MoAgriS: Modular Agriculture System

Growing food crops and other plants in small indoor spaces using established containers like regular plant pots and very little money.

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This project tries to realise a full fledged indoor gardening System with the main focus on food crops that are normally not suited as indoor plants and provide them with everything they usually have in the outside world.

There are approaches to this problem but most of them rely on having a large basement or are otherwise very space consuming and try to re-invent containers for plants making the system very expensive and visually unappealing, although that is of course subjective.

I want to create a minimal in-expensive solution, utilizing existing containers for plants e.g. standard plant pots and breeding boxes. All you need to add to a breeding box or plant pot are metal rods which have an already accepted aesthetic in gardening as structural support for plants.

There will be modules for providing, light, ventilation, water, fertilizer and sensors to monitor plant health. They will talk over the center rod using the SDI-12 bus, with one module being the central "brain

This project is based on previous years entry: #MoRaLiS: Modular Rail Lighting System . This project advances on some of the basic concepts of MoRaliS and turns it into everything that is needed besides lighting. See my project logs further down for my progress. Unlike last year I try to document my process a little more and will try to write an entry for every step I take to realise this project.

At the moment I try out the concepts I have in my head, so you will see a lot of CNC milled boards at first, trying out different things. When I got an idea how everything looks I will proceed in ordering some PCBs to test out looks and get better data on mechanical stability. As it is starting to get warm in Europe I will also start a controlled test by growing a tomato plant of the same strain indoors with MoAgriS and outdoors on my balcony using the traditional methods, e.g. the Sun, windy weather and a watering can.

So if I caught your interest, subscribe to the project and follow me along :)

License for this project.

md - 264.00 bytes - 04/04/2018 at 21:48


  • Pump module

    Prof. Fartsparkle04/15/2018 at 22:54 0 comments

    I designed a a first prototype for the PCB that will hold the pump and also be responsible for controlling it.

    I wanted the pump to be just as integrated into the system as everything else so I didn't want it to sit somewhere on the floor but rather sit on the rods as well. So it was also kind of obvious to integrate the pump into a PCB together with its controller.

    Totally legit footprint checking

    Having native USB on the SAMD11 is really neat. I can debug a module without needing a programmer or USB to UART adapter.
    The module is pretty simple. The base structure for every module is a SAMD11 loaded up with a bossac compatible bootloader, powered by a 3v3 LDO and programmed through its USB pins.
    For driving the pump (actually just a glorified DC fan) I use a little mosfet.
    I'm a bit lazy with gathering all my board files and code but I will upload all source files very soon.

    Here is the finished prototype board. I actually fucked up the mosfet connection and reversed source and drain but that is luckily an easy fix without any soldermask on the board :)
    I just tilted the mosfet by 45° as you can somewhat see hiding behind the red wire.

  • Experimenting with immitating the plant pot

    Prof. Fartsparkle04/09/2018 at 22:21 0 comments

    I gave spray painting a pot clamp a shot to see if giving it an effect color that matches the pot could look nice.
    Here a try with terracotta spray paint. I gave it first a layer with spray filler, sanded that and then a layer of primer. I think it actually came out quite nice.

  • Watering

    Prof. Fartsparkle04/07/2018 at 23:48 0 comments

    Plant watering is probably the most solved problem of all for this project. There are probably thousand different ways to water your plants (semi) automatically.
    So I wanted to integrate with a solution that is readily available and cheap.
    Luckily the most readily available solution are these dripper watering sets that come with 6mm tubing which fit perfectly well into a 5mm fuse clip.
    You can get a set for 12 plants at about 6€ at Aliexpress:

    You can also get the cheaper orange ones where you get about 50 drippers for the same price. The grey ones are actually spraying rather than dripping.

    Though that is just one part of the problem. You also need a pump, first I thought it would be more economical to use a single large pump for several plants and control water intake with a solenoid valve. Though I quickly discovered a small water pump that is readily available on ebay and aliexpress that is just 1€ more than a solenoid valve, so its a no brainer to let every plant or "system" have its dedicated pump.
    You can buy one of those pumps here for ~3.40€

    They are small enough so you can actually mount them on the metal rods as well which I will do next! For now I just put in on the floor to test my tube clipping mechanism. Here is a full video showing everything:

    You don't have to put it on an extra arm of course. Here it spraying from the top, from the same the led module sits on. The fuse clips are perfectly comfortable holding larger loads, you could probably add two more light modules without any issues.

