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NGS: Networked Growing Systems – Part 1

Control your grow and your security system with Networked Growing Systems Control your grow and your security system with Networked Growing Systems

Check out this piece covering one of the hottest growing topics in the hydroponics industry – Networked Growing Systems. This is the talk of the town and is ripped straight from the pages of the latest edition of Rosebud Magazine. And best of all, this one is courtesy of the inimitable expertise of grower guru Erik Biksa. Enjoy!

Getting Wired in Your Grow

When we talk about networking in the context of growing, thoughts most likely turn to hanging out with some grower friends and talking shop while sampling harvested delights. That’s good stuff for sure, and yes, it may even help to get you bigger yields.

However, NGS (networked growing system) techniques can help you get huge yields while avoiding problems, without you even having to be there to do a lot of the work. This is the kind of grow networking you are going to want to know more about.

There is more to NGS than just controlling and monitoring the immediate growing environment, which is no small feat when you consider that this means precise and consistent control of light, temperature, humidity, CO2, water levels, nutrient pH and EC.

Sounds more like science fiction than fact? Today, it’s a growing reality. This article aims to bring you up to speed in the new era of indoor high-yield growing, assisted with LAN and World Wide Web network capabilities so you can monitor and control your garden from the palm of your hand, anywhere in the world. While this buys you bigger yields by creating a more consistent and stable growing environment for plants, it also buys you more time for doing whatever it is you love, including setting up more gardens.

Running the Whole Show

There is more to NGS than just controlling and monitoring the immediate growing environment, which is no small feat when you consider that this means precise and consistent control of light, temperature, humidity, CO2, water levels, nutrient pH and EC.

These devices even control the entire growing facility, which includes security and surveillance monitoring. Since many of us grow in our homes, there are lots of benefits, including the added piece of mind. You can even check to see whether the dog’s dish still has food!

Do You Have to be a Nerd to Do It?

The level of computer networking savvy that you are going to require depends on whether you buy plug-and-play technologies or create your own NGS to serve your purposes. If you have ever set up a router to create a home or small-business computer network, wired or wireless, you probably have all the skill you will need. And if not, there is usually tech support available by phone or email to answer any questions you may have.

Wired VS Wireless: Both

Another thing to consider is whether you can go wired or will have to go wireless. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Wired

What you are going to need to have in hand is going to depend on the level of sophistication and control you want. Don’t start projects without the money to finish them.

Pros: Signal locked down; better reliability and security.

Cons: Expense and time to install, especially over a larger area.

Wireless

Pros: Up and running in a short amount of time, with little intrusion on the building or your grow.

Cons: Potentially less secure; issues with range and interference that can compromise your security and grow functionality.

Dollars and Sense

What you are going to need to have in hand is going to depend on the level of sophistication and control you want. Don’t start projects without the money to finish them. Budget carefully!

In our example, we are going to completely automate every aspect of the grow room and be able to control it from anywhere in the world via smartphone or PC. We are also going to equip the building with a security system that allows for remote viewing and captures all the events that we tell it to — including sending us alerts when it appears the growing environment or security may be compromised.

Price Tag: about $4,000

“Whoa!” you say — sounds like a lot? Stop for a second and consider that this figure includes high-quality CO2 sensors, pH and TDS sensors, nutrient injectors, water-level sensors, lighting timers, temperature and humidity controls, night-vision cameras, DVR recorders, high-speed routers, wiring, etc. Is all this needed to grow a plant? No. Is it needed to maintain an optimal environment for big and consistent yields every time you grow? It sure helps a lot!

If you tally up what it costs to buy all this stuff separately, and then consider that in doing so none of the gear will be able to communicate with you or any of the other gear, the price is actually on par or better for an NGS setup.

Tip

You will want to minimize the number of holes you have to drill and lines you have to fish through walls and ceilings during installation.

NGS setups are an easier investment to make when building a new grow rather than replacing your existing controls and monitors.

For Reals

Since all this might sound a little intimidating or far-fetched at first, here is a real-life working model of how to set it all up and make it work to give you bigger yields and make your life easier.

What We Used To Do It:

GroBot Evo (Purgro.com), N+300 wired and wireless gigabit router (Office Depot), digital surveillance system with remote viewing (Costco), assorted cables, wires, wire-ties, cordless drill with a long bit, fish tape, ladder and everything necessary to crawl through the insulation in the attic.

