All-In-One Automated Plant Care

Caring for a few plants, or even an entire farm, can be quite a rewarding experience. Watching something grow under and then (optionally) produce food is a great hobby or career, but it can end up being complicated. Thanks to modern technology we can get a considerable amount of help growing plants, even if it’s just one plant in a single pot.

Plant Bot from [YJ] takes what would normally be a wide array of sensors and controllers and combines them all into a single device. To start, there is a moisture sensor integrated into the housing so that when the entire device is placed in soil it’s instantly ready to gather moisture data. Plant Bot also has the capability to control LED lighting if the plant is indoors.  It can control the water supply to the plant, and it can also communicate information over WiFi or Bluetooth.

The entire build is based around an ESP32 which is integrated into the PCB along with all of the other sensors and components needed to monitor a single plant. Plant Bot is an excellent all-in-one solution for caring for a plant automatically. If you need to take care of more than one at a time take a look at this fully automated hydroponic mini-farm.

Plants compared side-by-side, with LED-illuminated plants growing way more than the sunlight-illuminated plants

Plant Growth Accelerated Tremendously With LEDs

[GreatScott!] was bummed to see his greenhouse be empty and lifeless in winter. So, he set out to take the greenhouse home with him. Well, at least, a small part of it. First, he decided to produce artificial sunlight, setting up a simple initial experiment for playing with different wavelength LEDs. How much can LEDs affect plant growth, really? This is the research direction that Würth Elektronik, supporting his project, has recently been expanding into. They’ve been working on extensive application notes, explaining the biological aspects of it for us — a treasure trove of resources available at no cost, that hackers can and should learn from.

Initially, [GreatScott!] obtained LEDs in four different colors – red, ‘hyper red’, deep blue, and daylight spectrum. The first three are valued because their specific wavelengths are absorbed well by plants. The use of daylight LEDs though has been controversial.  Nevertheless, he points out that the plant might require different wavelengths for things other than photosynthesis, and the daylight LEDs sure do help assess the plants visually as the experiment goes on.Four cut tapes of the LEDs used in this experiment, laid out side by side on the desk

Next, [GreatScott!] borrowed parts of Würth’s LED driver designs, creating an Arduino PWM driver with simple potentiometers. He used this to develop his own board to host the LEDs.

An aluminum PCB increases heat dissipation, prolonging the LEDs lifespan. [GreatScott!] reflowed the LEDs onto it with solder paste, only to find that the ‘hyper red’ LEDs died during the process. Thankfully, by the time this problem reared its head, he managed to obtain the official horticulture devkit, with an LED panel ready to go.

[GreatScott!’s] test subjects were Arugula plants, whose leaves you often find on prosciutto pizza. Having built a setup with two different sets of flower pots, one LED-adorned and one LED-less, he put both of them on his windowsill. The plants were equally exposed to sunlight and equally watered. The LED duty cycle was set to ballpark values.

The results were staggering, as you can see in the picture above — no variable changing except the LEDs being used. This experiment, even including a taste test with a pizza as a test substrate, was a huge success, and [GreatScott!] recommends that we hit Würth up for free samples as we embark on our own plant growth improvement journeys.

Horticulture (aka plant growing) is one of the areas where hackers, armed with troves of freely available knowledge, can make big strides — and we’re not even talking about the kind of plants our commenters are sure to mention. The field of plant growth is literally fruitful and ripe for the picking. You can accomplish a whole lot of change with surprisingly little effort. The value of the plants on your windowsill doesn’t have to be purely decorative, and a small desk-top setup you hack together, can easily scale up! Some hackers understand that, and we’ve started seeing automated growing solutions way before Raspberry Pi was even a thing. The best part is, that you only need a few LEDs to start.

Continue reading “Plant Growth Accelerated Tremendously With LEDs”

A tupperware-sized 3D-printed aeroponics cell, a grid-like contraption, with about 30 cloves of garlic in it, about five of them starting to grow. The cell is printed with white plastic, and there's a semi-transparent acrylic roof with LED strips attached to its underside, lifted about 3-4 inches above the garlic.

