I have been “farming” for a few years now and as the beginning of the 2017 season in northern California approaches, I wanted to share some advice to consider, regardless of whether you’re a gardener or not.

Always keep a lab notebook

For just about any hobby project I have found a lab notebook can be invaluable. What I consider a “lab notebook” is just a simple spiral notebook, with dated log entries, on what I have done, observed, etc.

Currently I have two different hobby lab notebooks floating around, one is my “Farm Book” wherein I will log:

  • What has been planted in which sector
  • When I planted seeds, starters, etc
  • When seeds germinated.
  • Notable conditions. A particularly hot week, wet days, etc.
  • When plants begin to fruit, and the quantities.

Over the seasons, I can refer back to my Farm Book and improve how, where, and when I plant. Perhaps more importantly however, I can refer back to the Farm Book after I have been “out” for a while, whether traveling or just not paying attention, to figure out what projects/tasks I left off with.

For my other hobby project, my lab notebook has been even more valuable. Not only acting as a truck-repair-log but also storing data on diagnostics performed at varying intervals. In the case of my old truck, without a running log of what experiments and diagnostics I have performed, repairing it would be a futile effort.

I was first introduced to this practice by Bluthe Rocher in her talk The Scientific Method of Troubleshooting in the context of software development and troubleshooting. Of course you can, and should, use something approximating a lab notebook during the course of building software.

Sidenote: Using Git commits and a NOTES.adoc in a repository is a great way to accomplish this. Many times, on my own projects, I will commit an experiment that failed with a commit message explaining what didn’t work, and then revert that commit.

While it’s easy to understand the value of additional rigor in software development, I urge you to consider keeping a lab notebook for any other hobby or side-project of any importance to you.

Inevitably, you’ll find yourself staring at your project on a Saturday morning wondering “what the hell was I doing here?”

Keep a lab notebook, and give yourself the answer.