As technology seems to overtake all aspects of our lives, you’d think that something as old school as gardening might be losing popularity. In fact, home gardening has seen a major uptick in recent years, and all signs point to this hobby only getting bigger. Here at Floreame we cater to home gardeners of all skill levels.

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Gardening Gadgets for the Home Gardener

For the home gardener there are countless gadgets and toys supposedly designed to make gardening life easier. Here we take a look at several that fulfill their promise to make your life easier.

Niwa: Niwa is world’s first smartphone-controlled growing system that enables you to grow your own fruits, vegetables, flowers, and even herbs. It creates perfect conditions for your plants to grow healthy and strong. It controls the temperature, humidity, and light cycles and its automated irrigation system will also water and provide your plants whenever they need it, for better growth. Just plant your seeds into Niwa, tell the app what you want to grow and it loads pre-programmed settings for your plant. Occasionally, the app asks for information like “Can you see flowers?”, if you answer “yes”, it will begin a new growth setting, changing the water, and light to make the plant to grow at their very best.

Niwa System
Niwa System

Parrot Flower Power: The Parrot Flower Power monitors and analyzes your plant’s health and sends alerts to your smartphone. It takes care of your plants and lets you know when they need water, fertilizer, or repotting. Every plant has a different need in terms of temperature range and this is where thermistor comes in, and keeps each plant within its ideal range. It analyzes the four parameters (natural light, soil moisture, fertilizer, and temperature) essential to your plant’s health, has a database of over 7,000 plants that allows you to look at the plant’s fact sheet to view photos and more. The Flower Power connects to your smartphone using Bluetooth Smart and its compatible with iOS and Android devices.

Parrot Flower
Parrot Flower

The Only Unkinkable Garden Hose: This garden hose features unique double helix construction, made from ultra-lightweight material, is a lot easier to manage compared to the one made out of thick, heavy rubber. It can take up to 300 PSI (more than 3X typical home water pressure) and remains flexible in temperatures from -20° F to 158° F.

Unkinkable Hose
Unkinkable Hose

Edyn Smart Garden System: The Edyn Smart Garden System consists of solar-powered, Wi-Fi connected devices: the Edyn Gardensensor and the Edyn Water Valve. Just insert the garden device into the soil and it tracks light, humidity, temperature, soil nutrition and moisture. The app then verifies this information with plant, soil science and weather databases to recommend which plants will grow best in your garden, optimal time for planting and more. The Edyn Water Valve, uses the data collected to smartly control your existing watering system, watering your plants only when needed. You can also use the app to manually water your plants from anywhere.

PlantLink: PlantLink makes watering simple and efficient. All you need to do is place it in soil, indoors or outdoors and the system will calibrate to the plant’s watering needs using their catalog of over 50,000 plants. These units communicate with its base station wirelessly and transmit data about the soil moisture. The base station sends the data to the PlantLink website and your smartphone. You receive watering alerts via email, SMS, or push notifications. Each base station can connect to up to 64 units at one go.

Outdoor Garden Washbasin: This cool outdoor washbasin is perfect for cleaning your garden tools, hands, rinsing freshly picked vegetables, potting plants and more. The pullout faucet extends 2 feet, has 5 adjustable spray patterns, and a side flow control lever to let you adjust water pressure to water nearby plants. It also features hose reel underneath along with a utility space big enough to hold work gloves or nozzles. It doesn’t require any plumbing as it connects to your garden hose.

Outdoor Washbasin
Outdoor Washbasin

Smart Irrigation Controller: This smart irrigation controller consists of Evecontroller and Evesensors that together makes watering your lawn a lot simpler. It takes of the guesswork out the water scheduling, making smart decisions based on the real data provided by its Evesensors and your local weather forecast. All you need to do is place a few Evesensors around your yard and its controller does the rest. This smart in-ground irrigation system transforms your yard into a real smart yard. Its controller supports up to 16 zones, and app supports your iOS, Android, and Windows smart device. As an aside, I love the Planet Natural and Mother Earth News websites for great home gardening tips.

