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Prefab Greenhouse + Ardunio Controls = Automated Agriculture (Video)

Roblimo posted about 2 years ago | from the they-call-me-mister-green-genes dept.

Biotech 117

Sam Bagot and Will Bratton operate Horto Domi (hortodomi.com), an agricultural project they describe as "beyond organic." They're working with small prefab greenhouses, adding sensors and Arduino-actuated controls, and even including an earthworm breeding area in most domes, because earthworms are good for the soil and can increase plant production. If you're the kind of person whose plants always seem to shrivel up and die, this may be a great way to garden. With watering and other functions automated, it looks like all you have to do is set your controls, plant what you want to grow, and wait for the "time to harvest" alarm to go off. Okay, it might not be that simple, but Sam and Will say their gardening method saves a lot of energy and time. It also looks like fun, besides being an easy way to grow your own 100% organic fruits and vegetables.

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117 comments

It's so "beyond" organic... (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#41633509)

...one might even call it orthogonal to organic! Or not related to organic at all!

I mean, the worms, sure, but arduinos? Automation does not make things magical, it just makes them work. (And if anything, doesn't that make the growing more artificial?)

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#41633625)

Not really ... at the end of the day it's just a greenhouse with some fancy bits thrown in. My father's greenhouse has some temperature sensitive pneumatic (hydraulic?) arms which will open and close the roof to regulate the temperature.

For purposes of food, it simply means no pesticides and other things. You're not actually going to eat the Arduinos one assumes.

Organic doesn't mean luddite, it means cutting out the chemicals and other stuff.

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#41633673)

That's my point exactly. This is no more or less organic than a greenhouse or garden without the fancy bits. I only mentioned automation being 'less' organic as an exercise in splitting semantic hairs.

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (1)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about 2 years ago | (#41634103)

Yeah, it's hobby gardening automation. You can do a whole lot now on virtually no budget, and that's cool.

But yeah, "organic" is just a free buzzword here. I don't think many hobby gardeners were going to be using large amounts of dangerous pesticide in a 4' garden regardless of whether or not there's a microcontroller in there.

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 2 years ago | (#41634711)

Yeah, it's hobby gardening automation. You can do a whole lot now on virtually no budget, and that's cool.

But yeah, "organic" is just a free buzzword here. I don't think many hobby gardeners were going to be using large amounts of dangerous pesticide in a 4' garden regardless of whether or not there's a microcontroller in there.

Spoken like someone who has never had a 4' garden before... Bugs will ruin your day unless you are very careful; it's so much easier to just spray a little pesticide and let that be that. With a greenhouse that is relatively isolated, and good healthy plants inside, you can probably eliminate even that.

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634827)

or stay organic and use diatomaceous earth. It works very well.

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=diatomaceous+earth&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CB8QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FDiatomaceous_earth&ei=-XZ4ULfFLq2G0QHBhoHQAg&usg=AFQjCNFls_oiZnn1e59mXcpcFSTmBtj_hw

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#41634843)

I wish it was the easy. This year was fine, but last year nothing would stop the japanese beetles.

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634881)

Spinosad and bacillus thuringiensis would like to speak with you.

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#41635843)

Only if you can get the whole county to apply it.
They can travel 2+ miles.

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (1)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about 2 years ago | (#41634905)

No, I'm not a serious gardener so I won't disagree with you, but we always had one when I was growing up and I don't think we ever used any pesticides.

Maybe we were just lucky... I assumed that was perfectly normal for a small garden.

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634749)

Spoken like someone who's never really farmed or gardened.

Instructions/advisor says "You need 5 oz/square of this chemical."

Farmer: "Can I get by with 3?"

City gardener: "If 5 is good, 10 must be better."

So while farmers use more chemicals, the amount/acre is often much higher in the cities.

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41633779)

Actually for organic food you are allowed pesticides.

You are only allowed certain types of pesticides, herbicides, etc. (it all depends on who does the organic certification and their ruleset).

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (2)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | about 2 years ago | (#41636125)

Quiet, you! You're shattering the hipsters' fantasies! [ecfr.gov]

A partial list of what's allowed in the US:

  205.601 Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production. ...
(a) As algicide, disinfectants, and sanitizer, including irrigation system cleaning systems.

(1) Alcohols.

(i) Ethanol.

(ii) Isopropanol.

(2) Chlorine materials—For pre-harvest use, residual chlorine levels in the water in direct crop contact or as water from cleaning irrigation systems applied to soil must not exceed the maximum residual disinfectant limit under the Safe Drinking Water Act, except that chlorine products may be used in edible sprout production according to EPA label directions.

(i) Calcium hypochlorite.

(ii) Chlorine dioxide.

(iii) Sodium hypochlorite.

(3) Copper sulfate—for use as an algicide in aquatic rice systems, is limited to one application per field during any 24-month period. Application rates are limited to those which do not increase baseline soil test values for copper over a timeframe agreed upon by the producer and accredited certifying agent.

(4) Hydrogen peroxide.

(5) Ozone gas—for use as an irrigation system cleaner only.

(6) Peracetic acid—for use in disinfecting equipment, seed, and asexually propagated planting material.

(7) Soap-based algicide/demossers.

(8) Sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate (CAS #-15630-89-4)—Federal law restricts the use of this substance in food crop production to approved food uses identified on the product label.

