Gnome: Big Garden & Small Farm IoT
November 14, 2016
Here’s a smart garden system/small farm IoT designed by an urban farmer seeking a solution to monitoring his rooftop farm that no one was addressing. He needed more advanced capabilities, and a reliable connection over a longer distance than already existing systems offered. The Gnome is the result of Clement Lee’s frustrations of trying to grow big with gadgets designed for little gardens on small properties a few yards away from the WiFi hub.
The average home garden is only 200 square feet… What about the small farm or the homesteader? How about the need for more accurate readings, for greater control over your crops and harvest? What about establishing a connection to crops and soil longer range, because 300 feet is not far enough for all situations. And dead spots? Unacceptable for serious growers, self-sustainability, or smallholder farming.
Big Garden/Small Farm IoT
Since 80% of the world’s food is grown by small farms, there is a huge need for something between simplified automation made for beginning to casual gardeners and big farming. In his work as a solar researcher, Clement traveled the world, and became interested in farming. So interested, he changed his career, becoming a full-time farmer. Then he realized the challenges involved in bringing in a good harvest, and the immense amount of information needed at your fingertips to make it happen. Obviously, his task would be much easier if he could just meld the data and details into one easy to use, automated system that was scalable as his operation grew. Everywhere he turned he found only part of what he needed, there were limitations in each available possibility.
That’s where agriculture technology startup Hugreen entered the big picture. Clement teamed up with electrical engineer Max Penn to develop Gnome for his personal use, but it evolved into a high tech agriculture IoT system that is greatly needed everywhere. The most accurate and advanced IoT solution for small farms and serious gardens of any size. With about 500 million smallholder farmers, and even more sustainable living homesteads out there, all struggling with outdated farming practices that no longer meets their needs, or the state of food security – someone, somewhere has to come up with a solution to solve these issues. Gnome may very well be just that.
Seriously… A Gnome?
You might wonder why such a name was attached to the world’s most advanced smart garden system. What do funny little garden statues with mythical roots have to do with accuracy in a remote controlled soil monitoring and irrigation system? A lot, actually. It’s not an attempt at cuteness. Nor is it trying to grab the flower gardener’s attention too, though if they really want to make that perennial garden spectacular and more sustainable, they’ll be checking this out.
Gnomes represent earth in the four elements. In old world myth and medieval fairy tales, they could travel through the soil, and were said to be guardians of precious metals and minerals underground. To have one watching over your crops or livestock was the harbinger of good luck. More recently, Rudolph Steiner considered gnomes to be involved in the hidden processes of plant life. The word itself means either intelligence or earth dweller, depending on if it originated from Greek or Latin, which is totally indeterminable.
The exact meaning is splitting hairs in this application. Hugreen’s smart crop system combines everything a gnome has represented through the ages into a tool designed for 21st century growers. It was designed to fit the needs of any size planting, be it a backyard garden, a market garden, or small farm. You can add up to 30 nodes (sensor or valve) that communicate data to a single hub. They communicate via RF, with a range of… Take your pick: 3280 feet/0.62 miles/1 kilometer. Try connecting to something WiFi enabled that far away! You’ve got a superior WiFi setup if you can connect 800 feet away, and that requires investing quite a bit more cash on a serious booster antenna for your roof. You can’t even consider this scenario if “home” is in an apartment building, or the “office” is in a multi-storied structure. And a rented house? Probably not.
Radio is one of the least disruptable ways of sending data from one point to another. It can permeate things that even the world’s best cell phone or satellite TV service can’t – all buildings, bridges, huge trees, massive forests, and highly undulating terrain. While WiFi is the latest technology, it has limitations that can cause big issues in this kind of situation. Especially with an outdoor relay exposed to things like electrical storms, because WiFi is electromagnetic. Then there are those dead spots caused by impermeable elements and structures. The only thing that comes to mind that can cause a dead zone for a radio signal is a mountain. Signal instability only happens when the channel is pulled in from a great distance, or you drive through a mountain tunnel.
So, this is what Clement and Max used to create the ability to connect sensors and water valves to the hub. The hub relays highly detailed and scientific data to the app that monitors, reports, and automates Gnome. It works without fail, virtually everywhere anyone lives, or grows plants.
Adaptability & Scalability
Many growers are very familiar with what their crops need, but what plants are getting in a bed, a row, or an entire field is often a guesstimate. Gnome removes the guessing factor. Something even the most seasoned gardener or farmer could make great use of. Reducing the amount of water, fertilizer, and labor makes their crops more efficient. This is possible simply by knowing if sun exposure, fertility, moisture levels, and crop needs are good in a particular area, or improvement is needed. Without in-depth data, all this is left up to chance. Rotating of crops to maintain soil fertility puts more guesswork into crop production than even the most experienced farmer or gardener may realize. Insufficient data makes the job of growing food harder, require more labor, more inputs, and can lead to reduced harvests.
Gnome puts this kind of detail in front of you in real time on your smartphone. Not in simplistic low, medium, and high quantification, but in actual measurements you can turn into truly productive actions. Imagine being able to monitor the light, water, temperature, and fertility needs of up to 30 crops in a single app. Thanks to the design, this big garden/small farm IoT system can stay small or get big, according to your needs. It fits your growing needs, whether you garden in the standard city lot, or you’ve got acreage in a rural location – without spending a huge sum of money.
Half a mile in farmland America computes to 160 acres – a full quarter section fronting two roads, and a full half mile deep. And you can monitor all of it, even automate its irrigation. That hugely exceeds the term garden by every definition of the word! Gnome is far more than a garden gadget or suburban toy. What you make of it is entirely up to you, and how you apply it to what you’re growing.
Smart Garden System Probe in Action…
And remote control operation of the irrigation valve…
Currently in an Indiegogo campaign, Hugreen raised almost 50% of the requested funding in less than 48 hours. With a launch date of November 8th, pledges totaled almost 70% of the needed capital… IN 4 DAYS. Four days!
I reached out to Clement the other day with questions I didn’t find the answer to on his website, or on Indiegogo. And well, I found this to be of huge interest for my own gardens, both veggie and flowers. What’s the square footage of coverage per unit? What happens to the solar power in excessively cloudy places (like Michigan)? His answers? Basically… Gnome can be whatever you want it to be. It works equally well on both small and large areas. Use one sensor per garden or one per crop. It even works in the dark, and the battery has a 2-month life without sun to recharge it. The campaign packages are geared to appeal to people with an interest in Gnome without overloading them with information. Add-on sensors and valves will be available once they reach the retail stage at the cost of $60 each.
Seriously considering becoming an early adopter! Curiosity won… Never thought I’d want to put a gnome in my garden, but will do so come June. Sans the beard and pointy hat 🙂
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