The DIY Smart Garden System

I’m going to take you on a tour of Do It Yourself Smart Gardening

My name is Cory, I’m a Technical Craftsman specializing in creative problem solving within electronics and software engineering.  Professionally, I’ve worked as an electronics engineer, a plastics fabricator, software engineer, an industrial laser technician, and, of course, a coffee barista.  I’ve spent the last several years working on a Smart Garden System project I named, hydroMazing.  I’m sharing my work with you because I would like to empower everyone who is interested in a “Smart” approach to gardening.

What we’ve covered so far:cropped-hydromazing_smart_garden_system


Are you interested in following me on this journey?

Now that we have an understanding of what it takes to provide an optimum indoor growing environment we can start analyzing the cost-benefit of further optimizing and automating the system.  Please share with friends and follow to receive a notification when I publish the next section.

Section 1:  Let’s start by using an Arduino Nano on an Expansion Board to monitor the indoor gardening environment.  We will measure light intensity, ambient temperature, relative humidity, nutrient/water temperature.

Section 2:  Continue working with the Arduino Nano on an Expansion Board to control appliances in the indoor gardening environment.  We can continue working directly wired or we can start working with wireless communications.  Wired or Wireless?

Section 3:  Add an Arduino Uno using an LCD with Buttons Shield to provide a display and alerts.

Section 4:  Add the Raspberry Pi for remote access, notifications, data collection, and analytics.

Section 5:  More sensors:  moisture probe, pH, E.C., carbon dioxide level, flow-rate, liquid, float (liquid level switch).Peristaltic Pump

Advanced:  Using Dosing/Peristaltic Pumps for Nutrient Solution Management.

Using a Raspberry Pi and USB Camera  Use Raspberry Pi to monitor or collect snapshots of the garden using a USB webcam.

Coming Soon:  hydroMazing Smart Garden System Kit

Kit includes wired and ready sensors and components for making the Controller Module (Arduino Nano) and Web Services Module (Raspberry Pi)?

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Indoor Gardening: What can go wrong?

What can go wrong?

Once you know the problems that can arise and how to avoid or deal with them, you’ll grow a garden you can be proud of.

Plant Selection

Different plants have different needs.  Research the plant care.  Many houseplants are native to tropical areas and are best for growing in the home because temperatures are similar.  Plants from colder climates, such as azaleas, chrysanthemums, roses, etc., that require cooler temperatures can be difficult to grow indoors.  Local nurseries are the best resource for providing proper varieties of plants for your climate; and proper plant care for the type of plants you are growing.

Insufficient Lightimage03

Plants need enough light to grow, which can be problematic if you’re living in an apartment building or rental unit that doesn’t get enough sunlight. Houseplants grow fine under most indoor lights.

If you are wanting to produce a harvest of something consumable, such as growing vegetables, herbs and more exotic houseplants, you will probably need more than a basic florescent light.

If you’re interested in more information on grow lights, I found this article to be thorough, Understanding the Different Types of Grow Lights Available by Chris Bond.



Environmental Problems

Certain plants in your indoor garden require some level of moisture to stay alive.  Some appliances in your home can dry out the air though, such as heaters.  The common method for avoiding this problem is to spray the plant leaves with water at least once a day.  A humidifier may be a worthwhile investment as well, to keep the air from drying out.

Overuse of Fertilizers

nutrient starter kit

Too much fertilizer is bad to use on your plants.  Do your research on the plants that you are growing.  Check the manufacturer’s recommendations and seek out independent reviews on the product.  Err on the side of caution, start out by using less than the recommendations, depending on the plant, this can be by as much as half.  One sure sign that you’re using too much is dark green to browning in the leaves. If you’re not sure what to get, ask the nursery where you purchased the plant for advice, or call your local state’s cooperative extension office.



Improper Watering

You can give your plants too much water, and you can dry out your plants roots by giving them too little water. Your indoor garden needs the right amount of water to do well.  Often the signs of over-watering are the plant leaves start decaying.  Make sure the containers and pots have drainage.  Buy containers that already have proper drainage; otherwise, drill holes at the bottom of the containers yourself.  Hydroponics systems need an air-pump to aerate the water, and/or a water pump for circulating the water and keeping it oxygenated.

Pests, Bacteria and Infectionsbug

Indoor gardens are susceptible to disease and infections, no matter how well you look after them. When researching your plants, identify what problems other people have had growing those plants.  What worked for them and what didn’t.  Ask for help at your local hydroponics store; try to use fungicides and organic solutions to keep your plants healthy.

As with most things in life, prevention is the key.  Keep the environment clean by pruning plants, removing dead and dying matter, and disinfecting as needed.  Temperature, relative-humidity, and air circulation are factors for maintaining an optimum growing environment, which will greatly reduce the risk of pests and infections.

Maintaining your Indoor Garden

More Info:

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Wired or Wireless?

Electricity replaces the sun, wind, and some natural processes as the dependency for plants to grow indoors.  

Starting a Smart Indoor Garden

The first glaring problem with the typical indoor garden is that extension wires are annoying and a potential safety hazard.  On the other hand, wireless communications can lack the reliability of the wired variant.  Going further, should the system be available to the local network or should it be connected to the Internet?

Since plants do not need Internet access in order to grow then we are potentially creating an additional dependency that the plant doesn’t want. The Internet is useful for providing access to your system, but security is questionable, how much control or data should be available?  A connection to the Internet can become another dependency if the system cannot operate without communication to a cloud-based or otherwise remote server. If something can fail; we should plan for the eventual occurrence of that possibility as best as possible. If a long electrical outage were to occur it would be prudent to have a backup generator, or solar rechargeable battery storage system.  If we can have better reliability with a wired connection, then it makes sense to use a combination of wired and wireless.

Next:  Getting Wired and Wireless

Communication options such as i2c, which is great for communicating with another microcontroller or Raspberry Pi and the many wireless options: WiFi, bluetooth, etc.

  • Remote Control using a RF 315MHz / 433MHz
  • Lightweight Bluetooth ( nRF24L01 )
  • Bluetooth ( HC-05 )
  • WiFi Module ( ESP8266 / CC3000 ) etc.

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