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Video Prefab Greenhouse + Ardunio Controls = Automated Agriculture (Video) 117

Sam Bagot and Will Bratton operate Horto Domi (hortodomi.com), an agricultural project they describe as "beyond organic." They're working with small prefab greenhouses, adding sensors and Arduino-actuated controls, and even including an earthworm breeding area in most domes, because earthworms are good for the soil and can increase plant production. If you're the kind of person whose plants always seem to shrivel up and die, this may be a great way to garden. With watering and other functions automated, it looks like all you have to do is set your controls, plant what you want to grow, and wait for the "time to harvest" alarm to go off. Okay, it might not be that simple, but Sam and Will say their gardening method saves a lot of energy and time. It also looks like fun, besides being an easy way to grow your own 100% organic fruits and vegetables.

Timothy: I met up with Will Bratton and Sam Bagot between their homes in San Marcos, Texas and Sugar Land, Texas on the UT Austin campus.

Will and Sam are together creating what you might describe as an integrated garden environment called Horto Domi. Horto Domi sounds a bit like how it looks too; a small dome structure. But anyone can make a dome. What these two have added is a flexible, extensible control system that can both read inputs, like light levels or soil moisture, and respond with programmed responses. That could mean something as simple as turning on a sprinkler or more complex, like simulating daybreak with LEDs. It’s all based on Arduinos and open-source code. And they’d like other people to use and extend their ideas. Let’s have a listen.

Will Bratton: Horto Domi is Latin for “garden at home.” And the idea is you have a garden at home, like people used to, and you produce your own food, and food independence and all of those good things. So, we’ve created a micro environment that produces enough food for an individual in as healthy a conditions as possible, so that you get the most out of your food as possible. If it’s a good idea, and we hope that Horto Domi is a good idea, that’s all likely to change. So, Horto Domi is whatever the open community takes it.

I think you could potentially grow any season, any region, in any location. So, if you want to grow something that’s out of season or out of region for you, you can do that inside of your environment. As far as how far out of region, that’s going to depend on how much you change the modular coverings. For example, we’ve only used shade cloth and acrylic plastic. But, if you were, say, to use a UV bubble wrap, you could move much further north, and if you were to cover it completely and only rely on artificial lighting, then I think you could take it anywhere.

It’s a dome unit, that’s automated using sensors and different lights and valves and such. It’s approximately 6, 6.5 feet in diameter, decagonal shaped bed, and it’s about 30 square feet of gardening space with a 4 to 5 square foot earthworm bed in the center, and the earthworms increase production and quality.

Sam Bagot: Yeah. So, pretty much, the idea behind adding a microprocessor to it is that the open-source community can kind of morph it into whatever they want. Right now the base unit is the garden. It has some moisture sensors, temperature sensors that control lighting arrays. It can theoretically supplement light. Of course, there’s water valve, so it’s going to be supplementing and monitoring the watering situation. And that’s kind of the base model at the moment.

And so, I’m kind of hoping it can go and the open-source community can possibly add to the code, to the implementation of the microprocessor. There’s lots of different open-source micro processing solutions and different directions it can go. And basically, right now, it monitors the growing of the fruit, but I see it one day being able to hook up to anything. I mean, you could hook it up with the proper software into your twitter account, you could hook it up to your Facebook account, you could hook up a webcam that helps you watch by adding – Raspberry Pi is really powerful and it can do video processing. So, there is a lot of different directions that it can take.

And theoretically, you can always just plant some seeds and water them, but this kind of opens up the gateway into the technology community that we could really bring lots of the current technologies on the bleeding edge into the gardening situation. And above all, I think it’s an interesting mix because bringing the technology into the situation also brings in the tech community into a community that they normally don’t mix into. There’s the gardeners and then there’s the computer nerds. But this, when this gets going, this really allows computer nerds to have a vested interest in this gardening situation to be able to help out farmers.

And also one last thing, the technology allows with multiple domes or greenhouses with these micro controllers, theoretically you can get one person doing quite a bit more work than they could do going and turning valves on and off, or timers, or checking plants. It can theoretically, if you have it lined up right, you could have a couple of farmers managing an entire field. And then with that, you get into the realm of, it’s kind of rolling on its own and the farmers can concentrate more on some of the important things that the community cares about, like harvesting and cooking and all of these things. So, there is different benefits to the technology beyond just automating stuff.

Will Bratton: Can I say something about bringing those two communities together? So, much of the permaculture diehard organic community is wary of technology because technology has taken us to genetically modified petrochemicals and all these things that are adverse to. So, this combines the two, this is technology, open-source technology, and really intensive organics. And that’s something about the tech community too, whenever they think about where they want to take open-source tech, it goes back into this monocropping and more applications in petrochemicals.

So, we want to reunite the two, not have the permaculture community go where I would say is backwards, and not have the tech community keep going down that negative path. Try to readjust.

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Prefab Greenhouse + Ardunio Controls = Automated Agriculture (Video)

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  • by cpm99352 ( 939350 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @03:35PM (#41634571)
    I'm in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), so my two main sources of information are these two books by Steve Solomon [amazon.com] and Carol Deppe [amazon.com]. Depending on your climate Elliot Coleman [amazon.com] has good advice. I don't know about other climates. I'm using organic practices, so my advice isn't useful for those going the conventional route.

    In the PNW the ground doesn't freeze, so some microorganisms aren't killed off like they are elsewhere. This means after gardening about three years in the same spot the ground becomes far less productive. So... best practice is to let the ground lie fallow for a year to starve out the bad microorganisms, which increases your land requirements.

    Replenishing the soil in terms of fertilizer can be challenging if one is going the self-sufficiency route.

    Raising meat requires add'l land, and coming up with self-sufficient animal food requires even more land. I'm raising poultry and find that in my climate ducks are the most self-sufficient, followed by geese. Goats are able to forage a bit. I do pigs, too, and while they do forage and consume all our scraps, they require external feed.

    We are simply not able to grow certain staples such as rice. We're gluten-free, so wheat is out for us, but anyone trying to be self-sufficient who consumes white flour is in for a hard time. If growing grain, do you count fuel in your self-sufficiency? If not, are you using oxen?

    Given our family's needs, I think three-four acres would do it (taking rotation into account), but we're not aiming for total self-sufficiency. This assumes shipping in animal feed. That said, I think fruit trees can be a significant source of food without requiring a bunch of input.

    Given the realities of property taxes I don't think self-sufficient farming is possible except in areas well away from population centers where land/taxes are dirt cheap. It also takes a lot of work. There's a big learning curve, too. If you're thinking about raising your own food, get started (even on a small scale). This isn't something you can pick up by reading a few books...

Machines certainly can solve problems, store information, correlate, and play games -- but not with pleasure. -- Leo Rosten