Smart Controller
Smart Controller

Strange But True – Bacteria In Gardening Soil Makes Us Happier and Smarter

Many people, including me, talk about the restorative benefits of gardening (see last Tuesday’s post, for example) and the reasons why it makes us feel good. Just being in nature is already therapeutic, but actively connecting with nature through gardening is value-added. And why is that? All sorts of reasons have been posited: It’s a meditative practice; it’s gentle exercise; it’s fun; it allows us to be nurturing and to connect with life on a fundamental level.

And some recent research has added another missing piece to the puzzle: It’s in the dirt. Or to be a little more specific, a strain of bacterium in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of seratonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety. And on top of that, this little bacterium has been found to improve cognitive function and possibly even treat cancer and other diseases. Which means that contact with soil, through gardening or other means (see Elio, above), is beneficial. How did this discovery come about?

Dirt Smarts
Dirt Smarts

Mary O’Brien, an oncologist at Royal Marsden Hospital in London, first stumbled upon these findings while inoculating lung cancer patients with a strain of M. vaccae (pronounced “emm vah-kay”) to see if their symptoms improved. She noticed that in addition to fewer cancer symptoms, patients also demonstrated an improvement in emotional health, vitality, and even cognitive function.

Dr. Chris Lowry, at Bristol University, decided to explore O’Brien’s discovery. He hypothesized that the body’s immune response to the bacterium causes the brain to produce seratonin. Lack of seratonin is one symptom, or perhaps even cause, of depression. He injected mice with the M. vaccae (pronounced “emm vah-kay”) and then observed both physiological and behavioral changes. He found that cytokine levels rose – cytokines are part of a chain reaction, the end result of which is the release of seratonin. To test behavioral stress levels, Lowry put the mice into a miniature swimming pool, knowing that although stressed mice get even more stressed by swimming, unstressed mice don’t seem to mind. And voila! His M. vaccae mice did not exhibit higher stress levels after swimming.

Could M. vaccae be used as a sort of vaccination to treat depression? Possibly, and it is still being explored as a treatment for cancer, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. For a more detailed but still understandable summary, see this article in The Economist, “Bad is Good.”

Then they ran the mice through a difficult maze. Compared to those that did not ingest the bacterium, the M. vaccae mice “navigated the maze twice as fast and exhibited half of the anxiety behaviors.” Seratonin is also thought to play a role in learning, so it may have helped the mice not just by making them less anxious but by facilitating greater concentration. Once the bacterium was removed from their diet, they continued to perform better than the control group for about three weeks. As the bacterium left their system, the superhero effects tapered off and by the third week, the difference was no longer statistically significant.

This research is important because it indicates that the bacterium could potentially affect us through normal everyday contact and not just injection. Just how does M. vaccae affect people (as opposed to mice), and how much would be needed to influence us? We don’t know that yet, because that study has not yet been done. “Gardeners inhale these bacteria while digging in the soil, but they also encounter M. vaccae in their vegetables or when soil enters a cut in their skin,” says Matthews. “From our study we can say that it is definitely good to be outdoors–it’s good to have contact with these organisms. It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks.”

Matthews and Jenks shared their results at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego and at the Annual Animal Behavior Society Meeting at William and Mary College. For a more detailed summary of this research, see the Cosmos Magazine article, “How gardening could cure depression.”

Interestingly, with gardens and horticultural therapy in healthcare facilities, practitioners often use sterile soil, in which all bacteria has been removed, to reduce risk of infection. This has been thought to be particularly important for people with immune disorders like cancer and AIDS. It’s certainly true that soil can harbor harmful bacteria as well (not to mention the occasional piece of glass or rusty nail, so make sure those tetanus shots are up to date!). But what if bacteria were found to have more of a benefit than a risk? Further research might change the types of soil that are specified for certain populations and activities.