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E-Gadgets in the Garden

Blackdecker1 Of all the garden toys I'm NOT interested in, I am LEAST interested in the little electronic gizmos that promise to send you a text message when your plant needs watering.  Or a tweet.  Some of them tweet.  I'm sure that for a non-gardener, the idea of a little gadget that allows plants to send texts just sounds cute–but for the rest of us, it's just one more silly toy taking up space in the garden center that could otherwise be occupied by hyacinth bulbs.

This little EasyBloom gadget from Black & Decker is no exception.  For $60, you get–well, this thing–which you can stick in your soil, and then, at the appropriate time, pull off the top to reveal the USB drive concealed within, stick it in your computer, and analyze the results. It claims to measure soil moisture, sunlight, temperature, and fertilizer, which it then mashes up with other data about weather and growing conditions in your zip code.  

(The fertilizer thing raises questions immediately.  On its website Black & Decker says this:  "Our sensor measures bulk salts, providing a good indication of the amount of fertilizer in the soil," which suggests that it is measuring the amounts of chemical fertilizer in the soil so as to suggest adding more, but they don't elaborate on that.)

Armed with this information, the EasyBloom website will then suggest a plant you can put there from among a database of a thousand or so plants–the data supplied, of course, by Ball, Burpee, and other such companies.

Oh, and to get the fertilizer readings and a few other things costs $25/year–but basic readings are free.

All of which just sounds so sad and soul-deadening.

Except that I could not help but think how handy a light meter would be in the garden. 
Blackdecker Say you just bought a new house and you're kind of in a hurry to get some plants in the ground, maybe because you dug them up and brought them with you from the old house.  Wouldn't it be handy, in the midst of your crazy move, to stick a few light sensors in the ground and get some kind of accurate read on where the sunlight really hits?

Or say you're a garden designer.  Dropping a few of these in a client's garden?  Could be really helpful!

Of course, I'd want a year's worth of light level readings to tell me what happens when the sun drops down below that big tree across the street in winter and so forth.

And yes, I know, you can stand outside and squint up at the sky and use your general knowledge of the movement of celestial bodies to estimate where the light does and does not hit your garden for more than the 6 hours a day or whatever you're aiming for.  Yes, I know, we don't need computers for any of that.

But still–if it wasn't so goofy and if it didn't cost $60–I think a light meter that captured this kind of data would be a fun toy to have.  Assuming I'd already bought enough hyacinth bulbs for the year.

Posted by on August 25, 2010 at 9:07 am, in the category Uncategorized.
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19 Responses to “E-Gadgets in the Garden”

  1. susan harris says:

    Amy, I couldn’t agree more. They actually sent me one and it’s been sitting on a shelf for at least a year now. Why? Because the instructions for getting the thing operational were so daunting Download such-and-such program, etc. For a garden tool? I don’t think so.
    If I’d investigated a bit more I’d have noticed that the fertilizer info would probably be suspect, as you discovered.

  2. Laura says:

    i would also love a light meter which could give me data about how much sun certain spot receives. (Dappled is so hard to quantify.) The levels of light in my garden seem to be changing as a couple of mature trees start to decline, and buying a some kind of a light meter would be less expensive and time consuming than purchasing and installing shrubs and perennials that don’t work. Does such a light meter exist other than this black and decker tool?

  3. anne says:

    Haha, pretty soon we won’t have to think anymore about anything–just take in the information given to us and assume it’s accurate, comprehensive and all we need (or want) to know.
    And just imagine all the plastic and other materials that go into making this gadget…although I guess it’s manufacture employs some people somewhere (China?).

  4. Tara Dillard says:

    How many of these things do they suggest we buy? I have hundreds of plants, sun, shade, mixed light.

    Truly, do they suggest we buy several of these tools?

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  5. Mary-NVA says:

    They do make a sunlight calculator–I have this one: http://www.amazon.com/Suncalc-Sunlight-Calculator/dp/B000JUHP8G.

    Works pretty well, but in my case it only confirmed what I suspected all along–my yard is full of partial shade!

  6. I get most everything done with my brain, my old felcos and my hori hori. Can’t tell you how much I love my hori hori. The brain comes in handy too.

  7. rainymountain says:

    More trash to litter up the landfills and muck up the environment, and a further dumbing down of the populace. Hands-on experience seems to be becoming increasingly rare event for most people, much less practical experience combined with observation, thought, deduction and reference to accumulated wisdom. There seem to be enough problems in the world that need remedy to which inventors and gadget makers could apply their skills instead of to more stupid consumer trash.

  8. Liz says:

    Sounds like a waster of $60. I doubt it measures anything accurately. Or gives good plant recommendations. Hopefully it doesn’t last.

  9. Donna says:

    The way the weather has been, that dumb little thing would be tweeting its little propeller flower off.

  10. Kim Endo says:

    I bought one last year because we’d moved to a new house and I wasn’t sure what kind of exposure I had under a magnolia. I thought it was shade. Come to find out, thanks to EasyBloom, it gets quite a bit of sun and it’s very dry. I’m a beginner gardener and appreciate the info I get from the device. You only need one – just move it to various places in the garden. Quite easy to use for me. Also, you can label each position, and add photos of the spot you placed it. Each time you upload new info, it will show a graph of the sunlight level, the moisture and temps. And the tech support was impressive when I had a question.

