Growbox automation

Growbox has been doing fine on its own, not requiring much attention, except adding nutrient solution, trimming the plants and harvesting. Though it would be boring, at least, to keep going with this as it is. There are ideas about further growbox automation and control, which are turning into plans.

Besided the ideas, there's a problem with mechanical timer resposible for lights. Though it's easy to replace one, and it's quite easy to notice lighting issues.. Probable pump failure would not be not be noticed for a couple days, when plants would start to look really thirsty.

In other words, timers - are minimal means of automation, they can't free you from daily control of the system, which I'm too lazy to perform. Quite an old idea of automated growbox control have emerged again and this time it's turning into a plan of new automation system construction.

Core of the system is going to be implmented on Arduino - very popular and open source product based on 8-bit AVR microcontroller, as it's probably most simple, available and accessible microcontroller least money can buy. There are lots of documentation, sample projects and compatible hardware available for Arduino, which should be more than enough for growbox automation.

Automation is to be performed gradually, as numbers of controlled parameters, devices and feedback methods grow. In general, future automation system should be able to provide the following:

  • Hydroponic system pumps and lighting power control
  • Monitoring pump and lights functions
  • Monitoring nutrient solution level
  • Monitoring other parameters (temperature, air humidity, medium moisture level)
  • Warning signals in case of issues requiring human intervention (running out of nutrient solution, pumps or lights failure, probably more to follow)
  • Output of monitoring data (on LCD screen, web site), and logging monitoring data with access to statistics (for instance, on web site)
  • Simple interface for adjusting relevant system settings without complete re-programming.

It is planned to achieve these in several phases, though so far only the first phase has a clearly defined scope. But let's pretend I know what I'm doing ans say there will be 3 phases:

Phase 1:

  • Old-fashined timers must be replaced with new automation system
  • Technically simple means of monitoring (probably not most important ones) must be implemented: lighting, temperature, humidity.
  • Basic warning signalling must be implemented (so far only to warn about lighting and, probably, tempeature, issues)

Phase 2:

  • Nutrient solution level monitoring
  • Advanced warning signalling
  • Output of monitoring data, logging and access to statistics (on web site)

Phase 3:

  • Monitoring pump function (by checking medium moisture level)
  • Advanced output of monitoring data (local console)
  • Simple access to system configuration (local console)

 Scope of phases 2 and 3 is not fixed and can be changed, but it's definite for th 1st one. New growbox automation system layout after phase 1 is complete is represented on the picture.

And, as usual, the all the interesting moments of the construction will be described on the web site. I will also write down all the details about microcontroller wiring and programming, and probably digital electronics basics as well, as I learn them. As I have a little idea of what I'm doing.