Roberts Farm in Maine is currently testing an inexpensive Arduino-powered agricultural system that automatically monitors and waters crops. As Scott Taylor of the Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal reports, the system has already proven itself by allowing Earl Morse, a retired teacher and volunteer at the Roberts Farm project, to successfully harvest a crop of spinach grown last winter in an exterior green house.
“[The system] keeps watch on the soil temperature and interior moisture through freezing temperatures and darkness. It works, not with hundreds of dollars worth of computer equipment but hobbyist-grade, [Atmel-based] Arduino boards,” wrote Taylor.
“While the farm’s goal is teach local kids about growing their own food and the technology behind farming, Morse hopes to create an automated system that not only gives the plants light and keeps them watered but extends the growing season — and does it cheaply.”
According to Taylor, Morse hopes to publicly release the open source, Arduino-based system this fall.
“What we’re trying to do is make all the mistakes now, so it’s ready for everyone else to use,” said Morse.
“That’s basically what we’re trying to do, make a farm robot. Maybe a robot farmer.”
Interestingly, the idea behind the inexpensive Arduino-powered agricultural system is based on an older platform Morse helped design back in the 1980s. Indeed, the first version worked with an old Atari computer, although the most stable version relies on MS-DOS, with Roberts Farm still using the Microsoft OS to run its automated hydroponics nursery.
“What it does, this 20-year-old system, lets you match the growing conditions for any location on Earth,” Morse explained.
“You plug in the longitude and latitude and time of the year and it matches those conditions.”
More specifically, the system controls banks of lights over seedling plants, matching the light’s intensity and time lit to conditions anywhere in the world – at any time of the year. As expected, the system also keeps the seedlings watered, utilizing water from a nearby aquarium to add moisture and fresh fertilizer in a basic hydroponics configuration.
As Morse notes, Arduino boards are perfect replacements for the PC-based version of the system. They are small, inexpensive, easy to program, adaptable and require a fraction of the electricity a standard PC needs to run.
Three versions of the open source Roberts Farm software are ultimately expected to be made open source, allowing farmers to:
- Control the lights, monitor ambient temperatures, water plants and warn users if there’s an intruder.
- Replace Morse’s MS-DOS application, enabling the farm to provide seedlings with appropriate amounts of light and water via Atmel-based Arduino boards.
- Add livestock support, including managing a farm’s flock of chickens.
“What we want to do is be able to use every greenhouse to grow four crops per year, all year long. Summer, winter, it won’t matter,” he added. “[For the chickens, it] lets them out in the morning and in at night, keeping them fed and watered. [Plus], it has an intrusion alarm, warning you if there are predators around.”
Interested in learning more about farming with Atmel-based systems? You can browse through some of our previous stories on technology and farming including “The Internet of Things, Stalk by Stalk,” “Smart Urban Aquaponics in West Oakland“, “DIY Farming with Atmel and Arduino,” “Open Source Aquaponics with APDuino,” and “Agricultural Monitoring with Atmel AVR .”