Gardening tools go mobile

THE ASSOCIATED PRESSAugust 15, 2013 

  • APPS: PLANT A BETTER GARDEN

    Whether you have planted a simple garden or want to better manage your vegetable bounty, here are some highly rated apps to help you this year and plan for next.

    APPLE

    Eden Garden Designer ($1.99) — Begin to plan your garden for fun or for real with hundreds of plants and flowers that you can arrange on the design board. Details about hundreds of plants and flowers, the care they need and when to plant are included. (Mobilewalla Score: 81/100)

    Garden Pro ($0.99) — All the information you need to manage your garden, including the right sun/shade, soil types, fertilizers and more. (Score: 79/100)

    Garden Tracker ($1.99) — Plot out your garden and keep track of each variety with this smart grid app. (Score: 79/100)

    Grandma’s Garden ($0.99)* — You will need something to keep the kids busy while you’re out tending your garden, and this app is just the thing. Includes multiple garden-themed games. (Score: 78/100)

    Climate Wise Plant Hardiness Zone Finder ($0.99) — Plug in your location with Google Maps, and make informed decisions about planting perennials, crops and annuals. (Score: 69/100)

    ANDROID

    Garden Guide (Free)* — Go organic in your garden this season with this how-to from Mother Earth News. (Mobilewalla Score: 77/100)

    Vegetable Garden ($0.99)* — Get a number of growing guides with detailed instructions on everything from acorn squash to zucchini. (Score: 74/100)

    Garden Tender ($0.99) — Project management software meets gardening in this helpful tool that tracks your yields per plant, growing cycles and more. (Score: 71/100)

    Gardenate ($1.99)* — Everything you need to know to get ready for spring planting or your own vegetable garden. Offers how-to’s to maximize your harvest. (Score: 69/100)

    Garden Squared (Free) — This garden journal and planning app helps you with the proper spacing and recording of each plant. (Score: 62/100)

    Apps with an asterisk* denote availability on both Apple and Android. Mobilewalla is a search and discovery engine that scores every app to help consumers navigate the mobile application marketplace.

    King Features Syndicate

Smart phones that respond to signals from plants? Laptops that coordinate irrigation at dozens of vineyards? Remote weather stations programmed to text frost alerts?

Many commercial growers are using laptops, tablets or smart phones to keep costs down and production up. Home gardeners too, if they can afford it.

Apps may get more attention, but they’re small potatoes compared to the software and online programs already at work or being tested for horticultural use. Simply scanning a monitor or applying a few keystrokes can save water and fuel, redirect a labor force or protect a crop.

“The online-based software is really the heart that drives all this technology,” said Paul Goldberg, director of operations at Bettinelli Vineyards and a director of Napa Valley Grapegrowers. “A good portion of my day is now spent monitoring vineyards and making decisions to control certain vineyard operations via my phone or tablet in the field.”

Perhaps the most powerful viticultural tool to come along in recent years is the solar-powered remote weather station, Goldberg said. These self-contained units are scattered throughout hundreds of vineyards, providing site-specific streaming weather data.

“Even more impressive is that the stations’ online software can be set to notify growers with a phone call or text if something goes awry, like a sudden pressure drop from a broken irrigation pipe, a well running dry or a decline in temperature posing a frost threat in the spring,” he said.

Remote weather stations have become the platforms for integrating other powerful technology to manage vineyards from afar, Goldberg said.

Some examples:

— Sap flow monitors that turn grapevines into living sensors by telling growers when — or even if — they need water. “This technology paired with other sophisticated tools has made irrigation much more of an exact science,” Goldberg said.

— Wind machines controlled by computer, tablet or smartphone.

— Data collection tools. Growers can access vineyard information, work orders, fertilizer and irrigation programs, graphs, and a variety of viticulture tools from tablets or smart phones in the field.

Horticulturists at The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, Calif., meanwhile, irrigate with a computerized system that automatically shuts down after a certain amount of water has been used, rather than operating with timers.

“The amount of water that can come out in a given time could be variable, so it’s easy to over- or underwater if you’re just using a timer,” said Andrew Wong, Bancroft’s head gardener. “They’re also great if you live in a community that has water restrictions. If you’re allotted 500 gallons, then that’s what you’ll use.”

Another tech tool used at the garden is a self-guided audio tour that responds to prompts from smartphone users. “It provides information not found in our garden pamphlets,” Wong said.

Burpee Home Gardens has introduced two mobile web tools — not apps — using smart phones as gardening tools. Gardeners can specify the size and location of their plant sites and “My Garden Designer” does the rest, creating “recipes” for easily planted containers or flowerbeds. “Burpee Garden Coach” is a free mobile web tool that provides online tutoring. Users customize their profiles by supplying their zip codes to receive a continuing series of tips on flower or vegetable gardening via text messages or email alerts.

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