The growth of the ‘smart’ garden

Aug 10th 2019

Smartphone users can now collect data from their gardens. Climate change-induced weather events and intensive agricultural practices have led to a global soil crisis that will exacerbate worldwide hunger and food shortages, an issue that could potentially affect approximately 1.3 billion people.

Given that around 95 % of human sustenance is grown from soil, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned the scientific community what will happen should farming continue with a business-as-usual approach. Currently, roughly 60 acres of fertile land is lost every minute. At this rate, the planet’s top soil will have fully degraded within 60 years, effectively ending the process of harvesting.

To address the issue, the University of Dundee is spearheading Grow Observatory, or GROW for short, an all-inclusive platform to stimulate soil conservation and advance sustainable food growth methods across Europe.

Citizen scientists
GROW encourages its users to install free novel detectors in the soil of their gardens, to gather vital information on soil quality. This information will be used to verify data that is also provided by satellites, enhancing the overall validity of the intelligence gathered.

The sensor, which is designed to resemble a Y-shaped stick and is camouflaged so as not to appear invasive, also gathers statistics that allow citizen scientists to forecast and prepare for extreme weather like floods and heatwaves.

Soil moisture levels are also measured to assess the dryness or dampness levels of the ground. Light conditions and atmospheric temperature are quantified too, thereby creating a list of parameters for environmental management at a local, regional, continental and eventually global scale.

The GROW community encompasses thousands of individuals, and anyone who has a garden can apply for a sensor. Perhaps one of its most attractive features lies in the simplicity of the process. The information gathered via a smartphone app transfers the data to a central database that can be accessed by the community. Approximately 10 European countries are engaged in a collective effort to identify the most sustainable solutions.

To support the project, three online courses are offered for free at FutureLearn in association with the University of Dundee.

Related article: Science wants to know how your garden grows