Aeroponic Cell Grows Garlic, Forwards CellSol Packets

Certain pictures draw attention like no other, and that’s what happened when we stumbled upon a Twitter post about “resuscitating supermarket garlic” by [Robots Everywhere]. The more we looked at this photo, the more questions popped up, and we couldn’t resist contacting the author on Twitter – here’s what we’ve learned!

This is an aeroponics cell – a contraption that creates suitable conditions for a plant to grow. The difference of aeroponics, when compared to soil or hydroponics methods, is that the plant isn’t being submerged in soil or water. Instead, its roots are held in the air and sprayed with water mist, providing both plenty of water but also an excess of oxygen, as well as a low-resistance space for accelerated root growth – all of these factors that dramatically accelerate nutrient absorption and development of the plant. This cell design only takes up a tiny bit of space on the kitchen countertop, and, in a week’s time, at least half of the cloves have sprouted!

Much like a garlic bulb, this project has layers to it – in that this aeroponic cell is also a CellSol node! The CellSol project is a distributed communication system that can use LoRa and WiFi for its physical layer, enabling you to build widely spanning mesh networks that even lets you connect your smartphone to it where it’s called for – say, as an internet-connected hub for other devices to send their data through. We’ve covered CellSol and it’s hacker-friendliness previously, and one of the intentions of this design is to show how any device with a bit of brains and a SX1276 module can help you form a local CellSol network, or participate in some larger volunteer-driven CellSol-powered effort.

If, like us, you’re looking at this picture and thinking “this is something I’d love to see on my desk”, [Robots Everywhere] has published the STL files for making a hydroponic cell like this at home, as well as all the code involved, and some demo videos. Hopefully, the amount of aeroponics projects in our tips line is only going to increase! We’ve covered Project EDEN before, a Hackaday Prize 2017 entry that works to perfect an aeroponics approach to create an indoor greenhouse. There’s also a slew of hydroponics projects to have graced our pages, from hardware store-built to 3D printed ones!

Continue reading “Aeroponic Cell Grows Garlic, Forwards CellSol Packets”

Fertilizing Plants With A Custom 3D-Printed Pump

For all but the most experienced gardeners and botanists, taking care of the soil around one’s plants can seem like an unsolvable mystery. Not only does soil need the correct amount of nutrients for plants to thrive, but it also needs a certain amount of moisture, correct pH, proper temperature, and a whole host of other qualities. And, since you can’t manage what you can’t measure, [Jan] created a unique setup for maintaining his plants, complete with custom nutrient pumps.

While it might seem like standard plant care on the surface, [Jan]’s project uses a peristaltic pump for the nutrient solution that is completely 3D printed with the exception of the rollers and the screws that hold the assembly together. With that out of the way, it was possible to begin adding this nutrient solution to the plants. The entire setup from the pump itself to the monitoring of the plants’ soil through an array of sensors is handled by an ESP32 running with help from ESPHome.

For anyone struggling with growing plants indoors, this project could be a great first step to improving vegetable yields or even just helping along a decorative houseplant. The real gem is the 3D printed pump, though, which may have wider applications for anyone with a 3D printer and who also needs something like an automatic coffee refilling machine.

Germinate Seeds With The Help Of 3D Printing

Microgreens, also known as vegetable confetti, are all the rage in fancy restaurants around the globe. Raised from a variety of different vegetable seeds, they’re harvested just past the sprout period, but before they would qualify as baby greens – usually 10-14 days after planting. There’s a variety of ways to grow microgreens, and [Mr Ben] has developed a 3D printed rig to help.

The rig consists of two parts – a seed tray and a water tray underneath. The seed tray consists of a grid to house the broccoli seeds to be grown, with small holes in each grid pocket to allow drainage. They’re sized just under the minimum seed size to avoid the seeds falling through, and also provide a path for root growth. Beneath the seed tray, the water tray provides the required hydration for plant growth, and helps train the roots downward.

[Mr Ben] notes there are some possible improvements to the design. He suggests PETG would be the ideal filament to use for the prints, as it is foodsafe unlike PLA and ABS. Additionally, precautions could be taken to better seal the water tray to avoid it becoming a breeding ground for insects.

