Open Irrigation: Open Source Smart Tech for Your Garden

You’ve seen what smart homes can do. But what about a smart garden? An open irrigation sprinkler controller can save money, conserve water, and make your garden gorgeous. DIY irrigation systems may sound intimidating, but this one runs on Raspberry Pi. It’s ingenious and user-friendly.

If you maintain a garden, you will understand just how important it is that it gets the proper water and nutrition. People who keep a garden begin to love it like a pet or maybe even a child, for some. Your garden becomes something you deeply love and treasure. It is a gift to your life, your time, and something you adore to care for.
So it only makes sense that you’d want to set up a great irrigation system for it to get the perfect watering. But since this can seem daunting, you may have pushed it off for months, maybe even years. That is where the DIY system laid out in this article comes into play. This will walk you through all you need to know, in a step by step system, to show you exactly how to make a successful irrigation system for your garden.

Want to learn more? Read on!

The “open” in “open irrigation sprinkler controller” is short for “open source,” which means that the creator of the software licensed it for adaptation and use by anyone, instead of preventing people from using it, as proprietary software does. Apple software is an excellent example of proprietary software. Apple copyrights its source code and licenses it to prevent anyone from using the code without permission from Apple. Open source software is also copyrighted, but its licensing allows anyone to use the source code for anything. Raspberry Pi is a good example of how open source software is used. Don’t worry, being a computer or coding genius isn’t required.

Open Irrigation in a Nutshell

Two hands install a drip irrigation system in a garden.
Image CC by 2.0, by USDA, via Flickr

Open Irrigation is an open source irrigation system that runs on Raspberry Pi. Not sure what that is? Don’t worry. We’ll explain in a bit. The system uses different kinds of imported data and creates a custom open source water usage system for your garden. It works as a sprinkler controller, as well as a controller for drip irrigation. And you control the system through your web browser. You can also monitor your water usage daily, monthly, or yearly.

Jantinus Daling created Open Irrigation. You can download the documentation from Github. According to Daling, Open Irrigation calculates the water needs for your garden based on different kinds of data. First, it takes daily temperatures from Wunderground. Then, it combines those temperatures with the growth data for your specific plants, as reported by different agricultural researchers. Finally, it creates a unique irrigation program for your garden’s needs.

A vegetable garden. An open irrigation system can help to regulate water usage for home gardens.
Image CC0, by Larry Bacon unitedmmc, via Public Domain Pictures

As a result, Open Irrigation can optimize your water usage. Overwatering (or not watering enough) becomes less of a problem than it is with traditional irrigation systems. Also, your custom system wastes less irrigation water and loses fewer minerals. This means better and more efficient garden growth.

What is Raspberry Pi?

The motherboard for a raspberry pi computer. Raspberry pi controls the Open Irrigation system.
Image CC by SA-3.0, Unported, by Jwrodgers, via Wikimedia Commons

Raspberry Pi is a small and versatile computer that you build yourself. You may be thinking, “Whoa! Build a computer myself? Just to run the sprinkler controller? Get me out of here! But Raspberry Pi is fun and easy to build, use, and add on to. A lot of people use it to teach kids how to put computers together, and to learn about programming. You don’t actually need that many parts to get started, and they all snap together pretty easily. There’s also a massive community of friendly users and lots of documentation in case you start to feel lost. Still with me? Great. Let’s look at the hardware now.

What You Need to Get Started

To get started, you’ll need your Raspberry Pi, and some sprinkler system hardware. You can get the parts on Amazon or eBay and they are fairly affordable. Daling gives the parts list here.

For building the Raspberry Pi unit

You will need a total of six things to create your Raspberry Pi.

  1. A Raspberry Pi 3 Model B motherboard. The motherboard is a circuit board that holds and connects a computer’s CPU (central processing unit), memory, etc. It’s available from the Raspberry Pi website.
  2. The Raspberry Pi power supply unit. This will power your computer. It’s also available from Raspberry Pi.
  3. Female to female jumper wires. These connect the parts of your Raspberry Pi computer. Available on Amazon.
  4. A four-channel DC relay board. A relay board connects up the relays, or switches, for your project. These switches tell your Open Irrigation system to turn the irrigation water on and off. You can find both relay boards and instructions online.
  5. Two waterproof junction boxes. Junction boxes are metal boxes that house electrical components and protect them from the elements.
  6. A two- or three- outlet power strip.

Assembling the Raspberry Pi unit

Daling gives explicit instructions, with photos, for putting the above components together and testing them, at Github. Once you have built your Raspberry Pi, you’ll need to configure it. You can find Daling’s instructions for that here. And all of the documentation for this open source water usage system is here.

For the garden setup

If you want to use the same hardware setup that Daling uses, you will need nine more things.

A drip irrigation hose and valve.
Image CC by 2.0, by Graibeard, via Flickr
  1. A 24V AC transformer. A transformer takes a tremendous amount of electricity flowing through the electrical system, and “transforms” it into something your smaller, home appliances can use. This includes your Open Irrigation system.
  2. 6-gauge wire grounding cable. Use this to ground electrical wiring. Its most common use is for residential electrical systems. Available at Home Depot or other hardware stores.
  3. Wire protector pipe. This protects your wires from the elements.
  4. Up to 4 irrigation valves. Irrigation valves turn the irrigation water on and off for both sprinklers and drip irrigation systems. Daling recommends Rainbird brand.
  5. Pressure regulators for drip systems. Irrigation systems that include drip irrigation will need pressure regulators. A pressure regulator reduces the water pressure from an incoming water source for a drip irrigation system.
  6. A Rainbird VBREC12 valve box. This protects your irrigation valves, see how it works at the Rainbird website.
  7. Polyethylene tubing with connectors and elbows. This lightweight, flexible, durable tubing is the circulatory system for your Open Irrigation system.
  8. Sprinklers. Installing a system that uses sprinklers? You’ll need these, of course.
  9. Drip emitters. And these are for a drip irrigation system.

Putting it All Together

Daling doesn’t give explicit instructions for setting up the sprinkler system itself. However, DIY Network has some simple suggestions here. You can also get some great ideas from this How To Lou video for your own setup.

Here’s how another person combined Raspberry Pi with a custom sprinkler system, in the following video. Maker Aaron Newcomb takes you through his own open source water usage and sprinkler controller system — including the coding.

Are You Ready?

An open irrigation system can save you money, and make your garden flourish. These tools also make taking your garden into the future as easy as, well, Raspberry Pi.

Featured Image: CC0, by AxxLc, via Pixabay

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