(b) As herbicides, weed barriers, as applicable.

(1) Herbicides, soap-based—for use in farmstead maintenance (roadways, ditches, right of ways, building perimeters) and ornamental crops.

(2) Mulches.

(i) Newspaper or other recycled paper, without glossy or colored inks.

(ii) Plastic mulch and covers (petroleum-based other than polyvinyl chloride (PVC)).

(c) As compost feedstocks—Newspapers or other recycled paper, without glossy or colored inks.

(d) As animal repellents—Soaps, ammonium—for use as a large animal repellant only, no contact with soil or edible portion of crop.

(e) As insecticides (including acaricides or mite control).

(1) Ammonium carbonate—for use as bait in insect traps only, no direct contact with crop or soil.

(2) Aqueous potassium silicate (CAS #-1312-76-1)—the silica, used in the manufacture of potassium silicate, must be sourced from naturally occurring sand.

(3) Boric acid—structural pest control, no direct contact with organic food or crops.

(4) Copper sulfate—for use as tadpole shrimp control in aquatic rice production, is limited to one application per field during any 24-month period. Application rates are limited to levels which do not increase baseline soil test values for copper over a timeframe agreed upon by the producer and accredited certifying agent.

(5) Elemental sulfur.

(6) Lime sulfur—including calcium polysulfide.

(7) Oils, horticultural—narrow range oils as dormant, suffocating, and summer oils.

(8) Soaps, insecticidal.

(9) Sticky traps/barriers.

(10) Sucrose octanoate esters (CAS #s—42922-74-7; 58064-47-4)—in accordance with approved labeling.

(f) As insect management. Pheromones.

(g) As rodenticides.

(1) Sulfur dioxide—underground rodent control only (smoke bombs).

(2) Vitamin D3 .

(h) As slug or snail bait. Ferric phosphate (CAS # 10045-86-0).

(i) As plant disease control.

(1) Aqueous potassium silicate (CAS #-1312-76-1)—the silica, used in the manufacture of potassium silicate, must be sourced from naturally occurring sand.

(2) Coppers, fixed—copper hydroxide, copper oxide, copper oxychloride, includes products exempted from EPA tolerance, Provided, That, copper-based materials must be used in a manner that minimizes accumulation in the soil and shall not be used as herbicides.

(3) Copper sulfate—Substance must be used in a manner that minimizes accumulation of copper in the soil.

(4) Hydrated lime.

(5) Hydrogen peroxide.

(6) Lime sulfur.

(7) Oils, horticultural, narrow range oils as dormant, suffocating, and summer oils.

(8) Peracetic acid—for use to control fire blight bacteria.

(9) Potassium bicarbonate.

(10) Elemental sulfur.

(11) Streptomycin, for fire blight control in apples and pears only until October 21, 2014.

(12) Tetracycline, for fire blight control in apples and pears only until October 21, 2014.

(j) As plant or soil amendments.

(1) Aquatic plant extracts (other than hydrolyzed)—Extraction process is limited to the use of potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide; solvent amount used is limited to that amount necessary for extraction.

(2) Elemental sulfur.

(3) Humic acids—naturally occurring deposits, water and alkali extracts only.

(4) Lignin sulfonate—chelating agent, dust suppressant.

(5) Magnesium sulfate—allowed with a documented soil deficiency.

(6) Micronutrients—not to be used as a defoliant, herbicide, or desiccant. Those made from nitrates or chlorides are not allowed. Soil deficiency must be documented by testing.

(i) Soluble boron products.

(ii) Sulfates, carbonates, oxides, or silicates of zinc, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and cobalt.

(7) Liquid fish products—can be pH adjusted with sulfuric, citric or phosphoric acid. The amount of acid used shall not exceed the minimum needed to lower the pH to 3.5.

(8) Vitamins, B1 , C, and E.

(9) Sulfurous acid (CAS # 7782-99-2) for on-farm generation of substance utilizing 99% purity elemental sulfur per paragraph (j)(2) of this section.

(k) As plant growth regulators. Ethylene gas—for regulation of pineapple flowering.

(l) As floating agents in postharvest handling.

(1) Lignin sulfonate.

(2) Sodium silicate—for tree fruit and fiber processing.

(m) As synthetic inert ingredients as classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for use with nonsynthetic substances or synthetic substances listed in this section and used as an active pesticide ingredient in accordance with any limitations on the use of such substances.

(1) EPA List 4—Inerts of Minimal Concern.

(2) EPA List 3—Inerts of unknown toxicity—for use only in passive pheromone dispensers.

(n) Seed preparations. Hydrogen chloride (CAS # 7647-01-0)—for delinting cotton seed for planting.

(o) As production aids. Microcrystalline cheesewax (CAS #'s 64742-42-3, 8009-03-08, and 8002-74-2)-for use in log grown mushroom production. Must be made without either ethylene-propylene co-polymer or synthetic colors.

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634143)

Organic does not mean "no pesticides" it means some kinds of pesticides aren't used.

Arduino = obnoxious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41633647)

It's good to see an open platform where hobbyists can build MCU-controlled projects, but seeing every single MCU project being solely Arduino is a little annoying. Arduino is just a wrapper for the AVR MCU.

