Plante- og hagestell/Plant and garden care

Produkter og løsninger relatert til hager/Products and solutions related to gardens


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SOLUTIONS FOR PLANT AND GARDEN CARE

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Contrary to the other smart home systems presented on these pages, this is an area where my own experiences are quite limited. This specific page will therefore be a work in progress, based both on my own future experimentation and further development/launch of new products/solutions.


Doing a first dive into this world, it seems clear that this is a confusing "landscape", with a very broad range of what can be included in smart plant/garden care (there is for example an app called "SmartPlant App", but this is just a kind of "expert system" providing advice about how to care for a large number of different plant species; it involves no kind of sensors, watering equipment, etc., thus not utilizing the opportunities offered by technology). Some areas that can be part of this category, without any claim to completeness, are:

Monitoring of plants/growth environment

In its most basic form, this is about using different types of sensors that can measure relevant parameters that dictate the growth conditions for plants. Experienced "plant care givers"/gardeners can probably use their experience/finger/visual inspection to assess important parameters, but even such persons can get much more insight from the use of sensors. Such sensors can be divided into (at least) three main groups:

  • Non-electronic, i.e., sensors like thermometers, litmus paper, etc. that show measurements using a scale, color, etc.

  • Electronic sensors that are not online, thus typically having a display/screen to show the measurement data, but which cannot be accessed from a smart phone or other type of device

  • Electronic sensors that are online, which is the type I consider true parts of "smart plant care"

Of the latter, "truly smart sensors", there is a rich selection to choose among, and these can further be split into three types:

  • Stand-alone sensors, which are placed in a flower pot or soil outdoor

  • Smart flower pot (which the plant must be transferred into), with integrated sensors. The primary product of this type was Parrot Flower Pot, but this is no longer for sale and it seems that a similar product from Xiaomi has also been discontinued

  • Smart growth kits, which are covered further below, but which also include sensors, in addition to other functionality for controlling the growth conditions

Typical parameters measured by smart sensors are soil humidity, temperature, light intensity, etc. The advantage of such sensors is of course to obtain a better understanding of the plants' environment and based on this providing better care, which should lead to healthier plants and better "yield" if growing something producing crops. And as indicated above, under smart growth kits, the adjustment of the plant care based on sensor data can be done "manually" or integrated into more automized plant care.

When it comes to examples of specific products, we are mostly left with smart, stand-alone sensors (notice that some of these require a base station, which is often sold in kits with the sensor, and also that there used to be other sensors on the market which have been discontinued):

  • Gro Water Sensor, which is focused on measuring the soil moisture (indoor or outdoor), and which can give notifications about the need for watering (tailored to the specific plant type)

  • Parrot Flower Power, a product which no longer is for sale, but generally got good reviews, this sensor measures air and soil temperature, light levels, humidity, and fertility

  • Xiaomi 4 in 1 Plant Flower Care Smart Monitor, which so often is the case with products from Xiaomi, this is also marketed under different brand names. This one we own ourselves, see details under living room, and it measures light, humidity, temperature, and fertility.

  • Gardena Smart Sensor, which measures outdoor temperature, light intensity, and soil moisture, and the sensor can be integrated into a more extensive garden system from Gardena, see more further down

  • Grove Smart Plant Care Kit for Arduino, which is a somewhat particular type of sensor, in that it is a kit one assembles oneself; it measures temperature, soil moisture, and light

Automatic plant care/growth kits

Smart sensors must, as mentioned above, really be considered just a first, basic level of smart plant care. The next level is automatically utilizing the sensor measurement to control the plants' environment/growth conditions. Also here, products/solutions blur a little and principally, there are (at least) two types of solutions:

  • Integrated "growth kits", stand-alone solutions that contain sensors and handle automatic control of water/light/nutrients

  • More extensive "smart gardens", where sensors, control units, pumps, etc. are connected to control watering and possibly other types of care (se more further down)

Integrated growth kits also come both in versions with are not connected and which are, where the latter can be monitored/controlled from a smart phone or the likes. The former type doesn't really belong to the category of smart garden care based on my definition, but some examples are Click and Grow Smart Garden 3 (we have one of these and there is an accompanying app, but this only gives tips about growing herbs), AeroGarden Harvest 360, Véritable Classic Garden, and there are many others.

