Growing vegetables, herbs and other plants in an urban setting is not really a new thing. All kinds of urban gardening projects, from the NYC High Line to community gardens and city farms built in unused urban spaces, have been gaining popularity in recent years.
This summer, one of the rooftop terraces at the Nokia head office in Espoo, Finland, has also been blooming with strawberries, herbs, vegetables and other more exotic plants.
Up until now, the rooftop terrace, which has an amazing view of the Baltic Sea and the surrounding areas, has been mostly unused. Earlier this year, though, the Nokia Sustainability team and a group of gardening enthusiasts at Nokia put their heads together and decided put the space to good use and bring urban gardening to Nokia House.
In early June, wooden containers and many bags of soil were brought to the terrace. Nokia employees could sign up for the project and have their own containers (for themselves or for their teams) where they could grow vegetables, herbs, flowers and other plants of their choice.
I’m a big fan of locally produced food and interested in gardening, so I signed up immediately. I wouldn’t say I had a “green thumb”, but after attending an urban gardening workshop and gathering all kinds of seeds and saplings from friends and family, my enthusiastic gardening colleagues and I were ready to give it a go.
But I wanted my gardening project to be more than just about watching tomatoes, peas, strawberries, mint, basil and lavender grow in our wooden container. I wanted the plants to tell us when they needed water and how they were doing up there on the windy terrace. I wanted them to tweet!
A quick search online revealed that there weren’t many off-the-shelf solutions available for this purpose, so I turned to Nokia Research Center (NRC) for help.
I was put in touch with Teemu Savolainen, from NRC Tampere, who got very excited about the idea and promised to help. Using components such as moisture sensors, ZigBee radios, a recycled laptop and an old Nokia E7, he assembled a system that would do exactly what I needed. In no time, our plants at Nokia House rooftop garden were tweeting!
During the short Finnish summer, the gardeners and those following the Nokia House rooftop garden Twitter account could see how thirsty the plants were or what growth strategies they had in mind.
The tweeting plants project was an experimental “hobbyist” project for Teemu and NRC, but it was also a chance to learn something new about the “Internet of Things” and how devices can communicate with each other.
“Building up this setup was an energizing exercise, allowing us to test in practice some of the ‘Internet of Things’ research and standardization activities we have ongoing in NRC. Sometimes it’s difficult to explain to others what we do, but this project has proved to be handy in making pieces of our research more concrete for people. And for us it’s a good foundation to build new things on – for next summer and beyond.”
At the Nokia House rooftop garden, summer has already turned into autumn, the crop has been harvested and the plants have stopped tweeting. But come spring, I’m sure new plants, with new growth strategies and tweets will appear.