Real news is a solid EE project. The kind that requires skill. Learning to program an MCU is trivial in the scheme of a solid project. Why do we keep seeing these Arduinos and their "shields" keep popping up all over the place?

The modern-day equivalent to the Nuts and Volts crowd has become little more than Lego Mindstorms. You see things like Make overtaken by people like the mindless radio drone KipKay who calls cutting open a battery a "hack."

What have we come to, people?

Re:Arduino = obnoxious (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41633899)

What have we come to? Wanting flexibility while getting the most out of our time and money because we prefer conversation, social interaction, and fresh air to tedious bit-twiddling and masturbating chronically to WoW porn while pissing our engineer salaries' away on overpriced collectible action figures.

Which is what you do, by the way. The latter, not the former.

It's like when we were competing for that hot chick at the photography show. You were there with your enlarger and developers and fixers babbling about boring shit like shutter and exposure settings, and what kind of filter you use for your darkroom, and that's when she got bored of your soulless quantitative approach and came over to my exhibit instead. Then I showed her the soul of my photography with a digital camera and a home photo printer that cost me a total of $200 bucks, concentrating on the art itself and how emotional and profound it feels. She got my number and went to my house later that evening.

Yes, we boned. I cruise, you lose.

-- Ethanol-fueled

Re:Arduino = obnoxious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634081)

You masturbate in your own filth just like everyone else. Quit pretending.

ALERT!!! TIMOTHY IS A ..*-* M-O-R-O-N *-*.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634439)

Horto Domi sounds a bit like how it looks too; a small dome structure.

Nope. Not knowing any Latin but taking a GUESS, just a wild GUESS, I figured that Domi would mean home. And sure enough, it DOES. Gee, this makes you sound retarded. (If they were related, it would be a different story.) That and your erroneous sprinkling of semicolons everywhere. Did you know that there are: rules for, correct usage of semicolons, and. that you canno't-- properly place them wherever you; please? Timothy, have you ever contemplated suicide?

Hi Ethanol-fueled (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634187)

You tremendous douche! How's that ban treating ya?

--TrisexualPuppy

Re:Arduino = obnoxious (3, Insightful)

paskie (539112) | about 2 years ago | (#41633921)

That seems similar to mourning the downfall of mainframes and high-power UNIX workstations and the rise of the PCs, and that people start using high level languages before taking the time to learn assembler and memory timings or whatever first.

In an ideal world, all competent programmers would be well versed in all the important aspects of programming and hardware. It's similar with MCU and EE projects. In real world, to get shit done, there are other important factors other than technical competency and lowering the playing field enables hacking electronics for people with little or no experience, only spotty technical understanding of what's going on at all levels, but with familiarity with other fields (e.g. gardening), enthusiasm, determination to pull the project through, documentation skills or whatever. The new projects aren't as perfect technically, but there's heck more of them and they are making ways to yet uncharted areas (and budgets).

Re:Arduino = obnoxious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41635021)

Point taken, but this *is* slashdot, not Digg.

Oh, right.

Re:Arduino = obnoxious (4, Funny)

Nemesisghost (1720424) | about 2 years ago | (#41633935)

So why don't you put something together, with your non-Arduino knowledge, that automates the old man screaming at the kids to "Get off my lawn".

Re:Arduino = obnoxious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634491)

Not the OP, but I did sort of. Several years ago, using AVR's for the brains, I built a hexapod robot with an airsoft uzi (9v electric motor in it controlled with a relay) on a 2-axis mount that had a mini-camera (low power channel 3/4 tv receiver type - kinda crappy) mounted at the end of the gun. Controlled it wirelessly using bluetooth (~40m range). I looked into the Arduino stuff at the time and quickly decided it was too little for too much compared with other offerings. I still think of it as the equivalent of a 'My First Controller' level device. So seeing it become so pervasive is a little off-putting.

God that was a fun project for a while though.

Re:Arduino = obnoxious (1)

fa2k (881632) | about 2 years ago | (#41635919)

The comment below works almost as well as a reply to this:

It's not really any different to using a tractor to dig a hole instead of a spade. The same "ingredients" are going in, but the tedium and repetitive tasks are reduced or eliminated entirely.

Using an Arduino board just removes the tedium of soldering up the components to make the microcontroller tick, and lets you focus on the interesting bits, which are the hardware it's connected to and the software.

Re:Arduino = obnoxious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41636185)

Arduino fanboi here. (We've migrated most of our test equipment at my work from labview/PIC BS to Arduino)

To answer your question, because Arduinos are super easy to use, cheap, and flexible.

The AVR is cool, but for Arduino users the AVR is completely "under the hood" so to speak; obscured by the package & abstraction that Arduino provides.

What makes Arduino nice? #1 Open. #2 It has the hardware features you need without being bloated with peripheral junk. #3 Simple easy IDE for anyone who knows C. #4 Big community, good tutorials/documentation, active development. #5 Variety of modular shields provide support for custom features without bogging down the main unit; and without requiring substantial work to install.(Most are plug-in instead of requiring solder) #6 Variety of compact form factors with various voltage options. #7 CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP.

If you just get a dev board from an MCU manufacturer. It is usually going to be a gigantic(physical size) bloated(feature set) closed source, POS with a crappy, buggy IDE and few hardware options. Sure you can pay a lot for the right board for your application, or pay even more to fab one, then strangle the IDE into submission, but most hobbyists don't have the time money or inclination to do this. With Arduino, you don't need to.

