How Evaluation Can Make You a Better Gardener, Teacher, and Business Owner

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I love eating fresh green beans right out of the garden and in the spring I get so anxious to have green beans that I plant them everywhere around my garden. But sometimes they don’t come up. So I plant them again, and they still don’t come up. I think I have bad seed, but this happens year after year.

Now a quick google search will tell you that green beans need a minimum soil temperature to germinate. But I just keep making the same mistake over and over again without learning from it.

There is nothing more humbling than when you are teaching people how to garden and you have a crop failure! No one is expecting us to be perfect, but we should at least learn from our mistakes, right? Had I taken the time to evaluate my garden and really look into what went wrong, I could have discovered this simple fact and passed it onto my students. Failures are really nothing more than learning opportunities, after all!

For many people, the crops are in and the garden is put to bed for the winter, but there is still one more task we need to tackle before we get caught up in the holidays. While the season is still fresh in your mind, it’s time to evaluate. This is an opportunity to look deeper into both what went well and what was challenging in order to keep the good and change the not-so-good!

Garden Evaluation

Gather all your garden notes, maps, photos, and harvest records.  Hopefully you keep these all together in some sort of a garden notebook.  Have your computer handy for internet research. Set aside an hour or two without distractions.

Start by celebrating your successes. What went really well? Did you try a new succession planting that worked particularly great? Did you have enough kale to feed a small army? Did you have something reseed itself so you didn’t have to plant it yourself? Look at harvest records and photos to jog your memory. Write it all down.

Now move onto what challenges you faced. Did you have poor germination? Plant something too close together, in the wrong spot, or too late? Did you wait too long to harvest your broccoli? Write this down too and be sure to look up the answers to any questions you have. What is the proper spacing for beets? What was that bug on my squash plants?

Evaluate the timing of your plantings. Were they too early, too late or just right? Do you need to start more inside? Were your starts healthy or do you need to look at your light setup, watering, timing, etc. Think also about your replanting. Did you make the most of your garden space throughout the year?

Evaluate the quantities and timing of your harvests. Did you have plenty of spring greens but then didn’t replant for summer and fall? Did you have too many turnips and not enough carrots? Write down about how much space you dedicated to the crop and what you would like to do next year. What did you actually end up eating or putting away for the winter?

If you kept harvest records, total how many pounds of produce you harvested and multiply by the value of that produce to get the amount of money you saved by keeping a garden. This can be incredibly empowering! Share this number with your friends.

Think as well about the varieties you planted. Did you love the romanesco but not the regular white cauliflower? Is there something new you want to try next year?

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Course Evaluation

Gather your student evaluations, schedule, financial records, marketing plan and business goals. Begin with the big picture? How did this year’s class go for you? What were the successes overall? Read through the student evaluations and note the strong points.

What were the challenges you faced in your course this year? Read through the evaluations again and pick out any constructive feedback.

Now look deeper. How did teaching go for you? Were you organized and prepared for each class? Clear in your content delivery, speaking with passion and sincerity? Did you laugh and have fun with your students, taking time to build a rapport with them? Did you follow through with questions that you didn’t know the answer to?

How was the schedule? Was the timing appropriate for each lesson or do you need to move things around? Were there things in the handouts that need to be changed to fit your climate?

Did you execute your marketing plan and was it sufficient to meet your enrollment goals? What could you do better or differently next year? Did your students stick it through to the end of the season or drop out halfway through? Is there a way to contact the ones who drop out to inquire about their situation?

Take a look at your financial records. What was your total expenditure on supplies for the class? Are there ways to cut these costs by ordering supplies ahead of time, or being more resourceful in other ways? Did you meet your income goals?

What other outcomes did you have from the course that you want to add to your bottom line? A new garden bed? 20 pounds of vegetables put away for the winter? A new friend, website, Facebook group, or other connection? Did you learn about having a business or become a better teacher?

Celebrate all of your successes and be sure to end on a high note. It is easy to be hard on ourselves, and while I do think we need to be brutally honest in order to truly improve, we also need to recognize all of the hard work and effort we did put in.

We’ve all had things go wrong in the garden or in the class, and sometimes we even repeat our mistakes (guilty!) But instead of viewing these events as failures, we can view them as an opportunity to learn and become a better gardener, teacher, and business owner. Be sure to take the time to evaluate your season before you start forgetting all the details!

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