The Internet of Things: What It Means for Growers
Simply put, when smart machines communicate with one another over a network to sense or control anything, that is the Internet of Things (IoT). As the digital age sees internet-connected smart devices produced to do everything from ordering laundry detergent to monitoring energy use, there’s no doubt IoT has arrived to solve a host of problems in everyday life.
Without a doubt, the Internet of Things (IoT) can play a role in horticulture. Multiple sensor nodes sit in a greenhouse or out in the field, monitoring the local environment and wirelessly transmitting the data back to a gateway.
The gateway device then passes data to the cloud or directly to a local device like a tablet. Creating smart gardens with IoT-enabled devices like this can produce tangible benefits for hobbyists and professionals alike.
There are all sorts of technology that can all be deployed to match a garden’s specific challenges. There are devices to remotely control and monitor everything from soil moisture, humidity, temperature, lighting, and CO₂ levels.
They all work to reduce labor and uncertain environmental factors, and they come in a wide array of prices. Simply monitoring a garden can be done very cheaply, with DIY devices like a Raspberry Pi 3, a couple of temperature and humidity sensors, and some programming know-how.
Implement a small-to-medium-scale automated growing system, though, is a bit costlier and requires some expertise. Hobbyists with a little bit of coding experience can use a Raspberry Pi, a Tinker Board, or a host of other educational platforms.
Gardeners without any programming experience can also choose a ready-to-use platform like Z-wave, which offers a straightforward way to control and record sensor data and devices.
Smart gardens can also operate independently from the internet and offer the same benefits if the gardener is always nearby.
In this case, a local area network can protect and control gardens off the grid. Using the correct sensor and gateway choices, a gateway can store sensor data locally on a drive or device of your choosing.
In remote locations, solar energy can be used in conjunction with and wireless sensor technology, such as Bluetooth, ZigBee, or other radio standards.
Sensors and devices deployed in a garden may have issues with physical proximity to the gateway. WiFi, Bluetooth, 900 mGhz, and other means of communication are inherently limited in the distances to which communication can occur.
However, having devices communicate and work together to pass data from the device furthest away from the gateway to subsequently closer devices (a process known as meshing) is an effective way to relay data over longer distances or around obstacles with only one gateway. Just like ZigBee, products that use Bluetooth will have meshing capability later this year.
Whether it’s a DIY monitoring device costing less than $35 or a full-scale automated greenhouse, the tangible return on investment can make a very convincing argument to modernize your garden.
Whether you use a $35 Raspberry Pi 3 or a $35,000 fully automated grow system, the underlying principles of gardening can be enhanced with technology.
- Control water, humidity, light, and heat from anywhere.
- Reduce risk and the need for pesticides and fungicides by controlling microclimates within a growroom.
- Realize large energy savings by controlling and optimizing energy use for HVAC and lighting.
How Will Smart Gardens Increase My Crop Yield?
Smart gardens have two main objectives: to monitor and control environmental conditions. At the end of the day, these two sides work together to prevent humidity buildup, to trigger ventilation fans at specific thresholds, and to generally reduce risk.
Risk reduction is not the only reason to implement a smart garden. By ensuring that a garden is kept to your ideal specifications for CO₂ content, temperature, humidity, and soil moisture, you can maximize every square foot of space to produce high-quality crops.
If a room is kept at positive pressure from the surrounding environment with humidity sensors throughout the room, even the need for pesticides and fungicides decreases with stricter environmental controls. Black mold and pests thrive in specific conditions.
By properly managing ventilation, temperature, humidity, and growroom hygiene, you can disrupt these ideal conditions and thus help slow the reproduction of spider mites, and prevent fungus gnats and black mold.
Three Steps to Success
- Control the “Big Four”—temperature, humidity, soil moisture, and light levels. The quality of the product and the biggest yields imaginable are only realized when variables for failure are accounted for.
- Leave no stone unturned. An indoor grow should be monitored on all levels to reduce risk and increase quality. The last few weeks of any plant’s life cycle are crucial to a successful harvest.
- Be aware of your energy use. Regulators love to charge different prices at different times of day in a commercial or residential setting. Daily weather forecasts can help optimize energy use and set thresholds for ventilation systems that can significantly save costs.
Let Your Data Work for You
Whether you’re a hobbyist or a seasoned industry professional, you can let your data work for you to refine your yield and maximize efficiency. The cost of fully networked grows, be they on the grid or on off-grid local networks, continues to come down.
At the end of your harvest, you’re ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Leaving food rotting on the vine because a small investment wasn’t made is a disservice to yourself and your craft.
The experienced hand of a professional horticulturist can now be translated into actionable data, which can in turn feed a new generation of tech-hungry entrepreneurs who have the willingness to learn and build upon industry accepted norms.
Data isn’t the answer to all of a growroom or micro-farm’s problems, but it is a piece of the puzzle that can be so affordable and easy to set up that it’s easy to see how the new generation will use it to take the industry into the digital age while maintaining a sustainable, self-sufficient spirit.
Written by Sam Stolz