Compile A Hydroponics System From Source

Tending to a garden is usually a rewarding endeavor, as long as there is good soil to work with. If there isn’t, it can either get frustrating quickly having to deal with soils like sand or hard clay, or it can get expensive by having to truck in compost each year. Alternatively, it’s possible to set up systems of growing plants that don’t need any soil at all, although this requires an automated system otherwise known as hydroponics to manage water and nutrients sent to the plants.

This setup by [Kyle] is unique in that it uses his own open-source software which he calls Mycodo to control the hydroponic system. It is loaded onto a Raspberry Pi 4 (which he notes can now be booted from a USB drive instead of an SD card) which controls all of the peripherals needed for making sure that the water has the correct amount of nutrients and chemical composition.

The build is much more than just a software control panel, though. [Kyle] walks through every part of setting up a small hydroponic system capable of effectively growing 15-20 plants indoors. He grows varieties of lettuce and basil, but this system can work for many more types of plants as well. With just slight variations, a similar system can not only grow plants like these, but fish as well.

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Hearing Plants Giggle Is Just As Creepy As You Think

While best known for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl wrote quite a few similarly oddball stories in his time. One of them, The Sound Machine, is about a device that allowed the user to hear the anguished screams of trees as they were cut down. Sounds kind of weird to us, but [Roni Bandini] liked the idea so much he decided to build his own version.

Now to be fair, the device doesn’t only scream in pain. In fact, most of the time it should be emitting laughs and happy noises. Using a moisture sensor driven into the soil of a plant’s pot, the device uses these audio cues to tell you the relative health of your leafy friend. So assuming you’ve got any sort of green thumb at all, things should be fine.

But once the soil gets too dry and the device determines the plant is in “pain”, things take a turn for the worse. We suppose it doesn’t technically scream out so much as grunt like a zombie, but it’s still not a noise we’d want to hear while walking through the house at night. Luckily, it seems you need to hit the button on the front of the 3D printed enclosure to get it to play the appropriate sound track from its DFPlayer module.

Personally we’d rather build something that makes sure the plants are being taken care of automatically than a gadget that cries out in anguish to remind us that we don’t know what we’re doing. But hey, everyone gets inspired in their own way.

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Simulate Climate With An Arduino

Greenhouses create an artificial climate specifically suited to the plants you want to grow. It’s done by monitoring conditions like temperature and humidity, and making changes using things like vents, fans, irrigation, and lighting fixtures to boost temperature. But how do you know when it’s time to up the humidity, or vent some of the heat building up inside? The easy way is to use the Arduino-powered Norman climate simulator from [934Virginia] which leverages data from different locations or times of year based on NOAA weather data to mimic a particular growing environment.

Norman relies on a simple input of data about the target location, working from coordinates and specified date ranges to return minimum/maximum values for temperature and humidity weather conditions. It makes extensive use of the Dusk2Dawn library, and models other atmospheric conditions using mathematical modeling methods in order to make relatively accurate estimates of the target climate. There are some simulations on the project’s Plotly page which show what this data looks like.

This data is used by [934Virginia’s] Arduino library to compare the difference between your target climate and actual sensor readings in your greenhouse. From there you can make manual changes to the environment, or if you’re luck and already have an Arduino-based greenhouse automation system the climate adjustments can be done automatically. The project is named after Norman Borlaug, a famous soil scientist and someone worth reading about.

Editor’s Note: This article has been rewritten from the original to correct factual errors. The original article incorrectly focused on replicating a climate without the use of sensors. This project does require sensors to compare actual greenhouse conditions to historic climate conditions calculated by the library. We apologize to [934Virginia] for this and thank them for writing in to point out the errors.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Does WiFi Kill Houseplants?

Spoiler alert: No.

To come to that conclusion, which runs counter to the combined wisdom of several recent YouTube videos, [Andrew McNeil] ran a pretty neat little experiment. [Andrew] has a not inconsiderable amount of expertise in this area, as an RF engineer and prolific maker of many homebrew WiFi antennas, some of which we’ve featured on these pages before. His experiment centered on cress seeds sprouting in compost. Two identical containers were prepared, with one bathed from above in RF energy from three separate 2.4 GHz transmitters. Each transmitter was coupled to an amplifier and a PCB bi-quad antenna to radiate about 300 mW in slightly different parts of the WiFi spectrum. Both setups were placed in separate rooms in east-facing windows, and each was swapped between rooms every other day, to average out microenvironmental effects.

After only a few days, the cress sprouted in both pots and continued to grow. There was no apparent inhibition of the RF-blasted sprouts – in fact, they appeared a bit lusher than the pristine pot. [Andrew] points out that it’s not real science until it’s quantified, so his next step is to repeat the experiment and take careful biomass measurements. He’s also planning to ramp up the power on the next round as well.

We’d like to think this will put the “WiFi killed my houseplants” nonsense to rest – WiFi can even help keep your plants alive, after all. But somehow we doubt that the debate will die anytime soon.

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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.

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Build Your Own Hydroponic Wheel

Hydroponics is an effective way of growing plants indoors through the use of water medium and artificial lighting. It often involves having a system to raise and lower the water level around the plants to let the roots breathe, however this can require some non-trivial plumbing. [Peter] wanted to instead explore the realm of wheel hydroponics to grow some ingredients for salad.

The idea is to have pods mounted on a rotating assembly, similar to the carriages on a Ferris Wheel. By rotating the wheel slowly, each pod spends a certain amount of time submerged, and a certain amount of time in free air. This allows the water level to remain constant and only the pods need to move.

The tank for the build is a simple plastic storage bin from a local hardware store, with the wheel assembled from various odds and ends and laser cut components, making this a build very possible for those with access to a hackerspace. A stepper motor provides the motive power, with the assembly completing approximately one rotation per hour.

[Peter] has run the device for several months now, noting that there are issues with certain plants maintaining their hold to the wheel, as well as algae growth in the water medium. There’s room for development but overall, it’s a great build and we hope [Peter] will be serving up some delicious fresh salads soon.

For another take, perhaps you’d like your hydroponics solar powered?

[Thanks Nils!]