Keep Your Eyes Up

The first step we took was to locate and mount our security cameras. Sounds like a small step, but it can be a big undertaking, especially if you go with multiple wired cameras as we did (included in our kit). Our digital surveillance system cameras are going on the outside only; we can use separate cameras for anything we want to see or monitor in the grow room via the GroBot Evo. More about that later.

With wired cameras, there are limitations as to lengths of video/sound and power cords that you can run. Also, you will want to minimize the number of holes you have to drill and lines you have to fish through walls and ceilings during installation. If you haven’t fished lines before and the job calls for lots of it, enlist the help of someone who has experience.

Mega Tip

If you have to run wires, try to do most of the run up in the attic, where there are typically no obstructions and it’s simply a matter of dropping the wire to the outside of the building or down into a room by drilling a hole or two. Otherwise, you may have lots of drilling and wire fishing to do, which sometimes means lots of plastering, painting and sanding afterwards.

Even though the cameras in the kit are of reasonable quality and are equipped with night-vision via infrared LEDs, it still helps to have some outside lighting when it’s dark out.

Install cameras up high where they are out of easy reach from vandals but still provide a clear field of vision for the things you are going to want to see. Sophisticated cameras and the software that runs them can automatically zoom in or out and follow a target onscreen. However, most systems have a fixed, wide field of vision. So for example, in each door, install one camera that is able to identify a person and another that provides more of a bird’s-eye view of the area.

Very sophisticated installations have obvious or even dummy cameras to discourage unwanted and potentially malicious visitors, while at the same time recording from well-hidden cameras so that professional thieves can’t easily map out your field of vision.

Even though the cameras in the kit are of reasonable quality and are equipped with night-vision via infrared LEDs, it still helps to have some outside lighting when it’s dark out. To save on electricity and the environment, install outside lights on photo-sensors so that they only come on when needed.

As a final consideration in installing cameras, make sure you aren’t recording things you shouldn’t be in the field of vision, for example, intruding on the privacy of neighbors. What goes on directly on your property is your business; what happens off it is not. Also think about what it would look like if your signal was accidentally (or otherwise) picked up by an outside source: Would it just look like a house at 123 Main Street?

At this point, you should be able to see what’s going on in the field of vision locally on your monitoring system and be able to review and change settings via the digital recording/controller device. The recording device is best kept hidden so that only you know where to retrieve the recorded video from the camera feeds. Our particular system can handle up to eight cameras at once, including audio if installed. You can also password-protect the monitoring system, including a “covert” mode in which unauthorized viewing does not reveal field of vision or recorded material.

The Main Vein

Your Internet router is going to act as the epicenter in lots of different communications between you, your devices and your monitoring system(s), both inside and outside the growing location. Your router needs to be fast, have a strong wireless signal and be very secure. It might be worth your time to read a couple of quick and simple Web articles on routers so you have an idea of what to look for when you are buying.

If you follow directions carefully and the system you have chosen is truly plug-and-play, you should encounter a minimum of hassles.

Where you set it up is important too. The router needs to be accessible, and ideally it should be located so that lengths and complication levels in wiring Ethernet cable (Cat 5e) are minimized. Don’t forget: It’s going to need to connect to your broadband modem and a power supply as well.

The best installations also make use of UPS (uninterruptible power supply) which in simple terms means having a battery backup (like the ones for computers) to keep the security system, communications and computer links running in the event of a power interruption. Most security systems use minimal wattage and can stay up and running via battery until power can be restored.

Technical Difficulties

Getting the security system talking with the router and back to you is typically more challenging than getting your grow gear to do so, believe it or not. This is where the tech department from your manufacturer or supplier may come in handy. If you follow directions carefully and the system you have chosen is truly plug-and-play, you should encounter a minimum of hassles. Be prepared to spend a little time with this and schedule at least a few hours for it. If you get it done sooner, that’s great!

Come Back, We’re Just Getting Started

In the next edition we will arrive at Part II in our series on networked growing systems and how to set them up. While taking you through the nuts and bolts of it, you are going to get tips on how to avoid making potentially costly mistakes while receiving valuable information that is going to make things roll along smoothly both in setup and operation.

And most importantly, we are going to go in depth as to how to put all this technology to work for you, helping to ensure the biggest yields and making your growing experience more satisfying and enjoyable. Now, haven’t you got some wire to go pull?

© Copyright RosebudMag.com, 2012



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Here’s one of the cornerstones of our version of a Networked Growing System
Last modified on Monday, 02 July 2012 14:53

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