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Gardens as Tech Lab

One of the great things about gardening is that it’s outdoors and away from technology, except what you bring with you. Typically I have my phone with me, though sometimes I leave it in the car, usually unintentionally.

I’ll take pictures, look up stuff about watering plants or bug species, and maybe text or respond to an email. But that’s about it.

But my tomatoes are splitting from inconsistent watering and that really nasty dry spell.  And there are plotholders who don’t know the rules. Some who haven’t paid their annual fees yet. And supporters who appreciate occasional updates.

As usual I start thinking about possible solutions to these minor problems. Water–let’s drill a well and build and irrigation system, simply because we can if we raise the cash. But let’s automate it, and make it controllable over the web if we want to intervene.

And, as usual, I’m not the first to think of these things. Garduino is an Arduino project–a combination of Arduino sensors and controls and irrigation hardware.

Looks like fun, and I’m ordering an Arduino kit today to see what other stuff I can come up with or copy.

With Arduino you can gather important information like soil moisture (shoot for 6 inches down), air temp, humidity, and other neat stuff, then program thresholds so if soil moisture goes below a certain level, you trigger the servo motor to open a valve on your irrigation system and let the water flow for a period, which should correlate to your gallons/minute flow.

In June I used Kickstarter to raise $3,000 to fund the 700-ft fence. In July and August, I’ve been using for donations. This Thursday we’re holding a fundraising event with a few bands–should be fun. I’m using Square to take donations on the spot. For accounting, I’m using QuickBooks, though I haven’t set it up yet and definitely don’t want to pay for it. Seeking an older version to keep the costs down.

Donor & Volunteer ManagementI might use GiftWorks from Mission Research, a company I started. It’s great for tracking donations, donors, and volunteers, plus has some volunteer management and event management. They just released GiftWorks 2013, which I believe is the 7th version. It’s great software and serves nonprofits very well. GiftWorks Pro is a new version that scales to hundreds of thousands of donors, so larger nonprofits should dig it.

But the volunteer management piece is something I might build myself. There are things specific to this kind of volunteering–and the reality that Facebook and Meetup are our two most important communication channels. So I’m sketching some stuff there.

Meetup has been a handy way for scheduling group meetings. I find its email communications pretty lacking, though, and feel it doesn’t lead to discussions. It’s not a great forum. But it’s good for setting consistent, repeated meeting dates.

Communicating, Storybuilding, and Evangelizing
Facebook is an imperfect way to build an audience and tell a story. It’s important because a good story can really spread and have impact if there’s an action tied to it; we raised well over half of the fence money through the Facebook campaign, which also built up the number of page subscribers, which increases daily now.

I was late with the blog/site, and have yet to turn that into a daily communicator. I plan to add other authors and assign days of the week to them, so maybe if we have 5 bloggers we can get fresh daily stories with pictures.

The gardens are in the middle of a field near a road in front of the school. Some of our gardeners have felt a bit creeped out from time to time when the same car goes back and forth past the gardens. It might be nothing, but the way they feel about it isn’t.

So we’ll likely add a few solar-powered lights, and perhaps motion-activated cameras. We’ve got critters still–I think the groundhogs are scaling the fence–so I want to see what’s happening with that. And I want to be notified as its happening so I can watch it in real time, so I want to have it tied to SMS or twitter or the like. That should be fun.

What’s Next
Right now I’m focused on the event this Thursday. We can struggle through without a good water source, but I definitely want to get that well drilled in the next few weeks. My guess is I’ll have to raise some of the bucks the old-fashioned way: calling a few well-heeled folks around town and asking them to share and support the mission.

Do you have any good garden tech ideas?

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