New High-Tech Ideas for Indoor Growing
Looking back just a couple of decades, it’s amazing to see how many technological advancements have arisen with indoor growing. For example, “high-tech tools,” such as digital ballasts, that were once considered “cutting-edge,” are quickly outdated and replaced. Along this line of thought, modern growers are forced to look at the hydroponics equipment market with a discerning eye. The hope is they will choose cultivation technology that will be functional as well as compatible with novel innovations.
In today’s increasingly mechanized society, one’s taste in cultivation technique is often tied to the sorts of cultivation technology they choose to implement for indoor growing. To feed this consistent exchange, the hydroponics industry is continuously inundated with novel equipment. Much of this equipment seeks to alleviate much of the guesswork and labor related to horticulture and cannabis cultivation. To this end, interestingly, a new cultivation technology can influence and shape one’s approach to horticulture in its entirety. As such, there is a creative “give and take” occurring between engineers and growers in the horticulture field. Within this exchange, innovations past inform processes of today. Yet, how this exchange will eventually come to fruition with controlled environment agriculture is anyone’s guess. Also, many more “traditional” growers see indoor gardening as an organic process, not a predictable, controlled science.
Speculations aside, its also worth noting that the utility of high-tech cultivation tools can vary greatly with the size and scope of an urban agriculture operation. To illustrate, for the hobbyist grower producing crops in a 4×4 ft. grow tent, an advanced fertigation system is automation overkill. On a similar note, for a commercial vertical farming operation, a top-of-the-line PH pen probably won’t cut it for the daily monitoring of PH levels in thousands of gallons of water. Therefore, while the applicability of high-tech garden tools in certain scenarios is undeniable, their overall value is relative for different situations.
For those growers looking to ramp-up their garden operations with a modern face-lift, or those just curious if high-tech growing is a good fit for them, Maximum Yield put together a brief survey of innovative indoor gardening technologies. Here is a short overview of high-tech tools for grow rooms being used for CEA operations today:
Grow Medium / Atmospheric Sensors
The implementation of sensor matrices throughout grow rooms are giving modern cultivators a real-time understanding of garden environments. As most experienced indoor growers know, grow room operations are plagued by inconsistencies. These are notoriously difficult to detect in a uniform and intelligible manner. For instance, cultivation mediums retain water in varying capacities in different parts of a room. Also, many indoor gardens have drastically different environmental conditions throughout a room, as well as “dead spots” in air circulation.
To alleviate many of the environmental challenges faced with indoor gardening tech companies have devised both soil meters and atmospheric sensors. These tools are used to detect anomalies in the grow room before they express themselves negatively in plant health. Concerning moisture meters in grow mediums, they give cultivators a real-time understanding of watering needs in their gardens. This data helps growers helping avoid issues with things like over-watering. In a like fashion, individual atmospheric sensors give a reading on environmental conditions throughout a groom room and various part of a garden canopy, which can be proactively rectified to avoid issues with mold and pathogens.
Software for Indoor Growing
One of the largest tech crazes in commercial CEA growing today has to do with software programs. Because, computers can utilize data metrics to help streamline production. For example, according to the website Fortune, the vertical farming company Bowery “has developed what it says is a proprietary software system with a robust network of sensors that takes in data in real time to determine outcomes like the quality, texture, color, and yield of its plants.” While it is evident that the sort of software being developed by Bowery is beyond the scope of the hobbyist grower, its efficacy for commercial applications is noteworthy. Because, when used in conjunction with sensors, this software can track and catalog many fine nuances of CEA growing. This practice is literally beyond the scope of human capabilities. As such, software programs can provide information on almost every aspect of a garden. In the end, providing the most efficient troubleshooting platforms indoor growing has ever known.
Many people don’t necessarily consider shelving to be high-tech. However, the use of shelving units engineered specifically for crop and cannabis cultivation have literally revolutionized indoor growing methods in the past decade. Currently, the practice of “vertical farming” would be non-existent without these forward-looking infrastructures. Its important to note, vertical farming shelf units are engineered to do far more than “hold plants.” The most advanced units have electrical and irrigation components built into the shelves. Similarly, and in tune with vertical farming’s themes of sustainability and efficiency, these shelves integrate with macro-hydroponics systems and are easily reorganized and moved. Finally, certain brands of shelving units are motorized and can shift different parts of the garden canopy throughout the day. This action ensures the maximized usage of available light.
It is probably no secret that commercial agriculture businesses have begun implementing robotics to handle some of the more tedious and laborious facets of cultivation, like plant pruning. However, there is also an increasing upsurge in robotics designs for the home-based, hobbyist gardener. To illustrate, the company “FarmBot” has devised a robot that handles most gardening chores for small, raised bed gardens. The design team at FarmBot put together a robot that is mounted a frame which is compatible with square or rectangular garden beds. The hardware of the FarmBot is integrated with a data analytics software. This tech can program the robot to accomplish most garden tasks, including tilling, weeding, planting, watering, and spraying. Yet, this robot gardening technology is still far from mainstream. Moreover, it retails for a hefty $4,000 price tag. Nonetheless, Farmbot presents an interesting tech tool for those gardeners interested in experimenting with the cutting-edge of home cultivation.
High-Tech Ideas for Indoor Growing Summary
As can be seen, indoor growing technology has grown exponentially in its breadth and sophistication. However, its also evident that no technology presents a cure-all for all horticultural processes and operations. That being said, a majority of new advancements in equipment and software are likely more applicable in commercial operations. Yet, this new tech provides a potential “trickle-down” into home-based tech such as the FarmBot. Some of these tools are already available at your local garden supply store. Looking forward, it will be interesting to see how technological innovations will influence gardening practices in the future.
This article originally appeared in the April / May 2019 edition of Maximum Yield Magazine.