Re:It's so "beyond" organic... (2)

neokushan (932374) | about 2 years ago | (#41633947)

It's not really any different to using a tractor to dig a hole instead of a spade. The same "ingredients" are going in, but the tedium and repetitive tasks are reduced or eliminated entirely.

earthworm breeding area (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41633529)

>> earthworm breeding area... ...complete with rotating bed, mirrored ceiling, and Barry White soundtrack.

titel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41633565)

Nice typo, title.

Silent Running (2)

handy_vandal (606174) | about 2 years ago | (#41633605)

In a future where all flora is extinct on Earth, an astronaut is given orders to destroy the last of Earth's plant life being kept in a greenhouse on board a spacecraft.

Silent Running [imdb.com]

Re:Silent Running (2, Funny)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about 2 years ago | (#41633669)

In a future where all flora is extinct on Earth, an astronaut is given orders to destroy the last of Earth's plant life being kept in a greenhouse on board a spacecraft.

Silent Running [imdb.com]

I have a "gut" instinct that as long as humans are alive (yes, if we find a way to leave our bodies behind this isn't true), flora will survive....

Wont scale (1)

cod3r_ (2031620) | about 2 years ago | (#41633627)

Good for small home projects but does not scale. Not sure if that is the objective with this, but I think farmers will stick with traditional farming

Re:Wont scale (2)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#41633659)

Yes and pot growers have been doing this for decades.

Re:Wont scale (5, Funny)

cod3r_ (2031620) | about 2 years ago | (#41633693)

come to think of it those 2 guys look like a couple of pot heads. Think I'm starting to understand their objective with this project.

Good Point (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 2 years ago | (#41633855)

come to think of it those 2 guys look like a couple of pot heads. Think I'm starting to understand their objective with this project.

Hmm, when every suburb has tens of thousands of these little domes, the cops can't check 'em all!

I have to say though that from watching the videos they strike me a lot more as eco-nerds than potheads. Way too industrious.

Re:Wont scale (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | about 2 years ago | (#41633951)

Why wouldn’t this scale? This is a serious question. This is the first time I have heard of this project and I am trying to figure out the pros and cons. It’s got a Bucky Dome, so that is a huge plus in my book, but that is as far as I have gotten.

Re:Wont scale (1)

tomhath (637240) | about 2 years ago | (#41635235)

You could build it bigger. But they will be the most expensive vegetables you've ever imagined.

Re:Wont scale (4, Insightful)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 2 years ago | (#41634357)

Don't scale it up, scale it DOWN. Get this to window ledge sized, add 50 million apartment dwellers replacing a part of their food budget, and you've just increased food security while decreasing the carbon emissions with traditional farming, while decreasing obesity and increasing fresh food consumption.

Don't think mainframe replacement- think personal greenhouse.

Re:Wont scale (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634565)

Having made efforts to grow various vegetables in my garden, I feel like you underestimate the space needed to grow food. Probably what I've had the most luck with so far in terms of just large amounts of food has been tomatoes and zucchini, the latter of which seems difficult to fit on a window sill at all. If every single person in the US was able to grow 100 lbs of tomatoes a year each, we would be able to match the current annual production in the US. That is a lot, and even if you shrink it that so it only impacts about 10% of the tomato industry, getting the more reasonable 10 lb per person, that is only a single food item still. And in addition to an automated gardening set up, you would need an automated preserving set up too.

Re:Wont scale (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#41634815)

When I visited Butte Montana I noticed that almost every house had a tomato plant at their window inside. Their soil was too polluted to grow outdoors.

Re:Wont scale (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41636513)

I wasn't trying to imply you can't or shouldn't grow tomatoes on a window sill. Just don't grow them expecting it to make a serious dent in your food budget, let alone the food industry. You might be able to save a few bucks, although in some case you might end up spending more. It depends on where you live and what you want to grow. I tend to pick things I can't find easily in the local area for some variety and because I don't have expectations of doing much better than full time farmers in the local area. Also, this is still taking the original poster literal in terms of a window sill. If you have an actual plot of land with enough sun, that is a different story.

Re:Wont scale (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#41634875)

Try peppers.
I had 3 pots of them on the balcony this year and ended up with at least several pounds.

Re:Wont scale (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41636599)

Most of my response was taking the poster literal as far as window sill. A balcony facing the right direction can be considerable more space.

And I do grow peppers, in the soil, not on a balacony/window. In fact, just about the only two things I can consistently get a fair amount of food out of at every place I've lived is tomatoes and peppers. That said, I've always gotten a lot more tomatoes than peppers for the same amount of space or effort. I've also had a lot more variability in peppers, with some years doing worse. And when I had the space and it would grow, zucchini would produce more than my family could use. If I am limited on space, I rather grow my own hot peppers than bell peppers, as I like have more uses for them and find them easier to use preserved.

Re:Wont scale (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#41634655)

I'm not sure why you wold think int would decrease obesity.

Re:Wont scale (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#41634789)

I'm not sure why you wold think int would decrease obesity.

Probably because you wouldn't be able to grow cheese burgers, but vegetables.

Generally speaking, unless you're deep frying, slathering in butter or cheez whiz ... few people are going around saying vegetables cause obesity. In fact, usually quite the opposite.

Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (5, Interesting)

WillAdams (45638) | about 2 years ago | (#41633661)

(no, not for the Micronaut)

Kind of begs the question --- how would homesteading look w/ 21st century technology? How much land does one need for a self-sufficient existence for a family of 4?

Re:Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (1)

cod3r_ (2031620) | about 2 years ago | (#41633709)

I don't think you'd need much, space so to speak. Though they do have quite a bit of stuff plugged in. Depending on the actual power requirements you may not be able to sustain yourself at all with a system like this.

Re:Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#41633875)

Depending on the actual power requirements you may not be able to sustain yourself at all with a system like this.

I've always wondered how much some of those power panels I see at farms and rural houses lately provide.

Some of them look like they're about 30x15 feet or so, and mounted on swivels which track with the sun. A couple of smaller ones hooked direct to the greenhouse.

I've got two little 1100mAh ones I use to charge phones and stuff. Though, I know we're a long way from being self sufficient with just solar.

Re:Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (2)

angelbar (1823238) | about 2 years ago | (#41633793)

Too modern! I can too image a future self-sufficient family of 4 but with only one kid. :)

Re:Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41633953)

No, I see no logical fallacy at all. Perhaps it raises the question?
Begging the question [wikipedia.org]

Re:Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (1)

c0d3g33k (102699) | about 2 years ago | (#41633993)

How would homesteading look w/ 21st century technology? How much land does one need for a self-sufficient existence for a family of 4?

Probably about as much land as a small-medium sized farm. In addition to growing enough food to feed yourself and the other 3 people year-round, you would need enough surplus to provide an income. You know, to pay for everything else needed to survive and thrive. Example of things you would still need to pay for: Additional food to provide a varied enough diet to ensure proper nutrition, health insurance, crop insurance, clothing, transportation, essential material goods (stove, refridgeration, heating/cooling, electricity, lighting etc), medication, property taxes, water, communications, educational materials for the kids, food for the livestock (and veterinary bills). And so on. You'd need to be able to grow a hell of a lot of vegetables to become sustainably self-sufficient, and a couple of green houses on your 1/4 - 1/2 acre of suburban land won't be enough.

Re:Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | about 2 years ago | (#41634061)

Define self sufficient? A couple of acres (less than 10) is sufficient to run a truck farm. 40 acres used to be sufficient (i.e. minimum level) for Kansas wheat farms. Of course at this level we are talking about subsistence living with few modern conveniences. As for modern? How do you pay for the modern tech – in particular the capital spending side? Even solar cells have a limited lifespan. At that point being “self-sufficient” goes out the door. Even homesteaders had to rely on other people for blacksmithing, power threshing, milling grain, canning supplies, etc.

Re:Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (1)

efudddd (312615) | about 2 years ago | (#41634117)

I get a 70s vibe too, but slightly different. Automated plant growth and geometric domes? Silent Running. [wikipedia.org] Now if they can add Huey, Dewey and Louie, they've got a winner.

Re:Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (4, Interesting)

drgould (24404) | about 2 years ago | (#41634155)

Like this [urbanhomestead.org] .

The Dervaes family of four produces 6000 lbs of organic food annually on 1/10 of an acre located just 15 minutes from downtown Los Angeles.

Re:Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (1)

c0d3g33k (102699) | about 2 years ago | (#41634251)

Interesting. Yet even their home page says "A journey towards self-sufficiency". Apparently complete self-sufficency is not as easy as all that. I'm not even sure it's all that desirable on a society-wide scale. Cohesively interdependent works better for me.

Re:Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (1)

Whorhay (1319089) | about 2 years ago | (#41634543)

Beat me to it, I was gonna post that link but you got there first. So instead I'll go with www.theurbanfarmingguys.com I'm particularly interested in the idea of Aquaponics. That is raising fish for protein and using the fish's waste and water to grow plants in a cyclic self sustaining system. I think the only major constant input in a system like that is the fish food, which you could grow yourself in the form of duckweed.

The Dervaes family is successful for a couple reasons that a large part of the population wouldn't be able to leverage. Mainly they live in a climate that allows for year round growing without the extensive use of greenhouses. And while they are farming in a very small area it is actually more space than many city dwellers have access too, that is when the zoning laws even allow it.

I read about some Lady whose house was surrounded by more than 100 varieties of vegetables, herbs and such that she used to support herself. Someone got a bug up their butt and she ended up fighting the city in court over whether or not she could keep it up. While her court case was still pending the city sent out workers and pulled everything up while she was away from her home.

Re:Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (3, Informative)

cpm99352 (939350) | about 2 years ago | (#41634571)

I'm in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), so my two main sources of information are these two books by Steve Solomon [amazon.com] and Carol Deppe [amazon.com] . Depending on your climate Elliot Coleman [amazon.com] has good advice. I don't know about other climates. I'm using organic practices, so my advice isn't useful for those going the conventional route.

In the PNW the ground doesn't freeze, so some microorganisms aren't killed off like they are elsewhere. This means after gardening about three years in the same spot the ground becomes far less productive. So... best practice is to let the ground lie fallow for a year to starve out the bad microorganisms, which increases your land requirements.

Replenishing the soil in terms of fertilizer can be challenging if one is going the self-sufficiency route.

