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How much automation is too much?

Have you ever walked into a grow op and marveled at the sheer amount of automation doing the work for the grower?

What is the most automation that you have seen in a grow? At what point (if any) can growers gone too far? What is the coolest piece of automation that you have seen? What piece of automation equipment would you like to see that you have not yet seen before?

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Have you ever walked into a grow and marveled at the sheer amount of self-regulation and self-restoration being done by nature itself in the grow? Only a neurotic fetishist would prefer to have machines to a job poorly instead of having nature do it perfectly. Worst of all, any except but the most background automation (air temp, light-timing, watering, etc.) actively subverts the development of the grower’s skill-set and connection with the plants and nature at large. Here’s what I have written in We Serve The Soil on this:

An Aside about Automation and Remote Monitoring

On the surface, these seem to be good things, but in practice they result in a lack of critical attention being paid to operations that are automated, and the missing of early cues to trigger preventive or corrective actions, with consequent arrears and catch-up — or not — when contagions strike or conditions deteriorate. Remote monitoring and adjustments lead to fetishistic busy-work changes when the plants do best with constant, stable rhythms. Most remote monitoring is incapable of catching critical early changes in the health of the plants or subtle developmental cues indicating natural readiness to flower.

Semi-automation, including fail-safe controls and alerts on gross parameters such as power outages, temperature, and humidity, is a good middle-ground. Cannabis cultivation is very skilled-labor intensive, and the best balance is to fully automate only background functions, semi-automate most low-skill operations, and keep entirely manual and real-time high-skill creative and critical maintenance and diagnostic functions. Full automation can sow over-confidence, can distance growers from their plants, and can be a disastrously false economy (and isn’t inexpensive or robustly reliable, either).

It may be that except for industrial Cannabis operations, the best and highest utility from instrumentation (such as soil-moisture, temperature, and humidity metering) is from our using it to calibrate our personal skill-set for understanding the significance of small measured changes in our plants and their eco-systems, so we can learn to detect or intuit them on our own , and anticipate and accommodate or resolve them appropriately.

And there’s more, even snarkier, response in the next reply…


We Serve The Soil Appendix: The Illusion of Control

Most of the disempowered and insecure screen-damaged Millennials (and the later Generation Y) calling themselves “master growers” have at best mastery only of the mechanics of growing (the engineering and, to a much lesser extent, the reductionist “science”) but not of the organics of growing (the complex-systems insight and science, and the shamanic aspects). At least the older generations (Boomers and Generation X) have the excuse of a fraught political and cultural situation and primitive early plant, soils, and systems sciences, but now that we know better no such excuses are legitimate (and the fake-legalization control-fraud racket has exacerbated this already unfortunate situation).

In manifesting the classic American neurosis and entrenching their Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD), these gadgeteering “gear freaks” compound and overcompensate-for their NDD by building elaborate and very expensive constructs of gizmos and techno-gimmicks attempting (and universally failing) to imitate the self-regulation of bio-dynamic eco-systems and mimic their overall health. They tend to reject the notion that they can learn to do it all themselves, and prop up their enterprise with externalities to make up for their lack of confidence and courage.

Except for those with a sufficiently complex bio-dynamic ecosystem, all Cannabis gardens, especially indoor hydroponics grows, are simple complex systems. Because they are simple, they are vulnerable to cascading. Because they are complex, we don’t know how to anticipate what interventions are needed to stabilize them.

Complex systems that have artificially suppressed volatility become extremely fragile,

while at the same time exhibiting no visible risks.

Nassim Taleb, in the June 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs

The fate of the hydroponics grower is to be constantly guessing (so much for “mastery”) at how to stabilize a cascade and minimize its harm (and mostly failing, despite all the gimmicks). The best hydro operations are the most hyper-controlled and rigidly defined; ironically, the higher the level of control the more un-natural and unstable the system becomes and the greater the risk of being blindsided by catastrophic cascading. The systems still cascade (perhaps less often, but definitely more dangerously when it does happen) and the price in degraded outcomes remains high, the “unit costs” are very high and keep rising, and the plants still drift (or leap) epigenetically.

If we have “mastered” the practice of hydroponic growing, we’ve mastered a dumb art, and it’s a dumb art because it can’t be mastered in this manner — no matter how tightly we wind our control and no matter how desperately and how detailed and metered our systems are, they remain unstable simple complex systems that return inferior and overly expensive results. The encompassing irony is that all this “control” is already built into the natural-soil systems that are self-regulating without all the expense and effort on our part, and which return superior results.

There actually areappropriate places in our human universe for the hydroponics approach: on the space station, below-decks on massive steamships, in Antarctica, deep in the bowels of the Mighty Metropolis, and in addiction-withdrawal therapy centers.

See the “Physical Plant Gizmos” appendix below for a partial listing of some of these mixed-blessing technologies. Where is the best gizmo-balance to be found? Once again, less is more . We are not neo-Luddites on this matter, but simply practical in the face of self-subverting fetishism.

All these gadgets are no more than partial substitutes for just a few of the inherent capabilities of the co-evolved integrated bio-dynamic vitalizing-soil ecosystem — cumulatively these gizmos are incomplete and, ironically, overall damaging to the integrity and bounty of whatever system they contrive, which is relentlessly unstable, and exhausting for the would-be “master growers.”


I think a certain amount of automation is helpful if not necessary. Environmental control systems help ensure the atmosphere around the plants is ideal for highest production. Automatic watering, drip lines mist systems ect help maintain optimal moisture /nutritional parameters.
These are simply tools, the growers still have to grow and use these tools to meet the plants needs.
Automation lets a grower get more done in less time, usually more accurately and uniformly. This allow them more time for scouting, and actually looking at the plants where they can catch little issues before they become big expensive issues.
For all you “owners” out there, when you see your growers standing there staring at the crop, don’t assume the worst of them. They may well be doing the most important part of their job