Gardens certainly don't grow themselves, and indoor grows require much more attention and care than the outdoor type, which have Mother Nature's built-in support system. Indoor gardening is a demanding hobby that sucks up a lot of time and money, can add work to your already busy life and dramatically alter your chill lifestyle. It will cause stress, takes tough decision making and a lot of space in your home. The daily, weekly and monthly rituals can seem like burdens, but the payoff is well worth the amount of effort you'll put in.
To help shoulder some of the burden, many growers automate the process to some degree, lessening the work load while allowing their gardens to thrive. Advances in technology have made it so that you can leave your indoor garden for weeks at a time, or while holding a demanding, full-time job, and come back to a stable growing environment with increased yields. This means less time worrying, less stress and improved overall efficiency and performance. More bang for your buck, if you will.
While nothing can replace the constant monitoring and interaction that comes under the guidance of the human hand, an automated grow room can reduce the grower's time commitment and increase efficiency to maximize the plants' yield. The automated systems only perform as programmed, so if you aren't present to monitor the changing needs of the plant, anticipate some suffering. Remember, it's all about supplementing, not replacing, quality care.
Other than the initial installation and occasional check-in to monitor your plants' health, an automated grow room can help guarantee results with minimal effort on your part. An automated grow room can maintain a controlled environment, while reducing problems and saving time, but it's not a replacement for the inherent quality of the human touch. Both combined, however, can leave you with an abundance of time, and peace of mind knowing that your plants are being cared for when you can't.
Plainly put, an automated garden employs a combination of user-specified parameters, while operating and controlling the growing process using highly automatic methods, such as electronic or mechanical devices, which greatly reduce the need for human interaction.
Some common automation means include timers, temperature or humidity controllers and CO2 monitors, with the most basic method being a timer to control the lighting. As with any technology, grow room automation is in constant flux, always changing and evolving, so there are continually new gadgets, smart phone apps and ways to check up on your plants without having to be present.
But let's first get down to basics, the essentials you'll need to get started:
Automated Grow Room Climate control
The most common of automation controllers, this umbrella term covers three factors: humidity, temperature and CO2.
A climate controller (or atmospheric controller) will allow you to create an environment fit for the plants' needs, which is achieved by keeping CO2 at ideal levels and maintaining the humidity and temperature levels. Growers with fully automated climates or atmospheres can anticipate larger yields and quicker growth thanks to the compatible environmental conditions.
Beginners can get started with a thermostat/humidistat controller, which lets the grower control multiple devices such as fans, air conditioner, dehumidifier, etc. by plugging them into a single controller.
Proper ventilation is one of the main elements of growing that, if neglected, can ruin your investment. If your plants suffer from poor ventilation due to stagnant air throughout the grow room, the plants can consume all of the CO2 in a matter of hours. The room should include fans to circulate air, along with fresh air vented in to avoid dead zones void of CO2 that can form around the leaves.
However, ventilation isn't needed when lighting is off and your intake fans should be turned off, though you may still run them or exhaust fans for controlling the temperature. Fans can be controlled manually, by using a timer, fan controller or multi-function climate controller that also controls humidity and temperature (more on these later).
Growers wanting to add CO2 can combine multiple atmospheric controllers or buy a complete controller, often referred to as a brain, that controls light timing, temperature, humidity and CO2 control. To avoid wasting carbon dioxide, automation is a key factor to increase the room's levels. Controllers designed to enhance the room's CO2 levels will automatically turn off or reduce exhaust fans while the device is in use.
An infrared beam scans the air in the room and when the specified parameters aren't being met, the controlling device sends power to the CO2 generator or tank, adding carbon dioxide to your garden. Controllers can also automatically turn off during the garden's dark cycle, as they're equipped with a photocell. It's also imperative that the grower can set the room to an exact temperature, as an indoor grow room's optimal running temperature increases slightly with higher CO2 levels.
Automated Grow Room Nutrients
For those who already have atmospheric automation on lock down and want even more relief from the daily chores of growing indoors, adding nutrient reservoir automation is the next logical step. A nutrient reservoir that is maintained by hand can be incredibly time consuming and is prone to errors given the water makeup and fluctuations in pH and EC.
Maintaining an ideal nutrient balance is vital to plants' health and vitality, which leads to stronger, more bountiful harvests and plants that are less susceptible to pests and disease. Consistency here is key, as the root zone supports and encourages life.
For an automated nutrient reservoir system that needs the least maintenance, a grower should use the following connected to the source of water: a water chiller/heater, nutrient auto doser, pH auto adjuster and an auto shut-off valve. This way the grower can set the parameters for the temperature, nutrient concentration and the nutrient solution's pH.
Combined properly, climate control and nutrient reservoir automation can provide an optimal growing environment that can be tweaked to meet the plants' needs. But there's always something even bigger and badder out there, which brings us to the next section.
All-in-one Automation Techniques for Grow Rooms
The most advanced controller is an all-in-one grow room controller, a.k.a. a brain. These mega-gadgets can simultaneously monitor and control all sorts of growing parameters and there are even models with long-term data loggers and graphing features. You can monitor multiple grow rooms using a single brain, and receive alerts when something is wrong, from anywhere in the world using a computer or smartphone.
When automating systems in the grow room, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the technology and slip on the basics, such as regularly tending to the plants and making sure your systems are in top shape. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Inspect your plants for overall health and moisture levels at least once a week if possible
- Look for pests or disease
- Trim and clean foliage as needed
- Toss and replace any dead or dying plants
- Replace any broken irrigation pieces
- Check the water tank's levels and refill as needed
- Add fertilizer to the irrigation system as needed
- Inspect pumps and timers, clean filters weekly