Why is NASA interested in your garden?
Gardening is essentially agriculture on a micro scale, and because agriculture is one of the fundamental processes essential to the survival of the human race should we ever decide to inhabit another planet, it may come as no surprise that NASA appears to be spending time and effort driving innovations to make ‘gardening’ more cost effective, more efficient and more successful.
The smart people at NASA have been looking at and developing all sorts of new technologies that could be making the life of your average gardener a whole lot easier in years to come. Whether its understanding and predicting a planet’s water provision from space, fertilisers designed for space stations not soil, or plants that send you a text when they need watering – all of these innovations are real and are being actively developed for deployment.
Whilst you survey your humble patch of ground back here on Earth you might not think this kind of technology will make a difference to you, but you could be wrong. In fact there are plenty of accessible innovations that could increase the output of your veg patch or make your herbaceous borders the envy of all your neighbours, all whilst saving you time and money.
Water well and watch your savings grow
Irrigation systems for domestic use may not be as ubiquitous in the UK as they are in drier parts of the world, but walk into any garden centre nowadays and you’re likely to be greeted with a splendid array of tempting irrigation tools and systems. Given the unpredictability of the UK weather nowadays (at the time of writing we’ve just had one of the driest Aprils on record and now we’re well into one of the wettest Mays) and our new-found love of gardening thanks to being locked up at home for months on end during the pandemic, irrigation systems could be exactly what we need to save our begonias.
According to data from NASA the three main enemies of decent irrigation are evaporation, interception and misdirection. But if you can tackle these you could be looking at around a 50-70% reduction in the amount of water you might otherwise use to water your garden. Translated into everyday speak for the average gardener that means making sure your irrigation system is well placed (close enough to the base of the most number of plants), that there are no obstacles or obstructions preventing the water getting to the roots (including underground) and that you maintain the best possible direction of water distribution. The latter could mean making sure nozzles are correctly positioned on sprinkler and dripper systems, but also regularly inspecting and maintaining the whole irrigation system to make sure it has not been disturbed or disrupted.
Do all this and you could see your domestic water usage for the garden drop significantly, plus correctly watered plants are less likely to die of disease and drought so you could save money by not having to replace your plants as often.
Let the hedge tell you what to do
There are a whole array of plant monitors on the market nowadays to help you with your indoor and outdoor foliaged friends, but the very best offer more than just alerting you when the soil gets a bit dry. Some of the more sophisticated monitors on the market can also give you feedback on elements such as light levels, whether the soil is fertile enough, and temperature. Those designed for outdoor use can even synch with the new irrigation system you probably want to buy after reading the first part of this article, detecting whether there’s been enough rain or not to warrant switching the system on. Again, a great potential money saver, particularly if you prefer your garden to look after itself as much as possible.
Some of these smart systems work just within themselves, such as automatic self-watering pots, whilst other connect to an app so you can view all the data on a screen. Perfect if you wake up in the middle of the night in a panic about your aspidistra – no need to get out of bed to check on it.
I think that’s a weed?
As any avid gardener will tell you, regardless of experience or training, it’s not always that easy to tell whether something is a welcome addition to your borders or an invasive and unwanted alien. This can be especially true at the start of the growing season when things pop up not necessarily looking much like their fully-formed adult selves. If you tend to grow self-seeding annuals this can be even more difficult since the spread of seeds from last year’s plants could have gone literally anywhere. If this sounds like a problem you suffer from, don’t worry help is on hand to stop you composting your best plants by accident and wasting a whole lot of cash to boot.
Enter a raft of apps and online tools to help you with plant identification. These can work in a number of ways but the best allow you to simply take a photo with your phone and the clever apps then do their work to figure out what the plant is. Note, this is also an excellent way to impress your friends with your plant knowledge, as long as you can perfect the art of taking a sneaky photograph whilst retaining an air of superior knowledgeability. Check out Picture This and Plant.id if you don’t have a smart phone or just prefer using a website to an app.
Also worth a mention is the RHS app which helps you to keep track of the plants in your garden and the tasks that you need to carry out for them such as pruning or feeding. This is again something that is extremely helpful and could save you pulling up last year’s echinaceas because you’ve forgotten where you planted them.
When a garden is not a garden
This last piece of technological wizardry is for those of us who don’t have any outside space but love having plants indoors and maybe dream one day of having a productive vegetable plot. The Smart Garden is an entire growing system that is about the size of an average shelving unit – so perfect for people living in flats or small houses without any growing space.
The Smart Garden is basically a multi-tiered growing station, enabling you to grow all sorts of things from simple decorative house plants to tomatoes and aubergines. It provides the plants with just the right amount of light, water and nutrients to thrive and flourish, and because it is not weather or climate dependent it can be used productively all year round.
So not having a garden needn’t be a barrier to getting your hands dirty – just think how joyous it would be to eat a homegrown tomato in January!