Building A Geodesic Dome Greenhouse

Greenhouses are a great way to improve conditions for your plants, and are an absolute necessity for any serious gardening in colder climates. When the time came for [gentleworks] to build a new greenhouse, rather than going with a conventional design, they decided to go with a geodesic dome instead.

The greenhouse uses a few techniques that will be unfamiliar to those used to run-of-the-mill carpentry. The individual cedar struts meet at a series of hubs, constructed out of short lengths of Schedule 80 PVC pipe. The struts are attached to the pipe with steel straps, screwed into place. This doesn’t give the strongest of holds, but as most of the loads on the struts are compressive in nature, it works well in practice. Plastic sheeting is used as a covering to help let in plenty of light while keeping the cold out. The greenhouse is also heated, and can maintain a 40 deg F temperature differential with 14,000 BTUs.

It’s a build that has us wanting to throw up a dome or two in our own backyard. We’ve seen other geodesic structures before; if you’re working on one yourself, be sure to drop us a line.

FarmBot Unveils New CNC Gardening Robot Models

Across the Northern Hemisphere it is now summer and the growing season is in full swing. Vigorous plants that will soon bear tasty fruit are springing forth from the soil, but unfortunately so are a lush carpet of weeds that require the constant attention of the gardener. “If only there were a machine that could take that on!” she cries, and as it happens she’s in luck.

The FarmBot is an open-source robotic vegetable grower able to take care of all aspects of sowing and tending a vegetable plot. We first saw them five years as a semifinalist in the first Hackaday Prize. This is a CNC machine for the raised beds of your backyard garden. Give it power, water, and a WiFi connection, and FarmBot goes into service planting, watering, weeding, and monitoring the soil. Now they’ve shipped over a thousand of their Genesis model and today have announced of a pair of new models that promise to make their technology more accessible than it ever has been.

FarmBot moisture sensor and watering head
FarmBot has a tool changer. Soil moisture sensor and watering heads are shown here.

In a nod to Tesla, FarmBot is calling this their “Model 3 moment” — the new offering is smaller and leaner to appeal to a wider customer base than their well-heeled, CNC machine loving, early adopters. The new FarmBot Express and Express XL models are now shipped 95% pre-assembled to lower the bar on getting up and running.  They cover two sizes of planting bed: 1.2m x 3m or 2.4m x 6m, with an MSRP of $2295/2795 although there is currently an $800 launch discount available.

For us, FarmBot is the success story of an early Hackaday Prize entrant. From a great idea and a functional prototype, the project has successfully made the transition to commercial viability and holds a genuine promise of making the world a better place by helping people grow some of their own produce. Who knows, in five years time it could be your idea that’s reaching commercial viability, we think you should enter the Hackaday Prize too!

A Farmer’s Guide To Technology

One of the hardest aspects of choosing a career isn’t getting started, it’s keeping up. Whether you’re an engineer, doctor, or even landscaper, there are always new developments to keep up with if you want to stay competitive. This is especially true of farming, where farmers have to keep up with an incredible amount of “best practices” in order to continue being profitable. Keeping up with soil nutrient requirements, changing weather and climate patterns, pests and other diseases, and even equipment maintenance can be a huge hassle.

A new project at Hackerfarm led by [Akiba] is hoping to take at least one of those items off of farmers’ busy schedules, though. Their goal is to help farmers better understand the changing technological landscape and make use of technology without having to wade through all the details of every single microcontroller option that’s available, for example. Hackerfarm is actually a small farm themselves, so they have first-hand knowledge when it comes to tending a plot of land, and [Bunnie Huang] recently did a residency at the farm as well.

The project strives to be a community for helping farmers make the most out of their land, so if you run a small farm or even have a passing interest in gardening, there may be some useful tools available for you. If you have a big enough farm, you might even want to try out an advanced project like an autonomous tractor.

Gardening As Nature Intended, With An Arduino

We’re not exactly what you’d call naturalists here at Hackaday, so to us, the idea that hot pepper seeds need to germinate in hot conditions sounds suspiciously like a joke. The sort of thing somebody might tell you right before they try to sell you an elevator pass, or cram you into a locker. But we don’t think [Dean] would have gone through so much trouble if it wasn’t true. You’re still not going to sell us an elevator pass, though. Not again.

According to [Dean], the Carolina Reaper pepper seeds he bought from Puckerbutt Pepper Company (truly a name you can trust) recommend that they be germinated at a temperature between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit for up to eight weeks. To make sure they were maintained at the optimal temperature for as long as possible, he decided to get a heating pad he could place under the seeds to keep them warm. He just needed some way to make sure the heat only kicked on once the soil temperature fell out of the sweet spot.

To get an accurate reading, [Dean] ended up going with a waterproof K-type thermocouple connected to a SainSmart MAX6675 module that could be buried amongst the seeds. When the soil temperature drops below 82.5 F, it kicks on the heating mat through an IoT Relay by Digital Loggers. He even added in a capacitive soil moisture sensor and a couple of LEDs so he could tell from across the room if he needed to water what he loving refers to as his “Hell Berries”

Looking back through the archives, we see a considerable overlap between hacking and gardening. Since success demands the careful control and monitoring of a myriad of variables, it seems the sort of thing that’s ripe for gloriously over-engineered automation. Especially if you’re trying to get the things to sprout off-world.

Make Your Cactus Bionic With Bionic Cactus

The closest some of us at Hackaday get to a green thumb comes when we are painting, so for us and other folks not gifted in the gardening department Bionic Cactus might help. It’s a neatly designed water and light control system, built around an ESP8266. You can control the system through a web interface, setting a schedule for water and light and seeing how much water is left in the reservoir. There is also a soil moisture sensor and it will even email you when it is running low on water. As creator [SamsonKing] notes, if you combine this with a 3D-printed plant pot and light holder, and you’ve got a complete system from growing herbs and spices in the middle of winter.

[SamsonKing] created the system using PlatformIO, a neat open source Internet of Things development platform that means you could probably switch the system over to run on other low-power platforms if you had them lying around. But with an ESP8266 typically costing no more than a few bucks, it’s a neat and low-cost way to keep your plants fed and watered.

Automated gardening has featured many times here at Hackaday, just one of many is this indoor hydroponic lettuce factory.

Cyborg, Or Leafy Sensor Array?

Some plants react quickly enough for our senses to notice, such as a Venus flytrap or mimosa pudica. Most of the time, we need time-lapse photography at a minimum to notice while more exotic sensors can measure things like microscopic pores opening and closing. As with any sensor reading, those measurements can be turned into action through a little trick we call automation. [Harpreet Sareen] and [Pattie Maes] at MIT brought these two ideas together in a way which we haven’t seen before where a plant has taken the driver’s seat in a project called Elowan. Details are sparse but the concept is easy enough to grasp.

We are not sure if this qualifies as a full-fledged cyborg or if this is a case of a robot using biological sensors. Maybe it all depends on which angle you present this mixture of plant and machine. Perhaps it is truly is the symbiotic relationship that the project claims it to be. The robot would not receive any instructions without the plant and the plant would receive sub-optimal light without the robot. What other ways could plants be integrated into robotics to make it a bona fide cyborg?

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TerraDome Gives Plants And Dinosaurs A New Home

Housing exotic plants or animals offer a great opportunity to get into the world of electronic automation. When temperature, light, and humidity ranges are crucial, sensors are your best friend. And if woodworking and other types of crafts are your thing on top, why not build it all from scratch. [MagicManu] did so with his Jurassic Park themed octagonal dome built from MDF and transparent polystyrene.

With the intention to house some exotic plants of his own, [MagicManu] equipped the dome with an Arduino powered control system that regulates the temperature and light, and displays the current sensor states on a LCD, including the humidity. For reasons of simplicity regarding wiring and isolation, the humidity itself is not automated for the time being. A fan salvaged from an old PC power supply provides proper ventilation, and in case the temperature inside the dome ever gets too high, a servo controlled set of doors that match the Jurassic Park theme, will automatically open up.

[MagicManu] documented the whole build process in a video, which you can watch after the break — in French only though. We’ve seen a similar DIY indoor gardening project earlier this year, and considering its simple yet practical application to learn about sensors, plus a growing interest in indoor gardening itself (pun fully intended), this certainly won’t be the last one.
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