Need help! Making an automated garden.

Garduino29April 24, 2013

First off hello all :) I was excited to find the forums here because I am in desperate need of help from some experienced gardeners.

I am college student working in the field of computer science. I have decided to create an automated garden as a fun project. There's only one problem though... I know nothing about gardening :(

So I was hoping that there would be some kind souls out there who would take pity on me and aid me in my quest. Pretty please?

I think a description of my situation would be appropriate.

Veggies I would like to grow: Tomatoes, carrots, onions, broccoli, peppers, lettuce, and cucumber.

I used a website called smart gardener to layout my garden based on spacing requirements so I don't think I'll run into any problems there.

My garden is split up into 3 even sections. Each section will be on it's own watering system. Each section will also have one soil moisture sensor.

I also have a temperature sensor and a light level sensor.

So the whole point of this is to create an excellent fool proof watering system. Using electronics and computer wizardry and can use the data from all of these sensors to determine when and how much to water each garden area on an individual basis.

This is where you come in hopefully :) It doesn't help that I can do all of this great stuff if I don't know anything about when and how much to water these plants.

The only thought I have had so far is that I should probably separate the plants into the three areas by their water requirements. Since I will only have one sensor for the entire area it should be placed somewhere that will give an accurate reading of the average moisture level of the soil in that section.

Any help would be terrific. :)

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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

A picture of the area you are considering using would help and also a diagram of the area noting North and dimensions would be helpful. You said you have a layout already?

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 8:49PM
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Taken looking east.

Closer shot also looking east.

Garden layout with the top as north. Each square is one square foot.

Dimensions are 4'x12' broken up into 3 4x4 sections

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 10:18PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

I have my doubts about having 3 watering zones but only one sensor. It seems more logical to have 3 zones and 3 sensors. Different plants, mulch (if you're going to use some) and shade patterns may cause one zone to have different moisture levels than the other zones. Ultimately it will take some trial and error.

It looks like the smart garden website is based on square foot gardening. There are various techniques that SFGrs use. There is a SFG forum on the Garden Web site. It looks like you have 4 tomato plants in 16 square feet. You'll need to do a lot of pruning to keep them in that area. I usually give tomatoes at least 16 square feet of their own. I wouldn't plant more than 2 in 16 square feet. 8 peppers in 8 square feet is ok. 4 square feet for onions and carrots is fine both can be planted fairly dense. Carrots about 3 inches apart, onions about 4 inches apart. 1 square foot for Broccoli is a bit tight but should be ok. 12 square feet for cucumbers is good. Are they bush or vine cucumbers? If vine they should be trellised. 4 square feet for lettuce is good and it needs to be in the ground soon. Lettuce will rarely last into July before it bolts so you might need a second crop unless something overgrows the lettuce area.

Most of your crops like consistent watering especially the lettuce and onions. Peppers and Broccoli can go a bit dry sometimes. Cucumbers must have steady water while fruiting or they'll turn bitter. Don't overwater carrots.

Concerning your layout it's good that the tomatoes are at the north end as they will be the tallest though trellised cucumbers can get very tall 6-8 feet is not unusual. You might want to move the cucumbers to the north of the tomatoes (if vining type) or just to the south. I think I would put lettuce and onions on the south side.

Hope this helps you.


    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 6:42PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

If you grow your tomatoes UP you should be able to get them in that space. I have little space so I put 4 6' stakes around each plant and then tie twine around the stakes to cage them as they grow taller--they're spaced about 18-20" apart, and I grow all indeterminates so by the end of the summer they're hanging over the top of the stakes, especially the cherry tomatoes!

I trellis my cukes on 2" X 3" wire fence (stuck into the ground by putting 6' stakes thru the fencing on each end) and they come out to about 6' high too--by late summer they, too, are draping over the top of the trellises and all growing into each other.

But one thing that could be a problem if I have the directions right! With a house (I assume) and then that big spruce on the south side of the garden, I think you might not have enough sun to have veggies do really well. Most veggies need full sun, or at least LOTS of sun. In the pictures it looks like the deciduous tree will add even more shade when it leafs out.

It also looks to me like the depth of the soil you'll be planting in won't be sufficient for at least some of the plants and will make keeping the soil moist/wet, consistently, very difficult. Can't tell for sure in the pic, but if that's black plastic or landscape fabric on top of the rock mulch and it's only 10 or even 12" deep, I think you're gonna have problems--especially with the tomatoes which do best if planted deep to start with. If the plants were able to grow past what looks like a barrier in the pic, you should be ok, and the additional soil below the raised bed would help to stabilize the soil moisture.

Are you in the Rocky Mountain West somewhere, Garduino? If you're somewhere that's "less dry" some of the growing parameters will be very different (usually much easier!) from what we have out here.

I may not have time to come back and post again, trying to get ready to leave on a trip, so good luck with your project!


    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 8:55PM
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So to clarify some things:

The tomatoes will be the upside down kind meaning that they will grow from hanging pots down. I've always thought these were cool so I wanted to give it a try.

There will be 3 moisture sensors. One for each area.

I live in Arvada which is north west of Denver right at the base of the foot hills about 30 mins south of Boulder. How this changes the growing parameters I have no idea :)

I have changed my garden layout based on the advice provided. The plan is to have plants of similar water requirements in the same area.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 3:08PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

If the tomatoes are going to be in those upside down containers then couldn't they be placed more or less anywhere in your yard where they could be hung? Why would they need dedicated space in a garden bed?

I can't say I've ever seen the upside down container tomatoes thrive for anyone maybe because the containers are too small. I think you would need at least a 5 gallon size container. Google images have some pictures that people made containers out of the ubiquitous orange Homer buckets.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 1:41PM
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