GardenBot Brings Geek Power to Green Thumbs

Gardening is about getting your hands dirty and back in touch with nature. But if you are a geek like Andrew Frueh, a graphic designer who lives in Philadelphia, the hobby can take on a high-tech twist.

For less than $200, Frueh has created a garden automation system called GardenBot that uses open source hardware (such as the Arduino) to monitor humidity, temperature and soil conditions. The data is then poured into charts so you can view the world as the plants see it, he says.

“It’s not terribly complicated,” says Frueh, who has put the system into his 120-square-foot backyard garden that has about 20 tomato plants, collard greens, kale and peppers. “The biggest hurdles would be understanding Arduino and having some soldering experience.”

High-tech farming using soil sensors and intelligent management of water resources has been growing among professional farmers. For home gardeners, there are products such as the $50 EasyBloom Plant Sensor that will measure sunlight, temperature, water drainage and fertilizer. But some of those features require subscription, and users can’t hack or tweak it.

Chart shows the conditions in Andrew Freuh's garden over three days.

The GardenBot’s brain is the Arduino board. The rest of the system has a garden station, which is a junction box for all the sensors and a place to secure the wiring.

The key modules for the system are soil moisture sensor, soil temperature sensor, light level and water value. Each of these modules can be built separately and integrated into GardenBot.

Once GardenBot is live, it can send data to a computer so that the information is plotted on a chart and updated every 15 minutes.

Frueh decided to use open source hardware because he was excited by the Arduino microcontroller and the potential to build a system that would be based on modules.

GardenBot has made his gardening experience better and easier, says Frueh.

“We ended up using much less water this year, which was nice,” he says. “It changed how I was thinking about watering the plants.”

Frueh’s GardenBot has been running for about two months with no downtime.

If you would like to build the GardenBot yourself, check out Freuh’s well illustrated and step-by-step instructions on his website.

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Photos: Andrew Frueh

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GardenBot Brings Geek Power to Green Thumbs

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