Introduction: Automated Aeroponics System Using Raspberry Pi

In this Instructable, we'll learn how to make an Aeroponics system that's controlled via the Raspberry Pi, and uses the Raspberry Pi Camera module to take photos of your plants. Aeroponics is a pretty unconventional method of gardening, but that's what makes it fun! 

Aeroponics makes use of mist in a closed environment to provide a plant  with the necessary elements to survive. Usually, a plant's roots are suspended in a mist container, while the rest of the plant sits above the setup. As an indoor setup, aeroponics is compatible with pretty much anything you want to plant and can be used year round! Some other benefits include: a cleaner environment which reduces the need for chemicals and pesticides, conservation of water and space, and consistent yields.

Aeroponics can be used to germinate seeds or develop cuttings all the way to full size. For this Instructable, I'll be using orange, curry, and lemon cuttings.
 
Fun Fact: NASA has a history of research in Aeroponics.

Step 1: Materials

You will need:
5 gallon Bucket (Any similar container should work, you’ll just have to adapt)
Black spray paint (If your bucket allows in a significant amount of light)
Net pots
Clay beads
Pond Fogger/ any misting device
Hole saw (should match the size of your net pots)
Clear tubing (1-2 feet will suffice if you're using a 5 gallon bucket)
Watertight sealant
Any sort of plastic/lexan (I used some of both)
Raspberry Pi
Raspberry Pi Camera
Jumper wires
PowerSwitch Tail II power cord
Plant cuttings (keep them in water or gather them during the necessary step so they don't dry out)
Saran Wrap (Optional)


Step 2: Painting the Bucket

*This step is only necessary if your container allows in a significant amount of light (white,transparent,etc...). There will be water in the container and with too much light unwanted mold/organisms can grow in the container*

Paint the container you plan to use completely.

Step 3: Preparing the Lid

Here, we'll create holes in the lid that will house the net pots. Begin by dividing the lid into equal portions. Find and mark (or pilot hole) equally spaced locations, making sure that they are spaced enough so that when the hole saw is used the holes don't overlap. Use the hole saw on the marked spots. Finally, I used a knife to clean up the holes.

Step 4: Preparing the Lid (Continued)

Two more cutouts will be added to the bucket. Let's start with with one for watering. First, create a cutout using the plastic/lexan, this will cover the hole you then make in the bucket. The bucket I used had a convenient indent than ran around the rim, which allowed me to make a clever sliding cover. However, any sort of hole with a lexan/plastic cutout cover will work. Next, simply choose another spot and drill a hole of the smallest size possible that will still allow the wire from your fogger through. This completes the lid preparation!

Step 5: Water Level Indicator

The water level indicator is simply a tube that goes into the bottom of the bucket, and runs along the side, allowing you to see the level of water without having to open the lid. 

Drill a hole along the side of the bucket at the bottom (sized so that the tubing fits snuggly). Next, route the tube up to the top of the bucket, along the side. You can attach it with tape, or if your bucket has extra plastic that bulges out you can drill a hole and put the tube through there as I did (see photos). Finally, apply sealant to the bottom hole around the tube and allow it to dry. Later on I spray painted this area to match the rest of the bucket, but you don't have to. When you fill the bucket up with water, the water level in the tube will rise to match the bucket. Now you'll know exactly when to add more water.

Step 6: Raspberry Pi Mount

Now that you have a functioning aeroponics setup, it's time to add some raspberry pi! A quick test of the fogger (placing it in the bucket with water and routing it to a power source) showed that the container works as planned.

Next, you'll want to get out the lexan and begin creating a mount for the Raspberry Pi. I started with a rectangular piece of lexan which i bent into  a V shape, with some bent flaps at the end. The mount grabs the indent on the bucket and holds itself along the side. This makes a level platform for the raspberry pi to simply sit on. Using another thin strip of lexan, a simple mount could be made for the camera module. I drilled some holes in the camera mount, and using paper clips (resourceful, I know) I attached the camera to the mount.  The camera mount and RPi mount are simply glued together with super glue. Depending on what container you use, your mount will probably have to be modified a bit. 

I find that adding a small screw under the Raspberry Pi mount makes for added support.

Step 7: Wiring

Next is the wiring from the Raspberry Pi to the PowerSwitch Tail II. The PowerSwitch allows you to control power flowing from an outlet to another device, using a microcontroller to oversee this process. First route one jumper cable from the Pi's GPIO pin 6 (0V) to the PowerSwitch's second port labeled -in. Then route a second cable from GPIO 23 or any other 3.3V powered pin to the PowerSwitch's first port labeled +in. Then connect one end of the PowerSwitch to an outlet, and the other to your fogger.


Step 8: Software

For the Raspberry Pi camera module I used the following command in the terminal:

raspistill -o image.jpg -tX -tlX

where the X's can be any amount of time (in ms). -t controls how long the camera will run, and -tl controls how often a photo will be taken.

I used another piece of code, running on idle 3, to cycle on/off periods for the GPIO, which controls the PowerSwitch Tail, which controls the fogger. Again, X is the amount of time you choose for a cycle.

*I am sure there is a much more efficient way to do this part, but i'm still quite new to the Pi*

Step 9: Add the Cuttings

Finally, you are ready to place the cuttings.
Start by trimming the cuttings, so that there is enough stem exposed to be placed in the net pots. Then, fill the net pots with clay beads and place the cuttings in the beads. Now you can place the potted plants into the aeroponics chamber. You can also cover the top of your net pots with saran wrap, making sure it covers the clay beads. This will decrease water loss.

Run your code and you're finished!

Step 10: Finished Product

Helpful Tips:

Remember to keep the water level to the specifications of the fogger.
You can add liquid nutrient solution to the water to help keep your plants healthy.
Some indoor environments can get pretty dry, so it can help to spray the cuttings with water when they look a bit dry.

Comments

author
shensher made it!(author)2014-01-13

In a system this size, do you really need a mister? Wouldn't a simple airstone provide enough mist from the bubbles breaking on the surface? Also, if you want to grow plants to maturity more effectively, you could turn this into a mini aquaponics system by adding some small fish into the bucket.

author
Beautech made it!(author)2016-01-25

It's not the volume of mist we're hoping to achieve, it's the particulate size. With an ultrasonic nebulizer (mister) you can achieve 5-25 micrometer droplets. This allows the plant to adequately absorb the nutrient rich solution the most efficient way possible. It's not a matter of "couldn't you just," because yes, there are alternatives, but this is the most efficient way.

author
mildfire made it!(author)2015-02-04

Very interesting and helpful instruction! Thank you very much. Can you please elaborate on the topic of the fogger? What model do you use? And can it be used with not oly water but also with nutrient solution?

author
Skymeat made it!(author)2014-01-12

So Areoponics are cool. But why use a pi just to take pictures? What about a ph meter, valve to fill the tank, nutrient dispensers....

author
darkstar1 made it!(author)2014-01-13

That was the original idea, but i'm still quite the noob at using the pi, and a lack of time and resources didn't let me get to that point. Hopefully i'll get there at another time.

author
Skymeat made it!(author)2014-01-13

Cool! I'll keep an eye out for any updates. I've been wanting to make an aeroponic herb garden for a kitchen window for quite some time.

author
diy_bloke made it!(author)2014-01-13

I have always been a bit surprised at the use of this type of waterindicator as it creates a vulnerable spot in your container.
Another option would be a small hole in the lid with a tube going down to almost the bottom. put a float in the tube with a stick coming out. the rising of the stick gives a good indication of the waterlevel

author
darkstar1 made it!(author)2014-01-13

That's a great idea thanks for the feedback!

author
ymasullo made it!(author)2014-01-12

Very interesting...from where are net pots purchased? I imagine the fogger can be bought at someplace like Home Depot? Lowes?... (I live in Manhattan...that's all I can think of). What would a fogger cost more or less?

author
darkstar1 made it!(author)2014-01-12

Then net pots and fogger were purchased through Amazon. I believe the fogger was about $15, it's original intention is for use as a decorative piece in home ponds.

author
sheldor made it!(author)2014-01-12

So all the Pi does is take a picture? Seriously? :D When I read the title, I was expecting it to do some part of the "automation", like control water level, dispense fertilizer or maybe a switch a growing lamp? Track and adjust pH Levels?

The actual Aeroponics System is nice though, thanks for this part of the Instructable :)

author
random+squigles made it!(author)2014-01-12

Hi, thats nice. I know those misters have a narrow range of water depth they will work in. Hydro systems need balanced nutrients and proper PH. Are you planing on incorporating system monitoring? here is some info using a pic and a pc instead of the Pi to monitor the water level, PH, and conductivity of the solution so you know when to add water, add nutes and replace the water.

http://hmeter.sourceforge.net/

Also this might be right up your ally.

http://hapihq.com/

author
kshea19 made it!(author)2014-01-12

Brian Kuschak. Good software! You are the man. Don't have the skills, but I can beta-test the software.

author
darkstar1 made it!(author)2014-01-12

Wow, thanks for the resources! I probably will incorporate some system monitoring when I have the time. In fact, the original idea was to have some sensors (humidity and pH), but unfortunatley I wasn't able to get to that.

author
kshea19 made it!(author)2014-01-12

Thanks for your focus to detail and aesthetics. Thanks also for using the raspberry pi to control it. I have work in Nicaragua and I like smart stuff to allow my workers to focus on other things.

author
waemisegger made it!(author)2014-01-10

what function does the camera do and what code do you use to determine when the plants need to be misted with the fogger? I'm a little lost on the camera aspect but setup and layout of this is brilliant thank you for the post.

author
darkstar1 made it!(author)2014-01-10

Hey thanks for the feedback. So the camera serves to simply take a photo of the plants and save the image in your current directory on the Raspberry Pi, the idea here being that you can go back and view the progress your plants made. My hope is that those who understand the Pi better than me can take this a step further and get these pictures to be automatically included in emails, tweets,etc...The code that controls the mister is a picture in step 8, and . It simply goes through on/off cycles for the mister that you can set. Hope this helps.

author
Kdemon made it!(author)2014-01-12

How is your system working? How often does your Aeroponics system take a picture? Have you tried making a timelaps of growth? Keep up the good work.

author
darkstar1 made it!(author)2014-01-12

So far everything is working well with no leaks, fires, or other issues! I have set it to every few hours but this quickly becomes a memory space issue. As for time lapse, the Pi is running on its time lapse mode, but if you want a legit time lapse you'll have to use other software to combine the photos.

author
Kdemon made it!(author)2014-01-12

You should deffdiently make a time lapse of your plants growing, that would be epic!

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