    Next up is a dedicted PCB to hold the water pump vertially at the bottom of the rods to make the whole thing more self contained. No one wants a bunch of little pumps scattered around their floors...

  • Test setup

    Prof. Fartsparkle04/04/2018 at 22:11 0 comments

    While the brown PCB angle and the Samla box is not exactly winning any beauty contest I'm very satisfied functionality wise. The Samla box serves as a second stage for the young plants after they grew to big for the breeding box, after that they will get their dedicated pots.

    The 3D printed clamp was nicely adapting from a pottery pot to a plastic box without any adjustments to the design. It holds very tight and is able to support the 70cm long metal rods just fine.

    I added the clamping mechanism of the first clamp design to the top of rods to give them more support, otherwise it was very easy to jiggle a rod around with your hands due to the long length of the rods, now they are sitting firmly in place. I will design an additonal minimal clamp similar to the one for #MoAgriS: Modular Agriculture System to give support for long rods like these. I think the design should scale well to 1.5m and longer.

    The plants are enjoying the light so far. For the estehtics I think having a proper PCB with probably white soldermask (or none and just have tinned copper for an all metal look) will go a long way to improve the looks. I think an all metal surface finish could give the setup a very nice industrial kind of look. Though for the plastic parts I would stick with white or for the clamp maybe go with the color your plant pots are in. I ordered some terracotta spray paint and see how that works in conjunction with my terracotta pots.

  • Warm white full spectrum LEDs

    Prof. Fartsparkle03/28/2018 at 21:52 0 comments

    I just discovered something very promising. So called "new full spectrum LEDs". They promise a similar good spectrum for plants but are not fully plant focused like the usualy "full spectrum LEDs" which radiate a pinkish red color which is really not something you wanna have in your home unless you really love that color.

    So what I did so far is mix every full spectrum LED with a standard cool white LED.
    This product now seems to combine the two in one package and just add enough green and blue to make it a comfortable light color. Right now they cost a bit more but that would be very well worth it.

    While the solution I have works, its not perfect, in certain light angles you get fringes of pink when the light hits the wall around the plant and you don't have a lamp shade on.

    The "no harm to eyes" should not be mistaken as an actual harm to your eyes, more in the sense of, it looks really bad...

  • Plant Pot Clamp

    Prof. Fartsparkle03/26/2018 at 23:26 0 comments

    I've been designing a parametric model in Fusion 360 (view or download) that can be easily adjusted to different plant pots. The first iteration was quite a fail. I totally disregarded the fact that plant pots are circles (well at least the vast majority) so it ended up only fitting with one of its clamps.

    Not exactly as intended...

    It was also very bulky which I didn't like so I scrapped that clamp and designed a new one that was more compact. I stay with the initial concepts of having two halfs that are screwed together to clamp the rods in place.

    This is how the new design looks like. It fits nicely on its intended pot. I gave about 0.3mm tolerance which I think weren't necessary, having a snug fit or even undersizing it a little might be beneficial.

    I messed up the dimensions for the hex nuts, they were way too small. I ended up hot pressing them with a soldering iron which worked suprisingly well.

    And this is how it looks on the pot (see below). I'm quite pleased with the result. It's compact but is still very strong.
    The two bottom screws have two functions, first to give more strength in the case of lateral force where the plastic at the top screws might snap and second to deal with pots that have a weird shape where you may have a fat lip at the top or non linear curvatures.

    In that case you can choose longer scews than needed (M3x12 countersunk) and screw them in deep enough to hit the pot to give extra support in these cases.

    And here a "full assembly" with angle and light attached.

