How To Automate Your Cannabis Grow Operation
Automation can be applied in both small home-grows and large-scale industrial operations. Many factors such as lighting, humidity, temperature, water, and nutrients can be controlled automatically using technology.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
Automation is the application of technology to automatically complete tasks on a routine basis, greatly reducing labour intensity.
Top 3 Automated Grow Machines for 2020
Growing cannabis at home can be a great way to save money. Automated systems make home growing easier, more discrete, and they remove a lot of guesswork from the growing process.
Home growing is also an opportunity to learn more about cannabis and grow plants without pesticides, herbicides, or unknown contaminants.
There are many options for your automated home grow. These systems vary in price depending on the level of automation they offer. Some systems communicate with your phone, showing real-time footage of your grow.
Some offer automatic pH testing, auto nutrient dispersion, and even automatic light adjustment based on the stage of growth. Let’s explore some of the most efficient automated systems currently on the market.
The SpinnerXP Modular Grow System
This versatile self-contained system is perfect for the home grower, but can be easily scaled for commercial systems. These pods have a roughly 4×4 footprint and hold up to twelve plants.
Each pot slowly rotates, ensuring every plant receives equal light distribution from stem to tip. The sealed system is secure from pests and is easily ducted for odor control.
The SpinnerXP is versatile enough for craft growers, home growers, or commercial operations.
Both beginners and experienced growers will appreciate the ease of the Spinner system . Each pot is set to a timer and will rotate at set intervals throughout the day.
Water is pumped from an external holding tank into the system’s internal reservoir once every hour. The internal reservoir remains full of aerated nutrient water which gently bathes the roots 24 hours a day.
The lighting system is also automated and can be set to run for any duration the grower prefers.
Typically, one would set the cycle for 18 hours of light during early stages and for twelve hours of light during later stages.
Small fans keep fresh air blowing through the growing area and gently upward and out through the ventilation system. Continual fresh air flow ensures plants are free from mildew or mold.
This circulation also continually pushes air out through the ventilation system on the top of the pod, keeping odor at a minimum.
Commercial growers could stack these units for maximum yield. They’re also a great option for craft growers who want complete control over their inputs.
The resulting product, in my experience, is far superior to that grown in less controlled environments.
Perhaps one of the most alluring features of the Spinner system is the rapid interval from clone to harvest.
This system is so efficient that growers can harvest in just eight weeks, significantly faster than the next leading system.
Grobo Premium Grow Box
The Grobo Premium Grow Box weighs 85 pounds and is 48 inches tall, with a width of 14 inches and a depth of 14 inches. The overall grow space is about 28 inches. The manufacturer touts a yield of up to 3 ounces from the machine, which holds just one plant.
Though it can only grow one plant at a time, the system comes with everything you need to start growing, minus the seed itself. This system relies on sensors to automate the pH levels, humidity, and light saturation.
It uses artificial intelligence in combination with grower inputs to ensure consistent and repeatable results from each harvest.
Some automated systems allow users to control their grow via an app on their smart devices.
This grow box comes equipped with a smell reducing carbon filter and a coco pod in which to plant your seed.
Energy-efficient LED lighting keeps costs low while providing specialized lighting for your budding garden.
The Grobo also features Fluid Glass, which allows one to touch a button and see inside the machine without opening the door. This prevents pests from getting in or smells from getting out.
Of course, this little box can be synced to the Grobo App, allowing users to track their plants progress with just a click of a button.
The device also comes with optional drying racks so growers can dry their plants inside the system after harvest, ensuring consistent odor control and protecting the yield from pests and contaminants.
The Leaf Automated Grow System
This automated grow box is 62” in height and roughly two feet in width. It’s designed to grow one plant at a time.
Integrated sensors detect water level, pH, nutrient levels, and various other variables.
The Leaf can yield up to four ounces of product in 12-16 weeks. This box automates nearly every aspect of growing and works with an app so
LED lights offer an energy-efficient alternative to traditional grow lights.
growers can watch their plants and set parameters.
It’s equipped with a carbon filter to tamper down odor and an LED light for efficient light distribution.
The best aspect of the Leaf is probably the automatic nutrient dosing.
That alone removes one of the most tedious aspects of growing at home.
The option to automate water changes as well makes this a very appealing option for the absentee grower.
This machine also comes equipped with a drying mode to keep the harvest contained and free from contaminants.
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Patricia Miller is the Managing Editor for Cannabis & Tech Today. She covers science, technology, and policy shaping the legal cannabis industry. Miller is also an avid kayaker with a proclivity for picnicking. Follow her work on Twitter @_PMiller.
Automated systems make home growing easier, faster, more discrete, and more predictable. Discover our top three picks for automating your home grow.