Automated gardening systems are growing environments controlled in part or entirely by technology. This in turn lowers or eliminates labour demands on the grower. Cannabis cultivators need to continually monitor and modify many factors throughout the grow cycle to ensure the highest-quality and quantity yields possible. These factors include watering schedules, nutrient cycles, fresh air exchange, lighting, and temperature.

Controlling all of these factors manually every day can be quite time-consuming and labour-intensive. Perhaps less so for those overseeing small operations in their bedrooms, but much more so for larger-scale and industrial growing operations. Regardless of the size of a grow, all growers can benefit in some way from automation, a term that refers to the automatic completion of a task at the hands of technology.

YOU CAN IMPLEMENT AUTOMATION TOO

Small home-growers may choose to only implement automation into a small aspect of their grow, such as lighting. Large-scale growers can greatly benefit from automating as many of their systems as possible in order to free up time and energy. Full automation allows growers to leave their crop unattended for fairly long periods of time.

Automation technology can replace pretty much every aspect of manual work. If you are new to this domain and want to try it out, start off by replacing one system at a time with some form of automation, and see how it works for you.

Automation Technology

THE ENVIRONMENT DICTATES DEMANDS

Demands for automation change vastly depending on the growing environment. Outdoor plants usually require much less automation as they receive light from the sun, some water from the rain, and natural fresh air exchange. However, automated watering through irrigation can greatly assist plants in drier regions.

Plants cultivated indoors or within greenhouses are ultimately being grown in an environment unnatural to them. This makes them more reliant on technology in order to survive and thrive, and more technology means more opportunities to develop automated systems. Factors such as humidity and temperature are especially important within indoor settings.

TIMERS

Timers are one of the staples within automated grow-ops, and are also one of the simplest forms to set up. Timers can be used to facilitate different aspects of climate control indoors, and therefore have the potential to greatly lower overall labour and repetition of tasks.

One area in which timers are often used is lighting. During the vegetative phase of the grow cycle for photoperiod strains, a light cycle of 18–24 hours a day is often used. During the flowering stage, a light cycle of 12 hours on and 12 hours off is applied. This means that growers have to visit their tent on a daily basis to manage just one of the many demands of their crop. This can also cause problems when growers need to travel and leave their plants unattended.

An analogue or digital timer can be rigged up to the lighting system to fully automate this task at different points throughout the grow cycle. This simple adjustment to the system makes lighting completely automated. Yet lighting isn’t the only use for timers in grow operations; they can also be used to automate fans, pumps, and CO₂  systems. Both analogue and digital timers can get the job done.

TOTAL CLIMATE CONTROL

Indoor and greenhouse plants require extra attention when it comes to climate control. Plants demand closely regulated humidity and temperature levels to stay comfortable. Devices such as hygrometers are vital to monitor both of these factors throughout the entire grow cycle.

Indoor environments are all different, with varying levels of humidity and different temperatures depending on the season and climate. Devices such as ultrasonic misters can be used to boost humidity, while dehumidifiers can take moisture out of the air when there is an excess.

When it comes to temperature, simple heating and air conditioning units can be used to keep plants within optimal conditions. Growers can hook humidity systems and temperature-regulating devices up to sensors in order to fully automate these fluctuating variables. This can be done fairly cheaply and with a little know-how.

Growers overseeing large operations with adequate funds can also purchase autopilot digital environmental controllers to monitor and control humidity, temperature, and CO₂ levels. These devices also store data regarding the growing environment, which can help growers determine future decisions regarding the space.

Automated monitoring systems can even monitor soil pH and TDS (total dissolved solids). This information is highly valuable to growers as it allows them to see directly what changes need to be made to optimise the grow.

Automate Lights And Drip Irrigation System

AUTOMATED IRRIGATION

Irrigation is yet another system that can be fully automated, but it’s less common among certain types of operations. This is largely because things can get quite complicated. Different genetics and specific plants may require different amounts of water and varying schedules. For small home-grows, it is often easier to simply manually water crops.