Raising meat requires add'l land, and coming up with self-sufficient animal food requires even more land. I'm raising poultry and find that in my climate ducks are the most self-sufficient, followed by geese. Goats are able to forage a bit. I do pigs, too, and while they do forage and consume all our scraps, they require external feed.

We are simply not able to grow certain staples such as rice. We're gluten-free, so wheat is out for us, but anyone trying to be self-sufficient who consumes white flour is in for a hard time. If growing grain, do you count fuel in your self-sufficiency? If not, are you using oxen?

Given our family's needs, I think three-four acres would do it (taking rotation into account), but we're not aiming for total self-sufficiency. This assumes shipping in animal feed. That said, I think fruit trees can be a significant source of food without requiring a bunch of input.

Given the realities of property taxes I don't think self-sufficient farming is possible except in areas well away from population centers where land/taxes are dirt cheap. It also takes a lot of work. There's a big learning curve, too. If you're thinking about raising your own food, get started (even on a small scale). This isn't something you can pick up by reading a few books...

Re:Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#41634669)

4 acres, min.

Re:Reminds me of the ``Biotron'' ads from the '70s (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634859)

A large factor in that would be the question of how much meat you want to have in your diet. There's a lot of loss in growing plants to feed to animals that you then eat. There's also some dependence on climate - a longer growing season allows more planting/harvesting cycles in the year.

Needs Flash Player (2)

KBentley57 (2017780) | about 2 years ago | (#41633727)

I would love to watch the video, but it would require Flash. Being Slashdot, is it not possible at this point to load the videos in html5?

Not new (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#41633731)

Hydroponic Cannabis growers have been doing this for years. Automatic lighting systems, hydration, nutrients, ventilation, etc.

Re:Not new (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#41633775)

I'm fairly certain I read a story about this type of set up in High Times over 18 years ago when I was in high school.

Re:Not new (1)

TheNinjaroach (878876) | about 2 years ago | (#41634085)

Meh, hydroponics suck. These guys are using soil and even enhancing it with earthworms, which leads to a better product that contains lesser concentrations of nutrients and other chemicals.

Re:Not new (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#41634343)

I've never been able to detect a difference between indoor hydro and indoor organic herb. I expect people who claim to are falling for their own confirmation biases. Just like advocates of organic produce, people who believe in terroir, etc. People will swear up and down that they can taste a difference between two bottles of water filled from the same tap. If you slap an "organic" label on a bag of herb you'll see the same effect.

Re:Not new (1)

Whorhay (1319089) | about 2 years ago | (#41634769)

I'm unimformed on the differences of the quality of the produce produced by the systems. But from my understanding one of the problems with purely hydroponic systems is that balancing the nutrients and byproducts in the water can be very challenging and that the system needs to be purged and started fresh from time to time. Also various plants have different nutrient requirements and getting them to grow productively together in a purely hydroponic system can be difficult if not impossible. A solution that people have found is to use composted dirt at least in part as the growing medium to help balance the nutrients and toxicity of the water. My favorite approach is when they use fish to get nutrients into the water, naturally existing bacteria to process the amonia from the fish into nitrates, more bacterias to make the nitrates into nitrogen, plants in grow beds to make the nitrogen and other fish waste into produce.

growingpower.org in Milwaukee has a very neat setup for this. And theurbanfarmingguys.com have done some cool stuff as well.

Re:Not new (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#41634925)

But from my understanding one of the problems with purely hydroponic systems is that balancing the nutrients and byproducts in the water can be very challenging and that the system needs to be purged and started fresh from time to time.

Nute balance can be monitored by sensors and automatically adjusted. Flushing the whole system needs to happen, but less often than you'd have to visit the site to prune. The upside to hydro is a faster growing time and more yield per plant than soil.

A solution that people have found is to use composted dirt at least in part as the growing medium to help balance the nutrients and toxicity of the water.

That sounds like a recipe for getting all sorts of things growing in your hydro system clogging things up and potentially infecting your plants. I guess you could autoclave and filter the compost, but I'm not sure I believe that would be any better than hydro.

Re:Not new (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#41635069)

One thing I have seen growers do is to grow in shallow containers with potting soil, but still use hydro fertilizers while keeping a close eye on the PH.

After each harvest the soil gets spread around the yard.

Re:Not new (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#41636175)

That sounds like a worst of both worlds approach. If you go soil, might as well use earthworm castings that are full of probiotics. And fertilizers in soil tend to salt out becoming unavailable to the plants. But I haven't witnessed it so I don't know.

Re:Not new (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634887)

If the person growing hydro does not switch to a low or no fertilizer solution the week before harvest then it might taste kinda plastic like.

afaik that is the only thing that will give a taste difference.

Re:Not new (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#41634691)

hydroponics are superior. 99% of plant matter comes from CO2/Sun/Water, not the ground.

In fact, you could grow a tree in a room of think mist.

All-in-one is expensive. (1)

Tenebrousedge (1226584) | about 2 years ago | (#41635301)

It's a lot safer and saner to have a dedicated 120V timer switch for your lights than to wire in a, e.g. 5V DC - 120V AC relay so you can control your lights with a microcontroller.

Also, ph and nutrient testing are generally done by hand unless you have a very large operation. A good pH probe costs $100, and then you have to take the time and effort to hook it up to a microcontroller. Then do that for each hydro system, because in a continuous op you'll have at least two of these -- probably three, for the seedling/clone, vegetative growth, and flowering stages. That won't necessarily get you eC readings too, although it's possible. CO2 is another pain.

