I’m an electrical engineering student working on my senior project, but my group and I are still in the design stage. Since so many people (including ourselves) often fail when trying to start a garden, we wanted to design a project that would add some monitoring and/or automation to the process. Our initial idea is to use sensors to monitor sunlight, soil temperature, pH and moisture, provide that info to the user, and perhaps add some functionality that would make adjustments.
We would appreciate any comments or suggestions that would help us along. Feel free to answer our questions or provide some suggestions of your own.
Under what weather conditions do you usually garden? Which seasons? Where?
What do you primarily grow?
What issues do you most often have when gardening?
How large is your garden?
What would make gardening easier for you?
How much would you be willing to pay for a device that would help you garden?
How long would you expect a device like this to last?
What feature would you use the most? The least?
I would like a device that can identity deer and rabbits and scare them off with predator noises. A simple motion detector coupled with randomly chosen sounds would work to some degree but something targeted to specific pests would be better.
It must be cheaper and easier than keeping a dog.
I'd pay considerably more for a machine that slaughters, slices and wraps these critters for the freezer.
I really like the idea of setting up stop motion cameras on plants and just keeping basic readings. What sort of project does your team have in mind? As for your questions.
1) I grow in the Maritime Northwest a cool northern climate with a moderately long dry season and cold wet winters. Some crops such as parsnips and leeks will generally overwinter but the true growing season starts with the stinging nettle in February and starts declining dramatically by the third week in November.
2) Currently only things which grow themselves but I have grown a wide variety of vegetables for market and wholesale. Recognizable staple crops which are often cultivated in my region include but are by no means limited to: Spinach, Kale, Brusselsprouts, radishes, salad greens, mustards, turnips, beets, rutabaga, potatoes, summer squash varieties, storage squash varieties, pumpkins, fava beans, bush beans, snap and sugar peas, chard, leeks, parsnips, carrots, onions, basil, tomatoes, and garlic. On warm years we even have a fighting chance at growing sweet corn.
3) There are so many issues dealing with living things. The most frustrating for me are often molds. Its cold and wet and if the year doesn't shape up right or my timing is off its really easy to loose a whole seasons worth of work and space in the period of a couple of days. Greenhouse starts can also be frustrating. Spring and early summer often feel like the busiest time of year and the temperature is doing all sorts of things and greenhouses amplify these effects. God help the smuck who doesn't water a seed tray evenly or check them often - he'll be the one to loose a 3rd or more of his plants. Usually they fry. Sometimes the mice walk off with the seeds. Also it can be physically hard on ones body.
4) Um, well that depends mainly on a consensus regarding the term and other legal dodgings. I'd say about a quarter acre, but much of that is aw-natural. I have over the years experienced working in gardens from 20 square feet to 25 plus acres over multiple land leases.
5) A vast host of cheap manual labor from marginalized portions of society (such as recently graduated students in heeps of debt) and a constant supply of information and observation packaged neatly together
6) Depends on the product. But if its more than 100 dollars and it doesn't do something almost unbelievably spectacular I would likely pass it over. My boots cost 100 Dollars and I strongly believe good boots are the best purchase any gardener can make.
7) My boots have a lifetime warranty. I chewed holes through the first pair in less than a week. Two years later The company changed the design and made it right. My replacements still look new. How long does a quality shovel last? That long.
Features are great - For instance the common wheel barrow is also one of the worlds greatest mobile reclining chairs. If in one product you could provide stop motion picture capture, temperature readings for both the soil and atmosphere, moisture readings for both the soil and atmosphere, Oxygen Levels, Co2 Levels, and light levels both for the visible and non-visible spectrum - and I want it delivered and logged in real time wirelessly by my PC. If you could provide all this in a portable durable package that lasted 10 years under year round outdoor and greenhouse conditions I would be willing to pay 100$ hell maybe even 150.
I wouldn't really use (or be willing to pay for) features of this imagined product to talk to timers or open vents or turn on water based on reading whatever - but I'm sure many people would - at least until they realized human judgement is usually better for such things than automation - but it'd be a nice feature. Say one was going away for 10 days in the summer and had soaker hoses on a switch that could be tripped remotely with data from such a device - Plenty of folks would gobble that up.
Here's a good one. Say we have a tray of water that sits in the garden and is exposed to the drying effects of sun and wind. Calibrate a machine to send water through the drip irrigation system based on the quantity of water evaporated from the tray. A weight sensor would be accurate enough. Every hour, the thing could sense the amount of loss and dole out the prescribed amount of water. This should be simpler and more accurate than relying on a series of soil sensors. The machine could be dialed up or down based on the gardener's observations over time. A group of plants in a pot that sits on a scale, should be even more accurate since transpiration and evaporation from the soil would closely mimic what is happening in the beds.
Or, we could incorporate lots of absorbent materials into deep beds so that water shortage becomes a seasonal rather than daily worry.
Landon, look down. I quoted you at the end of my signature.