Drip irrigation is a form of automation that uses very similar means. This method involves piercing small holes into a water pipe, ensuring the holes are positioned over the root networks of each plant in the system. Water then slowly drips over each plant zone, providing a constant flow of hydration. This system is cheap to make, yet not as accurate as more expensive options. Large automatic watering systems can be purchased for professional operations. These will provide accurate quantities of water within specific timeframes.

Automated irrigation systems can also deliver nutrients in a method known as “fertigation”. Such technology is becoming more common among commercial-scale operations. It works by calculating, mixing, and feeding nutrients to plants. This system provides accurate doses, reduced leaching, less water consumption, and less labour overall.

BRINGING TIMERS, CLIMATE CONTROL, AND IRRIGATION TOGETHER

Automation can free up so much time and effort for growers, giving them extra time to work on other tasks and projects. Automating even a single function, such as lighting or watering, can remove a lot of the burden, but getting to a point where almost all factors are automatic is true freedom from repetitive daily tasks.

This is made possible by systems that control lighting, climate, and irrigation all at the same time. Devices such as LEDs, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air coolers, drip pipes, and reservoirs are all linked to a computer system involving timers and sensors that dictate when each needs to be turned on and off.

AUTOMATED GROW BOXES

One way to gain complete automatic freedom over your growing operation is with an automated grow box. These systems create an isolated environment within which all of your plant's needs are met. As with many products within the cannabis industry, growers have the option of forking out extra cash to purchase a pre-built, luxurious system. On the other hand, you can save money by putting in some extra effort and making your own.

PRE-BUILT SYSTEMS

Pre-built grow boxes are indeed one of the most impressive recent innovations within the cannabis industry. It’s easy to imagine these devices within every kitchen when cannabis has finally been fully legalized and embraced. They certainly look at home next to other pieces of kitchen technology like dishwashers and fridges. Additionally, their ease of use makes them almost equivalent to growing basil and chives on the windowsill.

Branded grow boxes feature smart systems that monitor and control nutrient feeding, air exchange, lighting, and even soil pH. Many of them contain carbon filters that keep smell to a minimum. Some of these revolutionary devices can be controlled via smartphone, allowing users to tweak parameters remotely. High-end machines will even dry your plants at the end of each grow cycle. Growers have the choice between hydroponic or soil systems, as well as setups that allow you to monitor the entire grow through an internal video camera.

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HOW TO MAKE DIY AUTOMATED GROW BOXES

Although exquisitely designed and fully automated, pre-built systems come with a hefty price tag. DIY growers may be far more interested in designing their own grow box system, and this is entirely possible. Some skill in building, electronics, and software is beneficial, but can easily be learned online if you are lacking in any of these areas. DIY systems are indeed more primitive, but the decreased cost, learning experience, and pride in your own build make the process worthwhile.

First of all, you'll need to choose your container. If you live in an area of strict prohibition and a conspicuous box in the kitchen isn’t discreet enough, you can also opt for a computer tower. Alternatively, you could build a container out of wood, plastic, or any other opaque material. Some growers have even had success using 5l plastic buckets.

You’ll need to rig up lighting, heating or cooling systems, ventilation, and watering systems in line with your own preferences and environment. LED lights are a great choice as they generate less heat and are cheaper to run. As far as ventilation goes, a computer fan will suffice to keep air moving around the grow. You could also instal a filtered exhaust to remove stagnant air whilst masking any suspicious smells. To keep your plants hydrated, there are multiple options available. An external reservoir can be used to store water, and a pond pump can be used to deliver it to your plants.

Now that you have your equipment and grow box set up, it’s time to automate these functions. A simple way to do so is to rig up a series of timers designated to each device. This will keep lighting and gas exchange on a tight schedule. Humidity controls can also be rigged up to activate misters when humidity levels trigger a sensor.

For those who want even more accuracy, consider rigging up your system to automation software. This further complicates things, but will pay off big time for those willing to learn.

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