  • SAMD11 breakout

    Prof. Fartsparkle03/25/2018 at 14:05 0 comments

    I made a minimal SAMD11 breakout for testing communication on the actual hardware. So far I just tested on some dev boards. If you haven't read anything about the SAMD11 so far. Let me give you a little taste of its specs: 16KB Flash, 4KB SRAM, 5-8 ADCs, DAC(!), RTC, up to 48MHz with external crystal, 12-22GPIO and 3 SERCOMs (UART, SPI, I2C for your choosing) and all that four about 1$ in single quantity. Apart from a load of legacy supported libraries, there is not much that speaks for the ATTiny85 anymore at this price point and size. If you wanna know more here is the datsheet.

    Thanks to the wonderful work from mattairtech there is already a BOSSA compatible bootloader and Arduino core for the small and cheap ATSAMD11C14A which comes in a very easy to solder SOIC-14 package. Apart from a stable supply voltage the IC needs absolutely no other components to work, even when using USB it can use the internal clock sources!

    My board only has a 3v3 LDO and a 10uF cap at the input and output of the LDO. Right now it even behaves great without a 0.1-1uF decoupling cap but I will definitely add one to the actual module designs. I just didn't have one rated for more than 24v in stock but nice to see it is able to work reliably with basically nothing. A true competitor to the ATtiny85. I'm hoping more people will adopt this wonderful MCU.


    And yes USB works even if you don't give a shit about routing the traces anywhere close to each other or length matching them in any way. Its USB 1.x speeds after all, not terribly much to fuck up there.

    (don't actually do that though, you should give at least a little care, I just knew that I will be ok in this case. Length matching +/-2.5mm will work out just fine at these low speeds, don't worry too much).

  • Stronger angles

    Prof. Fartsparkle03/24/2018 at 22:43 0 comments

    I iterated on the first angles and simply made them a little longer and doubling the amount of fuse holders. This makes for a very robust solution that can easily hold two large lamp modules.

    I'm quite satisfied with the current solution. I jig would be nice for soldering though, it's not very easy to solder them at perfect 90° without something to hold everything in place. The one you see below is more of an 80° angle.

    And of course easy adjustment in height:

  • First test of 90° angled boards

    Prof. Fartsparkle03/22/2018 at 23:58 0 comments

    I made a little prototype for testing the concept of the PCB build 90° angles for getting adjustable heights to support larger plants that still grow in height.

    I used M5 screws to test as I couldn't find my set of smaller rods. Which brings me to mention, you can totally use threaded rods instead of standard metal rods if they are harder to buy where you live. Usually threaded rods are available absolutely everywhere.

    I think If I add a second set of fused holders it could work nicely. I didn't make holes for the horizontal rods as I did in my rendering because in this way I can have identical boards to form the angle instead of needing two distinct board design.

    Here are a few pictures:

  • Miniaturization of the LED modules

    Prof. Fartsparkle03/22/2018 at 23:17 0 comments

    I wanted to get the system down to a 12v power supply instead of the current 24v that #MoRaLiS: Modular Rail Lighting System used. Technically you only need 14.4V as the LEDs usually have a Vf of 3.2-3.6V.

    24V is just a more convenient voltage standard so I designed everything around at least supporting 24v.

    Which makes components also slightly more expensive and now that I want to incorporate an MCU on each board its getting hard to find a affordable and small LDO that can take 24v.

    So I had two choices either have a 2 Series LEDs in Parallel which would be not so optimal as you can't mix LEDs with different forward voltages anymore and even within the same batch you would get variances of 0.1-0.3v. So I instead went with having only 2 LEDs and heavily reduced the size of the boards.

    I always wanted smaller boards anyways, the biggest show stopper so far was thermal concern, with the current design and size 4 LEDs had just enough dissipation through the copper of the board to operate below their max. temperature.

    I now plan on trying out 2 oz. copper boards instead and maybe add a little cut out on the back to drop in a tiny heatsink on the thermal pads of the LEDs if necessary but I have hope that 2 oz. copper will be enough.

    This has another benefit, you can stack much more LEDs in a row and also distribute lighting much more evenly which has been a problem in some situations before.

    Here a first prototype. I also went for some smaller inductor and capacitor. The inductor has always been over specd, lets see how one operates that just meets the specs.
    Technically a 100uF capacitor is nicer but I think with so many devices on the rail with their own cap, 47uF might suffice. Though now that I only need a 12v supply, finding smaller 100uF caps that don't cost a fortune becomes easier.

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