Don't get me wrong, one of my next life goals is to set something like that up. Most growers, however, just throw a $10 timer on the lights and forget about it. Geek factor aside, the ROI just doesn't justify a small unified automation system. If you have a warehouse-sized operation, you can probably afford to drop $4-10k on automation electronics. These will probably not be arduino-based.

P.S. Anyone who wants to contribute some electrical expertise, please send me an email.

Re:All-in-one is expensive. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41636159)

The other tough part about automated pH/nute testing is that they still need to be calibrated. Clean and calibrate before they go in, wait a week, and take em out and take a reading of a calibration solution, so you can see if there was any drift over time. Apply this linearly to the previous time period's data for drift correct (not exact but it works). At that point, fuck it. I'd rather measure by hand in each container every day or every other day. Faster and easier.

Earthworm Breeding Area (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 2 years ago | (#41633825)

Never understood why you would need a separate breeding area. Won't they breed to the exact right amount once you introduce them into where you actually want to use them?

Re:Earthworm Breeding Area (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | about 2 years ago | (#41634295)

Night crawler type earthworms are best left in the ground, and left alone. But they are slow.

If you want to process large amounts of organic matter, you use red worms, which need more organic matter than is normally in soil. Their output also need to be diluted because it's too strong for most plants.

"Red Wigglers – The Cadillac of Worms"

Re:Earthworm Breeding Area (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 2 years ago | (#41634751)

So you are saying that red worms are unable to survive in normal healthy plant filled soil?

but there exists worms that can, and also of benefit to gardeners they do not produce concentrated wastes that will harm most plants and instead slowly release normal healthy amounts of nutrients?

Re:Earthworm Breeding Area (1)

Whorhay (1319089) | about 2 years ago | (#41634837)

I think the point is that red worms would exist more rarely in nature. But if you intend to do composting and want quick throughput so that you need less space for your compost pile, then the red worms are a better choice. And if you want throughput to be even higher you'll need to breed them.

We're talking compost here, which is used as a fertilizer, you don't normally plant anything in a pot that only has high nutrient compost. When I was a kid we had chickens, so we we used chicken shit as fertilizer. We had to be cautious because the plants could actually get nitrogen burn if you put too much of it down.

they're trying to take the soul out of gardening.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41633841)

There is nothing I enjoy more than working in my own vegetable garden: the feel of new green leaves; the smell of moist, fertile earth; the soft popping sound as water is absorbed into soil....

All of that would be lost on a turn-key operation such as this, and those poor fools wouldn't even realize what they're missing.

Re:they're trying to take the soul out of gardenin (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#41633977)

All of that would be lost on a turn-key operation such as this, and those poor fools wouldn't even realize what they're missing.

I have a feeling these guys know exactly what they are missing, that was probably the entire point of doing this. So I wouldn't say they are missing it, they are avoiding it.

Re:they're trying to take the soul out of gardenin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634845)

Some of us have to prioritize hobbies due to there only being 24 hours in a day. Trying to remove effort on one thing doesn't necessarily mean a person dislikes it or doesn't see it as enjoyable, just that they find it less enjoyable than other activities. That said, quite a few people wouldn't enjoy those aspects of gardening and would want to skip just to the results.

Re:they're trying to take the soul out of gardenin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634903)

I grew up on a farm. I've had all the working with plants and soil I ever want.

So, yeah, I know exactly what I'd be 'missing' by using this, and I'd much rather use this, because I wouldn't miss that stuff at all.

Too much.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41633901)

Jersey Shore.
The "gardening situation." Really?

The plans will no longer need us (1)

egamma (572162) | about 2 years ago | (#41633989)

The plans will no longer need us. Be warned--pretty soon plantaggeddon will occur!

The Ferninator: Coming soon to a theatre near you.

Re:The plans will no longer need us (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 years ago | (#41634037)

Axle Pressbutton is that you?

TCO? (3, Interesting)

blackfrancis75 (911664) | about 2 years ago | (#41634015)

I'm sure this kind of scheme would give the owner some warm fuzzy feelings, knowing that they did it themselves, and that in principle they're 'saving the planet' by growing without pesticides...
But really, you'd have to voluntarily ignore the total financial AND environmental costs.
How many veggies do you need to grow and eat before you break-even on the cost of the setup?
How many to grow & eat before the reduced pesticide use makes up for the energy-costs and pollution associated with fabrication, distribution and eventual safe disposal of the hardware?

I know that's not 'the' point, but it does need to be considered int eh context of the 'cool' factor

Re:TCO? (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#41634099)

There are a few crops that have a much higher value so the return on investment is higher.

I know I'll be a growing two pounds a year if one of those crops ever became legal.

Re:TCO? (2)

blackfrancis75 (911664) | about 2 years ago | (#41634139)

Heh.. but if it were legal - the value would plummet

Re:TCO? (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#41634723)

yep. In a year the vast majority of product would be coming form Phillip Morris, and it would be inexpensive.

Re:TCO? (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 2 years ago | (#41634383)

For carbon cost- two season's worth will replace the cost of using fossil fuel to ship food into the inner city for you to consume. It's not just the pesticides, though that's nice too, it's the distribution of production instead of the distribution of finished goods.

