Hackaday Prize Entry: Hydroponic Garden Control

[Todd Christell] grows tomatoes in hydroponic buckets in his backyard, and recently he suffered a crop loss when a mechanical timer failed to dispense the nutrient flow as directed. He decided the solution was to add a sensor array to his home network.

[Todd]’s home automation setup runs on a Raspberry Pi loaded with Jessie OS and Node-Red, with Mosquitto as his MQTT message broker. With a sensor network in place, [Todd] would get updates on his phone alerting him if there was a problem with the pumps or if the nutrient bath was getting too low.

The proposed hydroponic setup would consist of an ESP8266-12 equipped with a DS18B20 waterproof temperature sensor, a reed sensor detecting nutrient levels, and a relay board triggering one pump to fill the grow buckets from the main sump and another to top off the sump with the solution from a reserve tank. One early problem he encountered was the electric fence (pictured above) that he employs to keep squirrels away from his tomatoes, interfered with the ESP8266’s signal.

11 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: Hydroponic Garden Control

  1. If you’re starting from an aquarium hobby, your plants will die.
    If you’re starting from a gardening hobby, your fish will die.
    Gain experience from both disciplines before you smash them together.
    Start with hardy, easy-to-grow, difficult-to-kill fish and plants first.

    1. Alastair: Checked out the website, thank you for the link. They have some great ideas and given me new things to think about. Since that is indoors they are able to control more factors than my outside garden. Unfortunately I’ve taken up my share of the basement with metal machining tools, silversmithing, electronics, software development and ham radio. Unless I get a larger home I’ll have to continue to try and control the variables that I can.

  2. That’s great and stuff, but tomatoes still need pinching out, tying up, and picking. Might as well water them manually then. Still, if you are away for a week or two… you’ll get a notification and won’t be able to do anything about it.

    Of course if you can get better tomatoes from an automated feed and water system, and you can iterate on it with a large enough set of plants trying different formulae, then brilliant.

    1. Sykobee: You are exactly right. There is still quite a bit of tending, especially at the rate that these grow. In this area there is a real problem with blight and, not being in the soil, I’ve not had that problem in the last four years. I have one “control” plant that is being grown traditionally and so far have gotten four tomatoes. The four hydroponic plants have produced over 60 tomatoes. Since they are flooded with solution three times a day they are getting “watered” evenly which basically prevents uneven growth, splitting etc. And these hydroponic tomatoes doe not equate to the plastic, tasteless tomatoes in the grocery store. Their flavor is excellent

        1. The root system literally occupies the space of a laundry detergent tub (~3.5 gallons). You also need a large tub for the sump (45 gallon tub) but that can take care of at least 8-10 tomato plants. You also need quite a bit of vertical space. I didn’t pinch mine off at the top and they have grown past the height of the roof, probably close to 8 feet tall. Of course you can control the height by pinching off the top of the plant. You can also place the system anywhere, deck, driveway, etc. so you aren’t limited to the traditional sunny “garden” areas.

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