How to create a smart garden

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Yes, you read that right: we built a smart garden at CNET Smart Home.

If you’re wondering what that means or what could be “smart” in a garden, it just means that as a team we built a fully functional garden from scratch and will use smart garden technology to grow tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, jalapenos and the infamously spicy Carolina Reaper peppers.

Here’s exactly how we set it up and how you can use these smart gardening tools too.

Read also: How to start a garden with these 7 easy steps

Start with smart irrigation

Along with building our garden bed from scratch, the majority of our work went into creating a custom designed smart watering system. Proper watering is the most important aspect of gardening, so we focused on that first and foremost.

Building our garden bed took a long day of work.

Chris Monroe/CNET

We only needed one smart piece in our smart irrigation setup: the Orbit B-hyve Plus Faucet Timer. The faucet timer is one of the few options available to add intelligence to a regular garden hose. the Restto like Rachio, GreenIQ and rain birdreplace the controller of your in-ground sprinkler system.

The B-Hyve faucet timer connects to a regular outdoor faucet, so it’s an easier starting point for most. The “plus” part of the name refers to the hub that comes with it. Without the hub, you can only control it with your phone when you’re within Bluetooth range. We plugged the hub into an outlet on an interior wall on the other side of the faucet. The hub connects the faucet timer to Wi-Fi, allowing control via the app from anywhere.

The faucet timer installed outside CNET Smart Home.

The faucet timer installed outside the smart home.

Chris Monroe/CNET

B-hyve’s tap timer allowed me to set up schedules with the app. It also monitors the weather and can create schedules itself. Since the app was designed for watering areas in a yard, it’s not perfect for a vegetable patch. You can only customize timings for different types of grass, as opposed to tomatoes and peppers. Yet it is easy to use. Check back later in the week for the full B-hyve faucet timer review.

With B-hyve in place, we set about delivering water from our tap to our garden. We used several parts to build our own drip irrigation system, which you can easily find at any hardware store.


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Implementing smart irrigation at CNET Smart Home


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We connected a splitter to the faucet so we could make our drip irrigation permanent and still have access to the hose if we needed it. We connected the B-hyve to the splitter. Then we attached a check valve and a pressure reducer. We want the water to drip onto the plants, not spray.

We attached a standard 100 foot garden hose to these parts and ran it along the faucet wall to our garden. We connected the hose to the irrigation supply pipe and ran this pipe under the ground from the wall to our garden bed. We dug a path for him under our garden bed, then ran him on the surface of the dirt along the upper boundary of where we plan to put the Carolina Reapers.

A colorful map of CNET's smart garden layout.

Our smart garden plan. Lettuce is green. Jalapenos are blue. The tomatoes are orange. Peppers are yellow. The Carolina Reapers are red.

Steve Conaway/CNET

We drilled four small holes in this last stretch of supply pipe and attached four lines of emitter tubes to the holes. We looped the tube around the designated area for each plant. We’ll be giving our tomatoes, peppers, jalapenos, and lettuce a similar amount of water, so we’ve made loops large enough to include four emitter holes each.

We’re going to give the Carolina Reapers a little less water than the others, so we used smaller loops with only three holes. Varying the size of the loops was an easy way for us to customize watering for different plant needs while still drawing water from the same source.

Emitter tube used for smart garden

Our emitter tube loops. When ready, the plants will replace the staples marking the middle.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Finally, we capped the ends of our emitter tubing and capped the end of the irrigation tubing with a flush adapter so we could flush the system if needed. With this, we have transformed a single piece of smart hardware into a remotely controllable, weather-sensitive drip irrigation system.

The Orbit B-hyve Plus faucet timer is $70, or you can just get the faucet timer for $40. In total, the rest of the coins cost around $100 (around £70 or AU$130, though they’re not yet widely available in the UK or Australia).

The finished garden bed with our drip irrigation system in place.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The rest of the intellect

We decided against using a plant sensor, as the B-hyve is smart enough to monitor the weather on its own. As well, plant catchers as a category fade. As the seasons go by, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for a new good option if we need more refinement. If you want your system to be even more weather-related, check out our piece on the verge of smart weather monitors.

Besides smart watering, CNET’s Megan Wollerton offers a walkthrough for setting up a smart outdoor camera. She used the Netgear Arlo Go, a smart outdoor camera that can let you monitor pests. If a smart camera detects motion, it can trigger an alarm or flash exterior lights.

If you try any of these smart garden hacks, let us know how it goes and what you end up growing in your smart garden.

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