The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Lifestyles

August 13, 2013

Gardening tools go mobile

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 with 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.

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