  11. Kaviani says:

    Kim Endo sounds suspiciously like a company pawn.

  12. anne says:

    Kim, how much time do you spend in your garden, vs how much time on a computer? I ask because it seems to me that it wouldn’t be hard (especially if you’re wanting to garden) to observe the area firsthand. I get that you can keep track of various spots in the yard over the course of a year, say, and that might be interesting (to keep detailed records). But I guess I’d rather be paying attention to the yard itself and the conditions in and around it, rather than monitoring a gadget’s readings of an isolated spot.

  13. Claire Splan says:

    While this particular product may or may not be good/functional, I like the idea of it, particularly if it can do some basic soil analysis. How cool to be able to stick this thing in anyplace in my garden and determine what the pH level is, for example, without having to do those goofy little paper stip tests, or find out if my soil has serious deficiencies without having to send soil samples off to a lab. Observations will give you some info, but most people don’t have all day to sit and watch the sun move across their garden and people tend to assume their gardens are sunnier than they really are. (Just had this discussion with someone who had the folks at Annie’s Annuals explain to her that with at most, two hours of sun a day, she really had a shade garden, not a sun garden.) So I guess I don’t understand the hostility towards this product. It’s accuracy is one thing. But the concept sounds like a good one to me.

  14. Jade Rubick says:

    I recommend this site for calculating the arc of the sun throughout the year:

    http://solardat.uoregon.edu/SunChartProgram.php

    It gives you a nice picture based on where you are in the world. You can use it to sit outside and guesstimate where the sun will be throughout the year.

  15. anne says:

    Claire, yours is a good question (about why the hostility towards this device). Maybe there’s a little bit of a backlash against all the plastic gadgetry and “electronica” that seems to separate us from direct experience and interaction with the world around us, not to mention all of the consumer “stuff” that is out there for us to buy (mostly made somewhere far far away), use a few times, and then toss or “upgrade” when the next improved gadget comes along.
    When I think about it, it’s really just another tool designed to make gardening easier. But it seems expensive for the functions it performs, and the materials it’s made from seem wasteful and not made to last.
    One of the things I enjoy about gardening is the sense of place it fosters, and the awareness of what’s going on there as the seasons change, and from year to year. I feel like if I was using this gadget, I might pay more attention to what it says, and what the program tells me,than what is actually going on in my garden.
    It actually reminds me a little bit of the machine that measured contractions during my first child’s birth; my husband was so busy watching the readout which showed the strength of the contractions that he completely forgot about me for a while. Meanwhile, I sure didn’t need to watch a machine to know what was going on :)

  16. Derek says:

    My wife gave me an EasyBloom as a gift and I’ve found it really useful, especially for indoor plants that just don’t seem happy. It told me I was overwatering a Peace Lilly and that my African Mask needed more light. Both plants are happier now.

  17. Tibs says:

    I hate fussing around with electronic and power equipment. Which is why my cell phone has only the bare minimum of #’s that spouse put in and I have to dig out address book to call some people. I prefer to garden by hand because I hate the time it takes to get the equipment out and operating when I could be out there doing. Which means I would not take the time for this gadget. I would probably find the information it provides very useful, but someone would have to fuss about programing it etc.

  18. Hello all. I work at Black & Decker and helped to develop this product. I love this rant, and the healthy debate surrounding it. (I also love to garden).
    We know there are a lot of keen gardeners who have no need for this and would prefer to keep technology as far away from their passion as possible.
    This tool was developed to help gardeners achieve better results. It is modeled after professional sensors used by greenhouses (except those cost over $2,000 versus $49.99 for this). The measurements are extremely precise. In fact, each sensor reading is cross referenced against the weather in your area, so it can differentiate between a cloudy day and a partially shade spot.
    As Amy mentioned, this sensor measures key environmental data and evaluates the results once plugged into a computer. The online analysis tool provides personalized recommendations (what plants will thrive in a selected location) and clear advice on how to improve the health of existing plants. The online library has over 6,000 plants – each one has its own personal page with detailed information. It works with all types of flowers, plus vegetables, shrubs, trees, etc. And, each sensor reading is saved for future reference.
    It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you would like to learn more, you can checkout http://plantsmart.easybloom.com. Also, I have 4 units sitting at my desk that I would happily send out for free (first come – first serve) if you would like to take a whirl. You can reach me at brent.pfister@bdk.com.

    Happy Growing, Brent

  19. Kristen says:

    Wow, quite a lot of naysayers on this product without having used it! I bought this product two years ago for my dark apartment garden, to figure out the light and moisture levels. I have used this product oh I would say, over 100 times, with it being very helpful to monitor a new location or to see why your plant isn’t doing so hot.

    I want to make clear that I have zero affiliation with Black & Decker, I’m just a gardener living in the PNW trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

    It’s not that hard to set up, you simply install the software, plug it in to your USB, then register it (for free) on the Easy Bloom site. Out of the three settings, I tend to use the Recommend Mode the most, in order to see how my garden is overall (sun, water, humidity). I do not pay extra for anything. I don’t get promotional emails. I do receive an email when a plant should be harvested every now and then.

    The Easy Bloom really has helped me out a lot! Any doubt, please check out my website and look at pictures of my garden. Oh, I should also mention, that I have yet to purchase any plants from the sites. I have taken a list of the recommended plants to my local gardening center. I’m not buying at the big name stores.

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