Editorial Sowing Seeds

Are Seedlings Suitable for Laidback Gardeners?

My mask of the perfect laidback gardener holds up very well from the time the snow melts until it returns in the fall. There’s enough clutter and weeds in my beds that no one would mistake me, even for a moment, for a meticulous gardener. However, by the end of winter, the cracks are starting to show… actually, a few thousand cracks. I love to sow everything that grows. But sowing and maintaining seedlings requires quite a bit of effort. Not too laidback, is it?

Sowing under fluorescent lamp
Photo: cristina.sanvito.

Also, when I do something, I always overdo it. It’s not enough for me to fill two or three boxes with various seedlings. I grow nearly a hundred boxes under fluorescent lights in my basement, the equivalent of a fairly large vegetable garden… and that’s just for the germination trays. When the plants start to emerge, they have to be transplanted into bigger and bigger containers, and soon the whole house is taken over.

The worst part is that I don’t even have enough space for all these plants I grow. My flower beds are already more than full and my vegetable garden, in the form of containers placed on the terrace, hardly has any space for more than three tomato plants and a few cucumbers. So I have to enlarge my beds every year just to accommodate my seedling production. More effort!

On the other hand, I can’t limit myself. I have to try all the new plants of the year, plus the seeds I brought back from my travels, plus the totally unknown plants I ordered from Russian and Japanese catalogs (which I can’t read) and whose botanical name sounded nice. Because, you see, if other people find the joy of gardening in creating an organized, orderly, weed-free bed, I find it in experimenting with all the plants.

Man planting seedlings in the ground
Photo: Greta Hoffman.

However, I resume my laidback attitude as soon as the spring planting is done. At this point, my backyard looks more like a postage-stamp-sized botanical garden than a landscape design, but I like it that way. Fortunately, nature is generously taking care of watering, fertilizing and maintaining the little plants I’ve been working so hard on this spring. Lucky for me, otherwise I’d probably have a heart attack.

Robotics to the Rescue

The only thing left to do is to find a solution for the extra work during the planting season… and I think I have finally found it: robotics. You see, my step-son has just started his studies in industrial electronics, with a robotics option, and he doesn’t know it yet, but he’ll specialize in horticultural robotics.

I’m already imagining the system. I enter a few details into the computer: height, spacing, growing conditions, etc., then casually toss a few seeds into a slot. The robot then takes care of planting the seeds at the right depth and spacing in appropriate containers. It controls the day length, temperature, fertilization and watering for each one.

Robot in garden
Photo: valoisem.

When an electronic eye says it’s time to transplant, it does all the work and adjusts the conditions according to the needs of each seedling. In addition, the electronic eye instantly notices any signs of insect or disease infestation and instructs the robot to treat accordingly with an appropriate biological product.

When it’s time to acclimate the plants to the outdoors, the robot lifts the trays from the basement and carefully places them under a specially installed shade canopy, opening the canopy a little more each day, until the plants are well acclimated to the outdoor conditions. If the temperature drops too low, he warms each plant to its ideal temperature using infrared waves.

When it comes to planting, no problems either, as the robot takes care of everything, leaving exactly the right amount of space between each plant. If there is a lack of space, the robot removes a little more grass. Of course, it takes care of watering, fertilizing, dividing, pruning and weeding the plants automatically. All I have to do is order seeds from my catalogs… and lay my hammock between the two trees. That’s already enough for me.

A child assembles a robot
Photo: Marco Verch Professional Photographer.

My son-in-law still has two and a half years of school left before he graduates, but I’m assuming he’ll be able to start working on the project already in his second year. Fortunately, it won’t cost much to install the system, as I’ve collected lots of wood scraps, screws and miscellaneous wires over the years (my wife always asked me what I was going to do with all that “junk”!)

What a pleasure it is to have children in school!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

5 comments on “Are Seedlings Suitable for Laidback Gardeners?

  1. Silly but not so far fetched. I would not want robots to take the fun out of gardening, but they are good for hazardous jobs in the horticultural industry. In the late 1980s they sprayed pesticides in greenhouse crops.

  2. Great tongue-in-cheek article but Larry has the robot doing all the fun stuff. Little did he dream that one day there would be a robotic weeder the Tertill. Now that’s my kind of robot.

  3. I love it! Let us know when Gardy the robot hits the market. I’ll take two!

    • Granny Pat

      Love this post, Mathieu. Your father’s sense of fun was stellar. (And I’m sure your mother/step-mother’s patience was infinite. Russian and Japanese seed catalogs indeed!) We all need such a robot.

  4. Best contents related to gardening, and maintenance. Well done!

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