In recent years, sensor-driven automation has pushed out from factories and laboratories into our homes and everyday lives. It’s no surprise that the technology is slowly finding its way into our gardens and making greenhouses smart, too.
Smart actuators, sensors and monitoring systems are at the heart of the new green movement in cities, where people are finding new ways of growing clean foods in communities and limited spaces. And it’s not just for the tinkerers–all you need to get started is a smartphone and a specialised sensor, such as the RuuviTag.
The idea of growing plants in environmentally controlled areas has existed since Roman times. First modern greenhouses appeared in Europe in the 17th century. These private greenhouses were mainly built by the rich and powerful to grow and study plants that were imported from the tropical parts of the world. But these greenhouses were not very practical: they required a lot of work to operate and had many difficulties in maintaining constant heat and ventilation. As materials and building techniques improved over time, greenhouses became more and more efficient and practical to use.
The last century has seen many technological advances, such as the invention of large sheets of polyethylene, that have allowed greenhouses to become even more cost and energy efficient while gradually making their way into homeowners’ backyards and gardens. Today a large percentage of greenhouses are still built using poly sheets, aluminium extrusions, galvanized steel tubing and PVC water pipes.
New materials, such as fiberglass, acrylic and polycarbonate panels are helping to make greenhouses even more efficient and cheaper to build. At the same time, greenhouse automation and smart technologies are finding their way from industrial use to the common consumer market: automatic fans and heaters, vents that open and close according to the temperature and computer controlled watering systems that provide water and fertilizers are readily available for the commercial gardens as well as domestic greenhouses.
Greenhouse automation — is it for me?
A simple backyard greenhouse doesn’t necessarily need automation, such computer controlled shades, irrigation, ventilation or temperature control. However, it’s important to understand that maintaining controlled temperature and humidity within a greenhouse are two of the most important elements of any functional greenhouse: extreme temperature fluctuations may have significant impact on the plants health and overheated greenhouse can also cause the soil to dry out quicker and increase water usage. Humidity affects a plants ability to perform its core biological functions: plants use a process called transpiration, which helps move water used for photosynthesis and growth, and plays a significant role in cooling the plant. Monitoring and controlling both temperature and relative humidity locally or remotely becomes extremely important.
A simple way to monitor greenhouse temperature and humidity is to place at least three sensors inside the greenhouse: one at each end of the structure and one in the middle. The simplest measurements can be done just by using a digital thermometer, but opting for a more advanced sensor might prove more practical: having real-time sensor data available on your mobile phone could be a real life-saver in case of equipment failure requiring immediate attention. It has been suggested that advanced temperature monitoring should involve measuring air temperature, media temperature and plant temperature separately. In this use case, using advanced systems such as computer operated infrared sensors or other smart sensors becomes a necessity.
It goes without saying that the more advanced automation and monitoring systems are always going to be geared towards commercial use. However, community gardens and community driven greenhouse projects could benefit from open source based solutions, such as Raspberry Pi or Arduino platforms. There are even complete instructions to build anything from automated elements to fully automated greenhouses complete with automatic monitoring, watering and ventilation.
Smart sensor that grows to your needs
As appealing as building your very own system might sound, the level of technical understanding required in this approach could be a big turnoff for many. On top of that, your equipment should also be capable of handling the greenhouse environment, which typically requires special attention with power supplies and sensors that might be sensitive to water splashes, sunlight and humidity. A successful rig is a sum of its parts.
RuuviTag is among the few wireless sensors that are easy to recommend for both beginners and advanced users: it can function as an independent mobile-ready weather station right out of the box, complement an existing Raspberry Pi or Arduino based setup, or even grow up to a full blown industrial sensor grid through Wirepas Mesh networking. Ruuvi’s open-source ideology opens a vast amount of possibilities for tinkerers and their active user community is a great place to start a project that suits both small and big needs. RuuviTag even comes in a weatherproof enclosure, which makes it extra appealing for greenhouse applications.
Setting up comprehensive monitoring and automation to your greenhouse may require special knowledge, such is the case with Raspberry Pi or Arduino based solutions. But it’s not always necessary to buy or build complicated systems that include servos and other command and control features: wireless IoT sensors such as the RuuviTag can be used as an easy way to monitor and control many parameters of a greenhouse environment such as temperature and humidity. RuuviTag is also open-source making it very flexible for both home and industrial greenhouse applications.
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RuuviTag is a Bluetooth sensor that sends temperature, relative air humidity, air pressure and motion information directly to your mobile phone. Read more