When the growing season winds down, it’s the perfect time to use pen and paper or spreadsheet to detail how it went, what went well, what went poorly and what needs to change going forward. First, you’ll to need a game plan. So here are my four tips for evaluating the growing season and learning from the mistakes and successes I experience throughout the year.
1. Go Crop By Crop
If I told you to think about all the things you wanted to remember from this season, you would probably reply with a blank stare—there is a lot to remember in a season. For me, the easiest way to recall everything I want to remember is to break it into manageable sections. So I would first recommend getting out a pen and paper (or a Word or Excel document) and jotting down every crop you grew and how it went. Perhaps you keep really great notes and it’s as simple opening a document on your computer and looking at which crops did well and which didn’t. But even that might not tell the whole story. Did you plant too early? Too late? Not enough watering? Too much? How were the yields? Think about all the factors that went into making each particular crop a success or failure, then write them down. That information will play into tip No. 2.
2. Keep Your Seed Order Close
As you go through each of your crops it’s important to decide how well the varieties you chose worked for you. It’s helpful to have a list of what seeds you used, but if you don’t, you can try to look back at your order forms. This is a great way to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that you’re not ordering the same seed that sounds so good on paper every year then being disappointed by its performance.
3. Keep Your Crop Planner Close
Also keep your crop plan for next year close so you can edit it as needed. Think about how your crop rotation went. How was the timing of certain crops going in and coming out? Did they match up? Did you have crops waiting to go in the ground because you forget to till a spot in time or it wasn’t ready by that date? Take all that into consideration. Do this every year and eventually your crop plan will solidify, requiring less and less work each season.
4. List—And Post—Your Winter Projects
I am a big fan of lists. There is a certain buzz that comes along with checking off or marking out accomplished tasks that makes for a happy farmer. So as you go through your season crop by crop, keep a running list of projects big (“build a shed”) and small (“clean up tomato stakes”) to work on over the winter. Of course, that list could get huge. But for me it makes all the work ahead of me feel less overwhelming if I have a list I that’s easy to look at on a nice winter day so I can knock out a small project. You can even narrow that list down if you are so ambitious, but the more that you can do this time of year to get ready for the next season, the easier the whole process will be to start in the Spring. Take your time, plan it out, and reap the fruits of that labor next year when you sit down and have a much smaller list of mistakes to remember.