Gutters To Gardens: The IoT Rain Barrel

There’s nothing quite like having a garden in your backyard. You get tomatoes with flavor. Fresh herbs are easy. If you’d like to go crazy, you can always grow a gigantic pumpkin. But there’s a problem with gardening: the work. You’ve got to water, and you’ve got to weed. You’ve also got to deal with the thousand ladybugs you bought for a laugh.

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Kent] has solved at least one of these problems. It’s an Internet of Things rain barrel. It’s designed to be as simple as possible so that anyone can set it up in just a few hours, and there’s also an option to make this rain barrel solar powered, making it eminently sustainable.

The design of this rain barrel begins as you would expect, with a 55-gallon rain barrel collecting water from [Kent]’s gutters. At the bottom of this barrel is a bunghole, and from that, a 12-volt pump sucks up the water and dispenses it into the garden bed. Everything is controlled through a Particle Photon, one of the easiest ways to set up an Internet of Things project, and yes, you can control this entire setup with an Alexa. The future is now.

Below, you can check out a few of the demo videos [Kent] put together for his project. One of them is solenoids clicking off to Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water because if you’re going to build an Internet of Things thing with clicky electromechanical valves, you might as well make it play music.

14 thoughts on “Gutters To Gardens: The IoT Rain Barrel

  1. Reading this, next year I should hook my rain barrel up to the solar power, and have it operate a solenoid to gravity feed rainwater to the garden.
    I know HaD has covered soil moisture sensors in the past, a tiny processor board could read one, and signal the solenoid.
    (HaD has also covered water level sensing too, in this case, for the rain barrel.

  2. Voice activation is cool and all but why not automation instead?

    I’d go for soil moisture sensor for v1.

    v2 would measure soil sensor and also pull weather forecast data off the net to avoid creating a swamp by watering the garden when a storm is on it’s way.

    v3 (not that I would ever get that far) would do all that plus maybe when the rain in the barrel has been there a long time and a storm is on the way it would drain all it’s water to somewhere else.

    1. v1 already has a soil moisture sensor in conjunction with a mobile app for remote control and the digital assistant for voice activation. I ended up removing the moisture sensor because it was not reliably making decisions on when to water. I am hoping to add more sensors for the 2019 growing season, Photovoltaic to send me data on how much light I had for the day, temperature, humidity, water level to show how much water is in the barrel.

  3. My own system goes all the way to potable water (lots of steps there). I just finished installing a camera and water turbidity sensor on the main rain barrel a couple days ago, to save me from having to go look – it’s often nasty weather when I care about what it looks like and I’m trying to decide whether to capture or dump this batch before it all overflows on the ground.

    From there, an esp 8266 controlled by a pi lets the rainwater either into the drinking/house plumbing cistern, or the clothes washer one – or in the event, out on the ground if it’s full of pollen and growing algae – not all rain water has a use other than watering plants as the above project does. The house cistern is then filtered by a large fish-store multistage filter and passed over a UV sterilizer that runs when I have extra solar (most of the time) power. This cistern is in a dark crawl space which avoids any algae growth. The potable part is handled by an iSpring 5 stage reverse-osmosis filter-re-mineralization setup with the bypass going back to the main cistern where normal flows like showers and toilet flushing don’t allow impurities to build up – but the water isn’t just wasted either. Getting to be a pretty nice setup these days. I’ll be putting up an update on my web site with the whole thing, this has been slowly building and getting redesigned as I found out what really works and is reliable – not requiring crawling in a dank crawl space or running around in the rain or snow too much, over some years of testing. The pi also collects other data – the cgi that controls water flow from rain is just one of its web pages.

    Benefit…no property tax for a well/permit (there’s no city water here – no city, no bill for that either)…and it’s great water.

  4. “But there’s a problem with gardening: the work. You’ve got to water, and you’ve got to weed. You’ve also got to deal with the thousand ladybugs you bought for a laugh.”

    Hydroponics (and variants).

  5. The leadup about saving energy becomes pretty suspect when you then spend a couple hundred dollars on electronics and more on a bunch of lumber. (All of which involves a lot of energy and other resources.)
    So how long will it take to actually save enough energy with this setup to just make up for the embodied energy in the system. (Not to mention the energy you use while doing your gardening.)

    Gardening can be an enjoyable activity, and a way to get some produce which simply is not available in markets (black caps, real tomatos, etc.).
    But not a good setup for saving money or energy.

    Also need to find a source of rain water safe enough for raising crops. (Not coming off of composite roofing, e.g.)

    If you have a regular water source probably more cost effective, and energy efficient. (A lot of energy to set up a water system, but low energy cost per unit of water.)

    1. I received the raised bed for free from a non-profit in my area, who I volunteer for, received the barrel from a a local rain barrel seminar where the city bought the barrels and reduced the cost of the from $150 to $50 for the local community. between the solar panel, solenoid valve, photon, Alexa, battery, moisture sensor, and drip tape I spent $175. I hope that people do not look at it not as a COST, but as a way to CONVINCE more people to garden. The energy it took for me to build this gave bounds of personal and mental and physical growth. I shared this with the hope that others would find ways to do what I am doing, and build it better.

      Think of scaling this to a larger water storage container and a larger growing surface.

      As to the composite roof I do not know of any negative affects it would have on the plants. And using municipal water that has been treated could affect plant growth good or bad who knows. once I have my own land I will have it off a tin roof for that same concern.

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