Friday, July 29, 2011

A Self-Watering AutoGarden


One plot in our community garden is attracting a lot of attention.  It’s a raised, solar powered, self-watering “AutoGarden” designed by Dr. Duncan Bell, a veteran gardener who is about to retire from his day job as head of Biomedical Engineering at Pfizer/Wyeth.  Using his Ph.D. in botany and his background as a robot designer, he designed the system to be a cross between hydroponics and container gardening.   

Dr. Bell has been experimenting with automatic watering systems for awhile, developing his own models.  An early prototype consisted of a system using his toilet tank, an electric pump, and a timer to water his containers though a tray placed underneath them.  This method used low pressure, had no leaks, and only ran for 15 minutes a day.  



During a 6-month relocation to California last summer, he began thinking about the water lifter designed by the Greek philosopher/scientist Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC), and wondered if he could design a system that used this method of lifting water rather than a pump. 


Solar-powered panel
He assembled his own using a swimming pool noodle, table saw, PVC pipe, salvage DC motor and duct tape. Whenever the sun is shining, a solar powered panel switches the lifter on.   To move the water, the pipe turns slowly,  picking up droplets of water from a storage tank as it turns. 


The water drips  onto a series of terrycloths placed on top of a waterproof surface, but under the plant containers. 
As the towels and containers get saturated, the water runs elsewhere, to a lower rack.  Finally, after saturating the lowest rack, the water runs into a storage tank.

In addition to being outside the grasp of groundhogs and rabbits, the raised trays make the garden more accessible to people who might have trouble bending over, or people in wheelchairs.  





From the looks of it, Dr. Bell's harvest will be beautiful and abundant.  Because the plants aren't competing for water, they're able to be grown much closer together, increasing his yields.

Have you ever used a self-watering gadget in your garden?

11 comments:

TALON said...

That is absolutely amazing! How clever is that? And on so many levels! Truly inspiring, JGH.

elaine rickett said...

Can you send him to England please

tina said...

Very very cool! A big big help too! I wish I'd thought of that!

Malay-Kadazan girl said...

We don't have self-watering gadget at our garden but will love to have one too! That is so awesome to design something like that.

Veggie PAK said...

I think that this is the most impressive post I have ever seen!

Pam J. said...

I agree with everyone who commented above. Very, very inspiring and interesting! My favorite line? "...he began thinking about the water lifter designed by the Greek philosopher/scientist Archimedes ..." I'm going to go think about Archimedes and see if I get any great ideas.

Pam J. said...

Update on my comment above: I showed this post to my husband because I thought he'd be interested. He's never seen your blog before and, like me, he's a huge and long-time Springsteen fan so first I had to let him examine and admire your blog design (I think you said your husband designed it?). He approves. Then he read about the self-watering garden and was especially taken with the diagram you included. Doug (husband in question) took a course at the Univ of MD last semester called "History of Science and Technology in Western Civilization" and the Archimedes water lifter was discussed. While the professor did a good job of describing it, your diagram made the concept even more understandable. Aren't blogs great?

Jocelyn said...

Wow: Very innovative. Wondering if maybe this is the answer for me - My first adventures in gardening have demonstrated that I am water-resistant, meaning that I resist watering the poor plants. There have been consequences...

Ashling said...

Wow...that's fantastic, and the fact that plants can be grown closer together makes such a set-up ideal for 'backyard homesteading'.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Robots and Archimedes and pool noodles and gardens! These should be combined more often!

nesting melly said...

I was wondering about that plot! How neat!