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 BLOG >> May 2020

Modern Gardening [Agriculture
Posted on May 14, 2020 @ 05:09:00 PM by Paul Meagher

Gardening, like other aspects of modern living, is being reshaped by new technologies that are becoming cheaper and more function filled. I was, for example, looking for a way to automate plant irrigation in my greenhouse and my searches took me to this $100 piece of gardening tech.

This 4 zone irrigation controller works with a $40 moisture sensor that can be plugged into the irrigation controller.

So instead of scheduling watering to happen at different times of day for a certain duration each time, your system might measure moisture levels in the soil and turn on your irrigation hoses to achieve a certain level of soil moisture. That is the theory, I can't say whether this approach works best or whether this particular unit is the best/cheapest/simplest solution to that problem. One can imagine wireless networking, cloud based monitoring and control, and more sensor types might be involved in higher-end irrigation systems. These innovations will eventually become a part of the modern gardener's toolkit.

In the gardening sections of all the stores we increasingly have the option of purchasing battery powered mowers, saws, trimmers, blowers, pruners and more. It is becoming difficult to switch to a new brand of tool as your investment in batteries can lock you into a specific vendor. We are in the first phase of transforming energy intensive gardening tools to lithium batteries. The high amp hour batteries needed for these devices (4 Ah, 5 Ah and higher) offer electric storage potential for other devices around the home either as a DC source or inverted to become an AC source. They could, for example, supply some of the power you might need in a small green house to run led lights, to run a water pump, to run a motor that opens a window or door, etc...

The missing piece in this battery powered nirvana is how we charge the batteries. It would be nice to start seeing these tool vendors also offer solar charging solutions that are cost effective, easy to setup up, and more efficient and better thought out than the Do-It-Yourself systems we might put together. I am not expecting miracles, but if solar panels can start to be used to sustainably charge power tool batteries then that would be a step forward in my opinion. For those who don't use their gardening power tools that frequently, perhaps the length of charge in conjunction with a cheaper panel setup will be sufficient to fully charge the batteries for their next use.

Often we place a greenhouse in the most sun advantaged spot we can find on our properties. This naturally opens up the possibility of integrating solar panels and battery charging on or near the greenhouse.

One popular version of gardening depicts the gardener as regularly attending to their plants and using that as an opportunity to relax and get some exercise. I am a fan of that version and that approach will grow vegetables as well or better than many automated solutions. An automated solution, however, is necessary for my context because even a small home greenhouse requires alot of attention and I'm not always around to offer that attention. As a modern gardener, I do enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to automate gardening tasks in a way that might improve the growth of plants (moisture based watering) compared to manually performing those tasks (watering when I have the time or not at all). A large amount of a modern gardeners time can be spent thinking about, researching, purchasing and installing gardening technologies.

Last night it appears that temperatures went below freezing. Some of last years vines that I took out of the greenhouse to transplant have withered leaves today. We have had above freezing temps for awhile now and I ignored the possibility of frost. Tonight there are warnings of frost again so I am running a power cord to the greenhouse and will run a small 1500 watt heater over night to protect some seedlings I planted yesterday that were not affected. Unfortunately, I don't have my thermostat controller here otherwise I would permanently set the heater to come on when the temperature drops below a low temperature set point (2 C or 36 F) and shut off when it exceeds the high temperature set point (5 C or 41 F). I experimented over the winter with temperature control in my cold frame to try to grow veggies. That experiment failed to produce veggies but I did learn how to automate temperature and light control using a cheap setup.

The other main variable in addition to water and heat that you have to control in a greenhouse is ventilation. There are heat sensitive window openers that you can buy what can be used to open a vent when the temperature in the greenhouse rises above a certain level. I have one of these but haven't installed it.

It would also be nice to have a setup where a motor would come on that would lift a window covering as the temperature rises. This would allow me to keep a screen in the window frame to keep bugs out. This is not possible to do with the setup pictured above which is one of the reasons I haven't installed it yet.

Modern gardening often involves experimenting with different growing methods. You might, for example, explore growing plants under artificial lights or growing microgreens. Other options include hydroponic growing, aquaponic growing, vertical farming, and other forms of growing that involve more technical sophistication. We have more methods than ever for how we might grow a plant.

Modern gardening can be an expensive hobby if you want to go all in and grow all your veggies using some high tech method. For me, modern gardening is about patiently experimenting with and improving upon your technical approach to gardening over time. Each year you will have the option of integrating some new technology or technique into your gardening and making sure things work as expected before making grander plans around that technology or technique. Over time, you might become an effective modern gardener but probably not without alot of failure and learning along the way. I am hopeful that I have hit upon some good technologies and techniques this year that I might be able to scale up, but time will tell.

There are tried and true ways of gardening and for many it is a chance to get away from technology and relax in the outdoors. I still use alot of these traditional methods and tools in my outdoor growing. Modern gardening is not for everyone but I would argue it is becoming more of a trend as new gardening tech emerges to automate or effectively solve some gardening problem. Indications are that more people are going to be investing in back yard projects this summer, including gardening projects. I'm hopeful that gardening tool manufacturers and retailers will increasingly start to appeal to modern gardeners in the selection of gardening tools and gardening systems on offer.

I'll end this blog with a popular video showing what it is like to plant a field of corn in a modern setup.

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