Don’t Get Dirt in the Keyboard, and Other Blogging Tips for Gardeners

What is a blog?
A blog (short for “weblog”) is a website that follows a very specific diary format, with the most recent post on top and everything else below it in chronological order. You don’t need any special skills to make or post to a blog–it’s as easy as writing an e-mail. People tend to blog on specific subjects, like politics or cooking or gardening, but some people just use a blog to keep an online diary of their everyday life.

How do I find gardening blogs?
Check out the list of links to gardening blogs on the right to get started. Most bloggers link to other blogs, so the easiest way to discover garden blogs is to read a few and follow the links. Garden Voices provides a good round-up of garden blogs, and you can find another great list here. You can also go to Technorati or Blogger Search to search for blogs that interest you.

Once you find garden blogs you like, you can subscribe to their syndication feeds and have them automatically downloaded to a reader, which may be easier than going from blog to blog every day. Here is some basic information on site feeds and readers to get you started.

Why keep a gardening blog?
Some people create a gardening blog as a way to keep track of what’s going on in their garden. You can post photographs and plant lists, record your triumphs and failures, and look back over time to see what worked and what didn’t.

Some people want to share their gardens with a few friends and family members (posting pictures online is a good alternative to e-mailing them out to everyone), or maybe even connect with other gardeners around the world.

Some people are looking for a way to reach a larger audience with their garden writing or photography. I probably fall into this group. I’m a garden writer, and my blog is an extension of the magazine and newspaper writing I do, and the books I write.

What makes a garden blog successful?
That depends on your definition of success. If you’re just looking for a place to keep track of what’s going on in your garden, all you have to do is post notes and pictures and you’ve succeeded! If you’re trying to attract a readership, here are some ideas (and please check out the comments to this post for even more ideas):

  • Read other people’s blogs and post comments. Blogging is an interactive sport.
  • Respond to what other people are writing about on their blogs (or in the news) by writing a post about it on your blog. Be sure to include a link to the blog or website that started it all. Blogging is also very democratic and generous; give credit to your sources!
  • Post as often as possible. The more you post, the more people will read your blog.
  • Keep your posts short. Break your prose up into short paragraphs.
  • Include lots of pictures–the best garden blogs are full of eye candy! And be sure to include the names of the plants whenever you can.
  • Tell us about your projects. Show us how you built your raised beds. Let us see how your tomato crop is coming along. Post a picture of the bug that’s eating your echium and let us see if we can identify it. Show us what your garden looks like, month in and month out, even when the weather’s awful and the flower beds look like crap. We’ve had enough of perfect magazine gardens–let’s see some real gardens!
  • Include links. Make a blogroll of your fellow garden bloggers, link to your favorite seed catalogs, and point your readers to other interested resources on the web.
  • Even if you do figure out how to make your blog play music, please resist the urge. Most bloggers I’ve talked to hate going to a blog and having music blare out at them.
  • Loosen up! Blogging is, by nature, lively and opinionated. Informal. Off-the-cuff. Uncensored. Nobody wants to read a list of tips on how to prune roses. That information is available everywhere. Tell us something we don’t already know! Don’t get freaked out if someone disagrees with what you write–it’s all in good fun. By all means, have a sense of humor!

How do I get started?

First, choose a blogging platform or service. I’ve had experience with Blogger, RadioUserLand, WordPress, MovableType, and TypePad. There are pros and cons to each, but here’s my advice:

If you want a blog that’s free and very easy to use, go with Blogger. It’s owned by Google and those people know how to make user-friendly software. They also have great customer service–when I send off a question, I get a real answer, written by a real person, within 24 hours. You’ll have a blog up and running in about five minutes, I swear. Many of the people who posted comments also liked WordPress, which is also free. I think it’s a little complex for first-time users who don’t want to learn any HTML or fancy tricks, but hey, why not try both?

A couple Blogger tips: First, as you’re getting registered for the first time, don’t spend a lot of time choosing a template. For some reason, there are many more template choices available once you’re already up and running. So just pick any template to get started, then change it by clicking on the Template tab once you’re set up. Also, take advantage of Google’s other great blog tools that will make Blogger even easier to use, such as their Picasa photo software, their Blog This button on the Google Toolbar, and their tool for subscribing to other blogs, Google Reader. You don’t have to have ads on your blog, but if you want to try to make a few bucks, Blogger includes a way to put Adsense ads on your site.

Downsides to Blogger: No way to categorize your posts by subject and have a list of those subjects in the sidebar. No easy way to build a list of links (sometimes called a Blogroll). Then again, what do you want for free? Try Blogrolling for your blogroll, and be sure to check out their BlogRollIt button for your toolbar. You’ll need a little help with editing HTML to add something like Blogrolling to your blog, but it’s pretty basic stuff.

If you want a blog with more flexibility, more tools, and more power, and you don’t mind spending $5 per month, go with Typepad. It’s still very easy to use, and you don’t need to know any HTML, but you’ll get categories, blogroll/lists, and other whiz-bang features that Blogger doesn’t offer. They make it easy to set up your own domain name, and if you do want to tinker with the HTML a bit, just upgrade to the Pro version at $15/mo.

Once you’re set up, trick out your browser toolbar with some of the buttons I mentioned above to make blogging quick and easy. Writing a blog post should not be a chore; it should be as quick and simple as writing an e-mail.

Try not to get dirt in the keyboard, and enjoy your cyber-botanic experience!