Recordkeeping Is A Useful Tool On The Hobby Farm

Sometimes, the most useful tool a farmer can have isn’t a powerful machine or a tried-and-true hand tool. It’s meticulous farm recordkeeping.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

Sometimes, the most useful tool a farmer can have isn’t a powerful machine or a tried-and-true hand tool. It’s meticulous recordkeeping.

Whether you keep a journal, scrawl key details in a notebook, scribble must-remember data on scraps of paper, or punch notes into your computer or phone, keeping detailed farming records can be helpful on so many fronts.

Exactly what your recordkeeping might entail will depend on the type of farm you operate. But to give you an idea of the possibilities, let me share a few real-world examples of how meticulous recordkeeping helps me with my annual farm, garden and orchard harvests.

Planting Memory

I have a lot of garden beds, and though I have a good memory for details, I can’t trust myself to remember with 100 percent accuracy which beds contain which seeds and seedlings. One year, I planted two varieties of pumpkins and forgot which was which.

Fortunately, the resulting pumpkins were different enough to tell the plants apart once they fruited. But that might not always be the case. Ever since, I’ve taken more care to note the location of every planting.

Seed Planting Dates

When I plant garden beds each spring, I write down the date the seeds went in the ground and then take note when they sprout. I also keep track of the estimated days until maturity listed on the seed packets.

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Later, when the plants are mature and harvest time is approaching, I check my notes to determine when I should harvest—not too early, and not too late.

Note Blossom Dates

Every year, I write down the dates when my fruit trees blossom in the spring, and then mark down when the fruits ripen in late summer and fall. These dates can vary a bit from year to year, but keeping notes across multiple years gives me a good ballpark of when to expect ripe fruit.

Recordkeeping Is Just Handy

Some folks might get along just fine without all this farm recordkeeping. After all, the ripeness of an apple can be gauged by appearance and tasting, assuming you know what to expect from any given variety. And I know my beloved sweet corn is ready when the silks have dried to brown and popping a sample kernel reveals milky liquid rather than clear.

Even still, there are benefits to recordkeeping. If you’re a hobby farmer trying to grow a little of everything, maybe there are only a dozen pieces of corn on your handful of corn plants. Knowing when you planted them (and when they sprouted) can help you nail down exactly when they’re ready pick. From experience, I know that peak taste and quality can fall in a very narrow window of time.

Here’s another example: I’ve purchased many fruit trees from a nursery about an hour south of where I live, and the ripening dates they list for each variety tend to be earlier than the dates I experience on my farm farther north. Yearly shopping trips have revealed that the trees at the nursery blossom a little earlier in the spring than the trees on my farm, so the nursery apples are ready earlier.

If I were to harvest fruit from my trees according to the dates provided by the nursery, I would be harvesting before they’re ripe. Instead, thanks to my recordkeeping, I know my trees consistently ripen a bit later and I can plan my harvests accordingly.

These are fairly simple examples, but you can take your recordkeeping to higher levels if you like. You could record the number of hours you spend on a given farming project, so you can divide the income generated by the hours worked to calculate your “hourly wage” and determine if the project is worth repeating. Or you could track the number of eggs laid by your chickens each year to figure out which breeds are most productive in your specific situation.

The takeaway? Recordkeeping makes farm life so much easier. Take good notes, and you’ll take good care of your farm.

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