Five ways to take advantage of solar energy for your garden.

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As public awareness about the potential health dangers of genetically modified foods and the toxic chemicals in pesticides increases, more people are rediscovering the joy of growing their own fruits and vegetables. In fact, according to the National Gardening Association, between 2008 and 2013, the number of individual home gardens increased by 17%. Withing those same five years, the number of people participating in community gardening increased by a whopping 200%.  

 Our collective desire to create a healthier lifestyle has also resulted in some awesome new inventions for home and community gardeners. While the sun certainly isn’t a new invention, there are some amazing new gadgets that utilize solar energy. You can now increase your yield of healthy delicious vegetables while you reduce your carbon footprint. Plants are actually a lot like solar panels, in that they capture light and transform it into energy for life. 

For some people, the thought of the time and expense required to plant and maintain a large garden can be overwhelming. Creating a solar-powered garden can reduce that time and expense–and there’s no reason you can’t start small. This solar powered plant pot in a windowsill can hold your first crop of homegrown spinach or basil. It can also serve as a night-light.  

If you want to create a solar garden, YouTube is a great resource where you can learn almost anything , including how to install solar lighting. It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated to install a solar light, fountain, or water pump. They contain solar panels small enough to place wherever you get the most sunlight. 

To save water and energy, there are now automatic irrigation kits that only turn themselves on when there’s a rise in temperature. Your plants need water most during hot weather, so using sunshine to power a water pump virtually eliminates wasting water. You can achieve zero water waste by setting up a single solar panel in a sunny area to charge the battery for the water pump. A single battery charge can deliver a steady drip to your plants for three hours before stopping to recharge.  

There’s a lot you can do with just one well-placed free-standing solar panel that won’t even require professional installation. For example, a single 80-W solar panel can provide enough electricity to power security lights, a radio, and many of the power tools you use most often. Adding one more panel would allow you to power a fridge, laptop, or television.  

Some of the gardening toolsof the future promise to make gardening an even more exact science. GardenSpace is a good example of how combining high-tech with good old-fashioned sunshine can make even beginners expert gardeners in a hurry. This solar-powerered device uses a camera and a mobile app to provide information about how each plant should be maintained for optimal growth.  The solar-charged batteries can hold enough power for a week’s use.

GardenSpace can maintain up to 100 square feet of land, and water up to 8 feet from the unit, depending on your water pressure. Because it can gauge exactly how much water each plant needs, none of your water is wasted. Another great feature is that it sprays any rodent or pest bigger than six inches that tries to harvest your vegetables before you do. Pest control without harming animals or having to use any toxic chemicals is a great fringe benefit. 

What else does the future hold for solar-powered gardens? One of the newest technologies in solar power is solar glazing. In this process, a fine film of photovoltaic cells are embedded in glass. That glass is used to make windows capable of collecting solar energy. Experts predict that glazing a greenhouse would generate enough energy to power an entire house as well. Currently, solar glazing isn’t yet an affordable option for most people, but like most new inventions, the more people invest in it, the more the price comes down.  

In the meantime, solar thermal energy is a good money-saving alternative. While it’s low-tech, it’s easy to set up and requires no special equipment. It involves capturing heat that can later be released slowly using something dense such as brick or concrete. A simple example of successfully using solar thermal energy would be heating some bricks in the sun during the day and placing them next to your plants at night during chilly weather to prevent freezing. Today’s gardeners are fortunate to be able to utilize the best of both the old and the new to grow healthy food for themselves, their families, and their communities. 

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