Of "smarter" versions, i.e., which are online and offer different types of functionality enabled by this, there are also many to choose among so I will only mention a couple of examples: Smart Connect Véritable Garden, AeroGarden Bounty Wi-Fi and CityCrop Intelligent Indoor Smart Garden. Late 2020, the first solution with HomeKit support, SmallGarden By ēdn, was launched.

Controlling irrigation/other aspects

As mentioned above, the growth kits represent a kind of "miniature garden" where both light, water, nutrients, etc. are controlled based on sensor data. Ideally, a "smart garden" solution would do the same for a "real" garden. And there might be products out there to allow this, but if so, they are expensive and meant for professional use. For "normal" private gardens, it is, at least for now, most relevant to consider smart/automatic watering (and lawn care, which is covered below). On the other hand, indoor it is fairly easy to set up automatic control of light/heating for rooms/zones where plants are kept (or in a greenhouse for that matter). This will utilize principles and components described under lighting and climate control.

Smart watering/irrigation has many advantaged. It is of course convenient not having to drag a hose around the garden to water whenever one can find the time, but rather let an automatic system deal with this. Probably more important is that automatic watering allows water to be distributed at the most suitable time of day, depending on weather, soil conditions, etc., and furthermore that an optimal amount of water is dispensed. This is good for both plant well-being and the environment.

Principally speaking, there are two types of system for automatic watering:

  • Based on weather data, either from weather sensors in the garden or from public weather data sources

  • Based on soil data, from sensors in the garden (see examples of such sensors above, where some even also measure weather data)

Irrespective of the data source, the measurements are used to control the irrigation. Smart irrigation controllers are typically installed on/near an outdoor faucet and sits there to control the water flow. This is of course means that the other end of the hose must be connected to suitable water distribution solutions (nothing is achieved by connecting a "manual" hose to an automatic water controller), be it a basic sprinkler or more complicated networks of drip systems, even using a pump to increase the capacity/distance possible (Gardena, for example, offers a variety of such products). Also for smart water controllers, there have gradually been launched many products/systems to choose from, with somewhat differing functionality. Some examples are:

  • Eve Aqua Smart Water Controller, this is installed on an outdoor faucet and controls the water based on a schedule or by starting the water from a phone/by voice/etc. The device is also smart enough to calculate the right amount of water.

  • Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller, taking a slightly different approach, where the main purpose is using real-time weather data to control the water.

  • Gro 7 Zone Controller, also a product that uses weather data and, as the name implies, can be programmed to control seven different zones.

  • Gardena smart vanningskontroll, this can control six zones based on sensors or schedule.

Notice that some of the products must be installed indoor (like the Gro 7 Zone Controller), but most others are installed outdoor, which also means that they must be brought inside or protected during winter if it gets below zero Celsius.

Smart lawn care

This is an area that has been developing over many years, and much more will likely happen in the coming years. Currently, this is mostly about robot lawn mowers, but there are visions for automatic fertilizer systems, moss removal, etc. Focusing on robot mowers, the situation is here like in many other product categories; there are "semi-smart" versions (which are not online and cannot be controlled from an app, which is sadly the type we ended up with by being a little too eager to invest, see outdoor) and "smart" ones, which are connected and offer different kinds of features (access from anywhere, GPS control, support for platforms like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or IFTTT, etc.). The choice of smart robot mowers has become so extensive that only a few examples will be mentioned here:

  • Husqvarna Automower 310, this has Bluetooth support, but can be supplemented with a Husqvarna Automower Connect kit which makes it accessible from anywhere as well as support for voice control via Alexa, Google Assistant and even Apple Watch support

  • Gardena Sileno City, in different capacities, which can be integrated with Gardena's smart garden system, where sensor for light, water, etc. can be monitored/controlled from one app

  • Honda Miimo HRM 3000, this also communicates using Bluetooth, meaning it can only be controlled locally within Bluetooth range

The most advanced of these mowers allow integration with other parts of the smart home, but currently most of them are stand-alone products. I doubt, however, it will take very long before indoor and outdoor systems can be integrated in a much tighter fashion.

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