success – look at me planning ahead!

Records at this point include some photos and notes on brands, volume, and time of year, expense and receipts and it only takes a couple of minutes to save these records to the tree folder on my laptop.

As a (very) amateur gardener I utilised the internet’s endless stream of advice and opinions to inform my decisions on what to plant, when to plant and with what other companions the seeds or seedlings may best be suited (even that is recordkeeping!).

Planting time… Again, my recordkeeping kicked in and I made sure I had records containing brands of seedlings, type of plant, cost, date and position planted etc. I also included in my records links to websites that I have used to possibly use again (if successful) or to send into the internet ether (if unsuccessful). So far, I have quite a number of different records, in different formats containing different information…but all of them are kept for a reason.

The next period of my gardening journey includes regular watering, fertilising, taking note of pests, and, if pests are found pest control.

The records keep coming – brand and type of fertiliser, frequency of feeding and information about pesticides used. 3 months, 2 pest infestations and 1 annoying bush turkey later I have my first produce available to enjoy. Some bok choy and a nice plump juicy beef tomato. A photo is added to the vegetable garden folder and a quick look at the financial records and this bok choy and tomato has cost almost $200!

Fast forward 12 months and crops have been successfully rotated, value has been identified in brands of fertiliser, pesticides and seeds, an understanding of times and places to plant certain crops has been gained and ultimately an endless supply (possible over-exaggeration) of seasonal fruit and vegetables has been achieved all by using and reusing my records.

I am nowhere near being an excellent gardener and the dream of self-sufficiency is still a dream but being able to quickly locate and read through my records prevents me from making the same mistake twice and assists me in honing skills to produce a healthier crop each season. These may even turn into valuable records for my kids to help them learn from my experience, and their kids. (planning really far ahead here!). If this is going to happen it is important to make sure the records are complete and reliable, located somewhere that is accessible and protected for future use and in a format that they can access when they want to. Snapchat maybe?! Nah…

By the way, currently the cost of a tomato out of my garden is about $8…so there is still a lot of work to be done. But it is a very tasty tomato!

Unlike at work, for the most part it’s up to you to decide what needs to be kept, where it needs to be kept, and for how long. The freedom, flexibility and ultimately the value and efficiencies derived from it are yours and yours alone. We can base it on common sense and experience. We can make up our own classes of records according to the value it brings to our future selves. We can sentence certain records and enjoy the moment where planned destruction can take place (30 years ago it may have included the besser brick incinerator down the back yard!). We can create and perform our own digitisation program and clear out some physical storage spaces to replace with all the other stuff we accumulate.

But there is something they do have in common – good recordkeeping means access to good information easily. I think I’ve just realised just how much of a bad …. good, I mean good… influence the GRK team has been on me.

They like passing on their recordkeeping knowledge, so if you need recordkeeping help or have a query, send the GRK team an email ( with the details of what you need more advice on and we’ll do what we can to help.

Remember, you can contact us at any time via email, telephone, blog or Twitter.

Now I’m off to have a nice tomato sandwich. With maybe some bok choy.

Lachlan Gordon

Senior Client Services Officer – Government Recordkeeping

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