This time of year, there is so much excitement on the farm. The air fills with the warmth of summer, the fragrance of new mown hay and the buzzing cacophony of bees. Colors of ripening raspberries, plums and cherries abound throughout the garden. It is important to remember during these busy weeks to take a few moments to keep your summer records. Yes, farm record-keeping … I know. Not as exciting as harvesting those first carrots and enjoying your fresh salad, or watching the rake turn the rows of hay.
But without solid record-keeping, homesteaders and farmers are hard pressed to improve their farm operations from year to year and really make a difference in their winter decision-making.
Why Is Record-Keeping Important?
Record-keeping can help find solutions for farm crop issues you encounter, such as when the cucumber beetles show up on your squash. You records will remind you of the timing of cherry harvests to make sure you have adequate labor ready in the future. You can even record simple musings and ideas for new farm builds (like a chicken house or new sheep management system).
When we take records as they occur, we leave ourselves the opportunity to follow up on this data when we have more time to schedule our crop plans, research our solutions and innovate our ideas!
There are many ways to keep records and a whole lots of fancy software. My experience has shown me that the simplest systems are the best. Here are my six favorite ways of keeping simple and effective records and how I use these to make highly effective plans for the next year.
Photos & Videos
Taking photos and videos of your farm operations is a useful way of record-keeping.
A photo or video can show you a precise problem, such as the caterpillar munching the leaves on the tree. It also locates the photo on your property or, if you are a landscape designer, on any property on which you work. And it will stamp the visual record with the date!
Keep in mind these important tips for using photos and videos:
- Keep it short and sweet, and show or say what is that you want to keep a record of. For instance, “Here is my Sweet Sixteen apple. It was planted two years ago and right now it is completely invested with a caterpillar”. You can add more information if you know the type of caterpillar or what you think you want to do to manage in the future. But a minimum you know which tree and what you are seeing and when and where it is occurring.
- Use photos or video as a way to jog your memory. Even if sometimes what you are recording is a well-known phenomena on your farm, a reminder can be invaluable. Perhaps in your busy winter planning you forget simple items to have on hand (like BTK sprays) or simple action plans (like pruning away small invested limps into your tractor bucket). Your records will remind you.
- Use the favorite button and folders in your phone to organize your content. Try simple broad folder like “Farm Records 2022.” Take a few choice photos or videos every day or so from March to November, and in January you’ll have 100 to 300 video/photos to review while making super solid plans.
The farm journal is a great way to take quick notes and jot down ideas in an orderly way. I just put the date and write my idea or make a note.
I take time at the end of every week to do this, writing only on the left-hand page of my farm journal. The right-hand page, I keep free to use for elaborating upon my ideas and notes in the winter. This keeps my creative juices flowing when I read over data points and notes.
Thus, I can proceed to make designs and plans on the adjacent page.
A farm work log is a simple and important form of record-keeping. You can use a calendar notebook or a calendar app and simply record who worked and how long they worked and what they did.
If you have employees, you absolutely need a work log. I would encourage homesteaders to do this as well, but they could combine it with their farm journal.
I use Excel map charts to organize my crop plans and design my annual and perennial plant guilds. I won’t go into detail here, as this is a larger discussion.
But if you are using Excel to map your gardens, orchards and paddocks (or other maps), you can update these over the course of the season to reflect not just what you planned to do, but also what you actually did!
This is a very important type of record and it deserves it own notebook or Word document. Simply record what you seeded or transplanted, and where.
Which seeder, seed plate and depth settings were used? Which varieties did you plant in how many rows, and where in your gardens (block, plot, bed numbers)?
This is very important and very useful, especially when combined with a simple column to note how the crop did from particular plantings.
Sale /Harvest Records
If you sell produce, you should always record what was sold and where. Record the quantity, quality, venue, sale amount and total sales.
I make my own sale record sheets and print them. These I put in a spiral-bound folder with laminate sheets to protect them.