Overall, it’s a tidy project that makes growing these otherwise delicate and expensive greens much neater and tidier. There’s also plenty of scope out there to automate plant care, too. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Germinate Seeds With The Help Of 3D Printing”

Solar Powered Hydroponics

[Dan Bowen] describes the construction of a backyard hydroponics set-up in an angry third person tirade. While his friends assume more nefarious, breaking, and bad purposes behind [Dan]’s interest in hydroponics; he’d just like some herbs to mix into the occasional pasta sauce.

Feel particularly inspired one day after work, he stopped by the local hardware store and hydroponics supply. He purchases some PVC piping, hoses, fittings, pumps, accessories, and most importantly, a deck box to hide all the ugly stuff from his wife.

The design is pretty neat. He has an open vertical spot that gets a lot of light on his fence. So he placed three lengths of PVC on a slant. This way the water flows quickly and aerates as it goes. The top of the pipes have holes cut in them to accept net baskets.

The deck box contains a practically industrial array of sensors and equipment. The standard procedure for small-scale hydroponics is just to throw the water out on your garden and replace the nutrient solution every week or so. The hacker’s solution is to make a rubbermaid tote bristle with more sensors than the ISS.

We hope his hydroponics set-up approaches Hanging Gardens of Babylon soon.

These Builds Grow Food In Cities

You’ve probably heard the term food desert: locations where it’s difficult to get access to fresh fruits and vegetables. One way to help alleviate the problem is to promote urban farming. This week we challenged you to think of ideas that would make growing fresh food in urban areas easier and more enticing. Let’s take a look:

The IKEA Model:

IMG_0429One concept that was popular with this week’s theme was ready-to assemble gardening kits. From personal experience I think this is of huge importance. Once upon a time in a crappy apartment far, far away my wife and I set out to grow tomatoes on the balcony. The plants flourished and bore fruit which the squirrel population of the neighborhood immediately stole while still green. I built this produce cage the following year and we were able to enjoy the fruit of our labors. But not everyone can whip up such a solution without help.

Aker is a set of designs for a modular farming system. The idea is to find a hackerspace or other group with a CNC router and use the plans to cut out different farming “furniture” like a chicken coop, tiered gardening container rack, a wall garden, compost system, and a bee hive. The coop design would serve as caged garden if need be.

Along the same vein is [Eric’s] Urban Gardening IKEA Style. He’s excited to pass along the knowledge he has accumulated over the years. Part of this is a simple to build gardening table that holds rectangular potting containers.

Modular Greenhouse:

modular-hyrdoponics

Next up is the concept of modular farming. We like this because the gardens can be scaled based on available space.

Seen here is the Modular Vertical Farming mockup. The system specs different size and features for each pod based on what is being grown inside. Also included in the concept is a monitoring and feedback system which will help each urban farmer achieve success.

Combining modularity with water conservation is the Hydropod project. It’s not purely hydroponics, but the vertical cylinders are designed to pump water up to the top and reclaim it as it exits the bottom.

We don’t want to move on without a brief mention of the HydroPI Garduino. Kudos on maximum-buzz-wordiness in the title. We’re into the concept of including common tools to help monitor and control this hydroponic garden. But for city-dwellers who frequently move, the portable emphasis is valuable.

Uber-Conservation:

capture-condensate-from-acThis one is quite an interesting thought. If you live in a climate where air conditioning is used constantly, chances are pretty good that the humidity the condenser coil removes from the air is going right down the drain. The Condesnate Capture for Micro-Irrigation project wants to change that by sequestering the water for the next urban garden irrigation cycle. We’d love to see some solid data on average condensate output per square foot of building.

This Week’s Winners

time-for-the-prize-week-4-prizes

First place this week goes to Aker and will receive an RGB Shades Kit.

Second place this week goes to Modular Vertical Farming and will receive a GoodFET42 JTAG programmer and debugger.

Third place this week goes to Condensate Capture for Micro-Irrigation and will receive a Hackaday CRT Android tee.

Next Week’s Theme

We’re moving to a new set of weekly giveaways that are more numerous and valuable. This week we’ll be giving away thirty (30) prizes. Each will be a $50 code to spin some PCBs. More details on that in our next Time for the Prize post. For now make sure you submit an official entry. Start your project on Hackaday.io and use the “Submit-To” button below the picture on the left to submit it for the 2015 Hackaday Prize.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: