What is a smart greenhouse? A beginners guide

Even though it may sound like a solution for industrial agriculture, a smart greenhouse can work for everyone, even in your small garden or on your balcony. In this article, discover what a smart greenhouse is all about and how to get started with it.

Definition, origins and differences between an automated and a conventional greenhouse

Greenhouse automation is the combination of monitoring and control systems that optimise growth conditions of plants.

Greenhouse automation is getting more accessible and cheaper

Smart technologies and greenhouse automation are finding their way from industrial uses to the individual consumer market: automatic fans and heaters, vents that open and close in response to the temperature, and computer-controlled watering systems that provide water and fertilizers are readily available for both commercial gardens as well as domestic greenhouses.
In recent years, sensor-driven automation has branched out from factories and laboratories into our homes and everyday lives. It’s no surprise that technology is slowly finding its way into our gardens and making greenhouses smarter, too.

Smart sensors play a key role

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 within their 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.

RuuviTag is an advanced open-source sensor that fits perfectly in greenhouse applications.

The short history of greenhouses

The idea of growing plants in environmentally controlled areas has existed since ancient Roman times. The first modern greenhouses appeared in Europe in the 17th century. These private greenhouses were mainly built by the rich and educated, to grow and study plants that were imported from tropical parts of the world. 

These greenhouses, however, were not very practical; they were expensive to build, required a lot of work to operate, and provided many challenges 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’ gardens, backyards, and even balconies. 
Today, a large percentage of greenhouses are still built using poly sheets, aluminum extrusions, galvanized steel tubing, and PVC water pipes.

 The Palm House in Vienna is located on the site of the former Dutch Botanical Garden. It was built in 1881.

What are the advantages of automated greenhouse systems?

A simple backyard greenhouse doesn’t necessarily need automation, such as 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 a significant impact on the plants’ health and an overheated greenhouse can also cause the soil to dry out quicker and increase water usage. 

Humidity affects a plant’s 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. Too much humidity, however, can result in bacterial and fungal infections, so finding the right balance is imperative to plant health. Monitoring and controlling both temperature and relative humidity locally or remotely becomes extremely important.

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What sensors are used to monitor plant growth?

There are many different types of sensors available for smart greenhouses that measure and report data for environmental monitoring and for controlling automation.

  • Humidity sensors
  • Temperature sensors
  • Soil moisture sensors
  • Light sensors
  • Soil PH Sensors
  • Air quality sensors
  • Carbon dioxide sensors

Your choice of equipment should be capable of handling the greenhouse environment, which typically requires special attention with electric power supplies and sensors that might be sensitive to water splashes, sunlight, and humidity. A successful solution should be greater than the sum of its parts.

How To Easily Monitor Greenhouse Humidity Levels?

Monitoring greenhouse temperature and humidity is easy with the use of smart sensor technology. 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.

Thermometer or smart sensor?

The simplest measurements can be taken by using a digital thermometer, but opting for a more advanced sensor might prove more practical: having real-time environmental data available on your mobile phone could be a real life-saver in case of equipment failure requiring immediate attention. Also, some plants are very sensitive to sudden changes in temperature, so having access to real-time data can help you save your yield.
It has been suggested that advanced temperature monitoring should involve measuring air temperature, growing media temperature, and plant temperature separately. In this case, using advanced systems such as computer-operated infrared sensors or other smart sensors becomes a necessity.

Building your own Arduino greenhouse automation DIY project

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. 

It’s easy to find complete instructions to build anything from automated elements to fully automated greenhouses including automatic monitoring, watering, and ventilation. It shouldn’t take a beginner more than a couple of days of watching YouTube videos and online tutorials to learn everything you need to know about building a smart greenhouse from scratch.

Using the RuuviTag smart Bluetooth sensor to monitor your greenhouse

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. RuuviTag is among the few wireless sensors that can be used by both beginners and advanced users. The sensor can function as an independent mobile-ready weather station right out of the box, or you can use as many RuuviTag sensors as you need to support a full-blown industrial sensor grid. 

RuuviTag is a wireless sensor that sends temperature, relative air humidity, air pressure, and motion information directly to your mobile phone. The sensor even comes in a weatherproof enclosure, which makes it extra appealing for greenhouse applications.

RuuviTag compared to common plants
RuuviTag fits in every possible greenhouse!

In Conclusion

If you would like to grow your own fresh produce or want to take your plant growing interest to a new level, you should think about upgrading your greenhouse to a smarter one to help you get the best results. Thanks to technological advances, smart Bluetooth sensors such as RuuviTag are very affordable and work straight out of the box. For those looking for an additional challenge, both the sensor and the mobile app are 100% open-source, offering you the ideal opportunity to build your own smart greenhouse solutions. 

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