Green Your Thumb with Open Source Gadgets

Your Best Backyard Garden Ever.

Orange Flowers
Unedited Photo by William Murphy. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). Photo © William Murphy

There's a popular misconception that technologists -- programmers in particular -- are socially awkward basement-dwellers who are, at best, wary of other people and, at worst, downright anti-social. But if you know anything about the open source movement, then you know that community gatherings and working together are what it's really all about.

So it may come as no surprise to learn that there's another stereotype that just doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

And that one is that you can't be both good at "computer stuff" and be interested in nature. However, from efforts to save endangered species to ecology projects for the masses to safeguarding the future for seeds, the open source community has a long history of commitment to the great outdoors.

And what does all of this mean for you? Well, if you've been having a hard time maintaining your backyard garden or even getting it to grow in the first place, you could just be a click, download, and install away from sorting out all of your problems.

Plan It

The first step toward a better garden is a good plan. And if you have access to a computer running Mac OS X, then you're in luck.

Released under the Mozilla Public License (MPL 1.1), GardenSketch is a free and open source program that lets you create a virtual garden on your computer screen so that you can make sure everything works together -- both in terms of space and plant species -- before you dig your first shovelful of dirt.

To layout your landscape, head on over to the official GardenSketch website or download this software directly from SourceForge.

Maintain It

Once your garden has been established, you're going to need to maintain it. Sunlight and water are the two most important things to any plant. And while you may not have much control over how many sunny days your plants have, you can control how much water they get.

The OpenSprinkler project combines single-board computers with a web application and mobile app for Android-, iOS-, and Windows-based mobile devices for a complete backyard sprinkler monitoring and controlling system.

OpenSprinkler comes in two formats. The first is a plug-and-play kit that you can purchase and use right out-of-the-box. The second is a little more DIY and requires that you're comfortable working with electronics.

Whichever version you choose, you can get started by visiting the official OpenSprinkler website.

Harvest It

Lastly, whether it's tomatoes or lavender, there's a good chance that you're going to want to reap what you've sewn at some point or even just transplant it. But, how do you know when it's time? If you're too early, you could accidentally kill some of your plants, and if you're too late, you could miss out on many of gardening's best rewards.

Luckily for you, the CropPlanning desktop application for Linux, Mac, and Windows is the perfect little database for keeping track of which plants are where and when they can be planted, moved, and harvested. This application can also act as a planning tool, helping you to figure out how much space you have for each of your "crops," but beware that it's all text-based, so if you're more visual, you'll probably want to save the layout portion of your garden for GardenSketch, listed above.

CropPlanning is released under a GNU General Public License (GPL) and is available for download from the project's Google Code webpage.

Enjoy It

Even if you've struggled with your garden in the past, you now have the tools at your disposal to brighten up your blooms and bulk up your bulbs. And when you're sitting back enjoying it all, just remember to thank those sunlight-fearing, people-avoiding open source geeks who helped make it possible.