Whether you’re an experienced gardener or are just getting started, technology is trying to help us improve on age-old techniques of growing food. We like to think Sustainable America is part of this trend with Shared Earth, a website that helps match up would-be gardeners with people who have land to share. You can use it to find a plot to garden — or someone to garden on your land.
Ready to plant? Check out these tech solutions to common gardening challenges.
If you’re planning where to place a backyard garden, you’ll want to use a light meter to figure out if you’ll have enough available sunlight to grow what you want.
Likewise, you’ll want to test the soil for a few things. First, it should be tested for lead to make sure it’s safe to work in and eat food grown in it. (Contact your local county extension service or public health department to see if they offer free soil testing or have recommendations.) You’ll also want to test your soil’s pH levels so you know what it’s suited for growing. DIY soil testing kits or meters sound like a good idea, but the garden forums we visited still recommend sending a soil sample for a more comprehensive test. Again, your local county extension service can help.
When it’s time to plan what you’re planting, there is a dizzying array of free and inexpensive gardening apps available. Seed Savers offers a basic online planner, and Grow Veg offers a more comprehensive planning app that sends email reminders of when to sow and plant the vegetables in your plans. Both offer a free trial period.
What to Plant, When to Water
Smart gardening start-up Edyn ($99.99) makes a garden sensor that can do most of the tasks described above, like monitor soil nutrition, moisture, temperature and sunlight to suggest what fertilizer to use and which vegetables to plant and how often to water. An additional water valve controller ($69) can hook into most water systems to automatically adjust watering according to the conditions in your garden.
GreenIQ’s Smart Garden Hub ($249.99) is a similar cloud-based garden irrigation system that automatically adjusts watering based on current and forecasted weather conditions.
Garden Pest Control
Perhaps the biggest foes of gardeners new and experienced are pests with both four and six legs. For scaring away mammalian critters, there are several motion-activated owls on the market that have swivel heads and light-up eyes and make noises to scare unwanted animals. There are also motion-activated sprayer products that shoot water at four-legged intruders. (Night vision camera for catching critters green-handed, not included.)
If bugs or disease are bugging your plants, check out My Garden Answers, an app that helps you get answers to any gardening questions, including instant plant identification and expert advice and recommendations.
Give Bees a Break
If you want to try to maximize your veggie yield from self-pollinating plants like tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas and eggplant, you can take matters you’re your own hands with VegiBee ($30). It’s a handheld device that emits sonic vibrations to release pollen from a flower into a collection spoon that you can use to pollinate four to five flowers.
Garden Robot Maker
For a truly set-it-and-forget-it gardening experience, FarmBot has developed Genesis, an open-source robotic backyard garden system. You build the frame, set up the system and provide soil and seeds, and it will plant the seeds, weed the weeds and monitor the soil and weather for precise watering. You can monitor and control the machine via an app from anywhere. The first production is sold out; new orders will ship in July 2017. At $3,275, it’s a hefty investment, but it’s promised to be easy to install and use for non-techie types, and endlessly customizable for who anyone who wants to geek out on 3D printing and open-source software design.
With the rise of precision agriculture techniques in commercial farming, it’s only a matter of time until more technology filters down to the home gardener. Until then, all you really need is a bit of land, some seeds, and a few hand tools.