3 Ways To Use Tech To Improve Your Garden
Apps, Gadgets and Systems for High Yields
Gardening is booming around the world, and right here at home. Over 18 million people took up gardening during the pandemic. Whether you’re new to digging and planting, or have been tilling the earth for a while, plan for your best plot and beds ever this year, with the help of technology.
New apps, smart devices and gadgets will help home and community gardeners have a more successful growing season. Technology can also help make tasks easier and less time-consuming, whether you’re a beginner or experienced green thumb. Advanced methods, once only available to large agricultural producers, can now affordably apply to home farms on a smaller scale. The growing season can extend by planting indoors. Imagine enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables year-round!
Here are the best ways to use technology to improve your garden in 2023.
1. Use an App to Make a Plan
Before buying gadgets or even bags of potting soil or containers, consider using an app to plan out your garden or small farm. A variety of easy-to-use programs can do everything from advising on specific types of plants, up to visualizing a plan for your whole yard, including landscaping features and pathways. Here are some top tools to plan your garden, ranging from free to a modest one time cost:
If you are stumped about what to plant, Armitage’s Great Garden Plants app provides advice from one of the best authorities on gardening for just $5. “Dr. of Horticulture” Allan Armitage advises what type of plants to choose for every garden, even landscaping and indoor species. There is also a section on controlling pests and keeping deer out of the garden, along with wisdom on choosing native plants.
There are many garden layout apps out there, but a robust one is Territorial’s Garden Planner. First, the planner lets you select the proper growing zone for your area. Other app features will use this localized information to suggest times to plant (and what to start indoors) and when to harvest.
Before using the planner, watch the 10-minute instructional video to review the app’s features. Easy to use tools help map out your space, dragging and dropping pathways, landscape structures, buildings and planting beds.
Once you have a general layout, you can place a plant, then click and drag it to make a row, or expand a structure to a larger size. Click the information link next to a plant icon to reveal more details such as type of soil, light and fertilizer needed, how many plants to grow per square foot and even “companion” tips–species to plant alongside each other for mutual benefit. There is a flexible labeling feature, and the app records each plant and feature you add in an exportable list. Once you get the basics in place, you can convert the plan into 3D, and continue to refine. Smart technology advises on plant types for the region, local weather forecasts, and sends reminders when to plant.
The Garden Planner is on the expensive end of these types of apps at $38, but has the most advanced features, and a 7-day free trial that doesn’t require a credit card. As an option, beginners could start out with free online tools, like Better Homes and Gardens Plan-A-Garden app, and move up later.
2. Consider Essential Garden Gadgets
Seedling Warming Mat. As a general rule, most seeds like to be in a growing medium that’s warm. Since many people start seeds during winter, or before planting season, soil conditions can be chilly, even in a grow room.
A seedling warming mat gives mother nature a boost in creating ideal germination conditions. Top rated Growerology has a two pack of 10″x20″ mats, plus insulation plates and 6’ waterproof cords for $42 on Amazon (as of this writing), covering a large seedling area.
Besides being an affordable way to boost seed production, the warming mats can also work well for kombucha production and other brewing functions.
Compost and Soil Thermometer. While not cutting-edge technology, a compost and soil thermometer is another tool to aid gardening success. As someone relatively new to composting, I find it extremely hard to determine when a compost cycle finishes. According to Washington State University’s “Composting Basics,” the optimum temperature range for compost for a vegetable garden is 135°-160° Fahrenheit. Above 160F°, the compost will become anaerobic, meaning the high temperature will kill the beneficial microbes that make high-quality compost.
Seasoned gardeners also measure soil temp before planting. In-ground temps are going to be much lower than the compost–around fifty degrees for cool-season crops, and 60 degrees or more for warm-weather plants like tomatoes, peppers and basil. However, you don’t need to buy a separate soil thermometer for this. You could even use a meat thermometer as long as the temperature gauge goes low enough!
Essentially, these thermometer probes are very similar in function, they just vary a bit in design and materials. A compost probe will be longer to reach deep into the pile. You want to select one made of sturdy materials for outdoor use, and keep the meat thermometer in the kitchen for cooking. Read this article by Minnetonka Orchards for more information on picking a composting thermometer.
Smart Sprinkler Control. As your garden grows to a larger footprint, a smart sprinkler system can manage your watering schedule without you lifting a finger. At its core, an intelligent controller can automatically adjust to changing weather, and help you save up to 50% of outdoor water use. In addition to the garden, the same system can maintain surrounding lawns.
Several sites tout the Rachio 3 as having the best features and operating efficiency. You can check in through a smartphone app to make sure everything is flowing smoothly, or make adjustments. The system takes into consideration plant types, soil conditions, sun exposure and weather forecasts, making schedule adjustments as needed. Price ranges between $149 and $249, depending on how many zones you wish to control- 4,8 or 16. There is also a special made-for-Costco Rachio 3, 12 zone system for $199.
As an Amazon Associate, Arvig earns from qualifying purchases.
Note that these high-tech controllers require internet access to function properly. Also, smart systems require wired underground sprinkler equipment, so check compatibility before buying.
A Wireless Digital Rain Gauge. If you’re not quite ready to install an underground sprinkler system with a smart controller, a digital rain gauge will be a big help. When a gardener knows exactly how much water plants have already received from rainfall, they can adjust their watering schedule accordingly. The equipment is affordable and easy to install, and can save time and money by not watering unnecessarily.
The ECOWITT Wireless Digital Rain Gauge is a solid choice. This smart gauge accurately measures precipitation, temperature and humidity. It has a generous 300 foot wireless transmission area for data communication. It will even alert owners of approaching showers, and will store rainfall data for future planning.
Electronic Pollinators. We need bees and other insects because many plants can’t reproduce without the pollen they pick up and share with nearby plants. With bee populations in major decline, gardeners may face a setback. Electronic garden pollinators are an affordable alternative, providing plants with proper amounts of pollen. Devices like VegiBee use toothbrush-like vibrating wands to simulate the natural activity of bees, increasing plant yields by 30%.
3. Incorporate Hydroponics at Home
Hydroponics, growing food without soil, has been around for centuries. And plants grown in soil are still the default. But those positions may flip as fertile land becomes scarcer–due to urban sprawl or an evolving climate. A hydroponic system can grow fresh food year-round in a small vertical space.
Home hydroponic systems can have some steep upfront costs, such as Nutraponics Automated Pro Shelf. However, the materials are long lasting and have significant environmental benefits. Also, DIY systems can be built at a much lower cost.
Minnesota, for example, would benefit from widespread hydroponics. We see plenty of sunshine during the summer, and adequate rainfall. But during the harsh winters, even the hardiest plants can’t survive. Indoor hydroponics year-round growing season increases Minnesota’s food security by not relying on importing food from warmer places like California, Florida and Mexico during winter months. Hydroponic systems use up to 50% less water than crops grown in soil. The earth would be relieved by using fewer pesticides and fertilizers. When combined with renewable energy, hydroponic systems have a much smaller carbon footprint than traditional (soil) farming.
Overall, technology helps home gardeners plan more efficiently, increase yields and have positive environmental impacts.