When we first started building the infrastructure for what has become the Rockbound Cellars Estate vineyard it was a crash course in farming. We started with 35 acres of land that had never really been farmed other than a few acres of pomegranate trees. This meant there was little to no infrastructure in place. To grow grapes, you essentially need three things: Sunlight, Soil, and of course Water. We are on ground water here in Paso Robles meaning that all of the water we have comes out of two wells that are on the property. Farmers use irrigation pumps and underground networks of pipes that feed risers at each row of vines that connect to an irrigation line that has an emitter for each plant. Based on our well water supply and pump setup that we installed we can water about 3 acres at a time, but it's also important to water different varietals separately since they have different needs. Based on this we broke the vineyard into 13 blocks that can be turned off and on independently.
I was very interested in watering best practices and how to manage that aspect of the farm, especially how to conserve water. One of the best things you can do is water at night because you can lose 30% to evaporation on hot days. Based on that information, I was talking to Aron our vineyard manager and asked how do you turn the water on and off and schedule it to run when you’re not around? He told me, “Well you have someone for that.” Translates to: Colby’s new job is to turn on and off valves and pumps. Hmmm, that's really the answer, you pay someone to turn on valves? No way.
Meet Steve! aka my Dad, aka MIT Electrical Engineer, aka Wine connoisseur, aka Chief Water Consultant. So, we got to talking over a few glasses of Cab and decided it should be possible to build an automated system that would open and close valves on a schedule. I mean sprinklers do that right?
Besides the obvious challenges the valves are spread out across the vineyard into 4 valve stations and there is no power. Solar is easy (check)! ok now we need valves that support opening and closing so we found some that have DC solenoids and tested them with a battery and we could get them to open and close. Now we just needed to build a system. After some research my dad built a prototype using Arduino Unos and XBee 900 MHz RF radios.
We proved the tech worked and with myself running point on Deployment and QA (of course there were no bugs). There were some pretty funny conversations trying to trouble shoot this system over the phone.
As we evolved and expanded the system, we made many improvements over the next two years including a touch screen controller, syslog monitoring with text messages and the latest invention we now have full control to turn on and off valves from the phone!
We have also moved away from the diaphragm solenoid-controlled valves because we found them to fail intermittently and moved to a motorized ball valve which is pretty much bad ass! We are now currently operating a true IOT device network over radio frequencies. And for all my cyber buddies out there don't worry we have security through obscurity and of course military grade encryption for all those nosy spies trying to snoop our radio traffic and steal our IP.
Thanks pops! It's been a fun project, glad we could both get promoted to water-tech level
7. I am sure we can find a few more feature requests to keep us busy!!!