Re:TCO? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#41635061)

Do you analyze all your hobbies that way?

I don't. I do however enjoy them, and no store bought produce beats home grown. Cucumbers that were picked minutes ago beat the heck out of the soggy ones they have at the store.

even including an earthworm breeding area (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634033)

I was just reading how earthworms are largely an invasive species [allaboutwildlife.com] in North America. Apparently the ice ages back when we were all doodling on walls with mammoth blood, the ice sheets scraped most the soil and the attendant worms off into the oceans. Since then the duff - thick bottom decaying leaf litter - became an essential feature of American low-soil forest growth. Earthworms destroy duff and turn it into casings that wash out in the rain easily. The only thing limiting their spread is that they die out in the cold winters that happen without that tempering Mediterranean or just plain hot Asian climate.

Now these greenhouses could become a powerful reservoir for that humble destroyer of native American forests, the earthworm. But it's worth it for a little gardening black gold [blackgold.bz] , isn't it?

secret secret (1)

orchardville (2497560) | about 2 years ago | (#41634041)

Domo arigato, garden roboto.

Feedback on presentation (4, Insightful)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 2 years ago | (#41634283)

Slashdot, here's some feedback for making better videos.

In comparison to other slashdot videos, this one's OK, and it could be a better. Without commenting on the content or participants or video production (which other people can do), here's some notes about presentation:

Repeat until memorized:

  1. Audio is for talk
  2. Slides are for charts
  3. Video is for action

Having a video of talking heads/talking people is the wrong way to present. Watching people talk is boring! Use the right technology in the right way for maximum interest.

A short clip of people talking will establish the context and make a personal connection with the viewer. Then cutting to illustrative videos while they talk makes a stronger, clearer presentation of the information.

(Also, briefly cut back to the people talking to reestablish context between subjects. Talking heads aren't forbidden, but using talking heads to present verbal information is bad form.)

When the video finally cuts away from the talking heads, it doesn't track the speech! Talk about the dome size, type, materials, area, earthworms is dubbed over a video of the controller box. The audio doesn't match the video, and it makes no sense.

Choose video clips which correspond to and illustrate the talk, this serves to present the information in two ways (video and audio) for better impact.

What's the point of the picture-in-picture at the beginning? It's arty and establishes the context (ie - growing things), but context is established after 5 seconds or so. What's the point of PIP for 45 seconds? You're crippling the presentation for no purpose.

The subject and content is pretty good. The people interviewed give a surprisingly good talk, given that this was probably off-the-cuff and they're not professional presenters. No problems there.

The content was a little shallow - it's more of an advertizing brochure with no detail. I would have liked to hear more about the nuts-and-bolts of what they are doing: their controller box, how things connect, what micros/sensors/interfaces they use, how the dome is built, what materials to use, assembly, &c. I know it's in the link, but this is a web site for people interested in tech, and since tech is what will get people interested in their site, you should explore it.

Overall the quality of video posts is improving. Keep up the good work, and keep on making it better.

Re:Feedback on presentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634949)

Good advice, but a little misaimed; Slashdot didn't have anything to do with making this video. It's the video from these guys' Kickstarter project, so most likely they'll never see your advice here.

Hopefully someone else who's planning a Kickstarter will, though!

Re:Feedback on presentation (1)

Jogar the Barbarian (5830) | about 2 years ago | (#41635967)

Apparently they did (or somebody important did)... the video is gone. :)

How's this different than what weed growers (1)

future assassin (639396) | about 2 years ago | (#41634533)

have been doing for decades?

First this is too complicated BTW I own a hydroponic store. The all in one controllers have been on the market for years and years but no one wants them as you put all your eggs in one basket. The controller fails and your garden is done if you're not around to keep an eye on it. Here's one that's on the market now http://www.grozonecontrol.com/SCC1_en.html [grozonecontrol.com] There are other systems on the market that you can view through your phone and see the stats for your garden.

Everything they talk about can be done using existing products on the market. The watering part is pretty simple with the proper soil less media you can just use a recycling timer to water your plants several times per day.

From the video I get the idea that they are more concerned about the "microprocessor" part than actually coming up with a cheap way to grow at home year round. One thing they don't talk about is the cost of electricity for the HID lights and the heating in winter.

What they should also be looking at is creating a neighbourhood co-op where say 5-10 house holds grows a different crop and they all share/trade with each other. This way you could have each house hold specialize in a crop and not having to worry about growing several crops at once.

Re:How's this different than what weed growers (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#41634631)

". The all in one controllers have been on the market for years and years but no one wants them as you put all your eggs in one basket. "
get two.

Re:How's this different than what weed growers (1)

future assassin (639396) | about 2 years ago | (#41635167)

Right so now the cost of your little garden goes up to $1000's which you might as well use to buy food at a farmers market.

Because (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#41634613)

no other controller could possible be used to automate a greenhouse?

Tech&Greens--good combo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634681)

What a great marriage of tech and food production. I have a small organic greenhouse in north-central PA with worm composting area and water tank to store heat and struggle to keep the environment within healthy parameters when I'm not home. I've looked for a tech solution but didn't find arduinos until this video. Would be great to turn on the water circulating pump only when the sun is out. Next project is to try some hydroponic greens this winter. Thanks!

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