Gardening with Conductive Helical Coils 2016

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So despite the blog and my internet presence being quite mute as of late i actually have been up to quite a lot. My homemade Lulzbot Mini 3d Printer this summer was a success, amd i have constantly been improving it. At some point i will take some photos of it’s final progress. A few of my pea breeding crosses from last year were successful, including one i’m excited to grow again which is a cross of the Purple Passion dark purple seeded pea (which is a small genetically weak pea variety) with another stronger pea variety. That should produce something really cool in the coming years. And this fall and next spring i’m experimenting with school by going through a Precision Machinist course and am learning how to use milling machines, lathes, and CNC equipment to produce Aerospace quality components. Not sure if that’s something i want to do long term, but they are skills i’m interested in and can use throughout my life. So that’s new.

Anyway though, as a throwback or a revisit to my post in 2010 titled “Do Plants Really Need Sunlight?“, which has actually been one of the most visited posts on my blog over the years, i finally got around to building a few of those coils that sounded so interesting.

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Conductive Helical Coil around the stem of a plant

So the basic premise or idea behind using a coil of wire with electricity is that it produces a small amount of electricity or a magnetic current through the air. This is the same idea Nicola Tesla was after all those years ago when his imagination was captured with the idea that everything could have wireless electricity. And in many cases his dream has come true with an ever increasing amount of technology these days using induction to wirelessly power or heat things. The basic premise of applying this technology to plants comes from an article i read once that talked about how researchers were able to measure a small direct current from trees in a forest by placing nails in them. They then had ideas about placing nails in many trees and hooking them up together to power small electronics like a battery or cell phone charger, or a smoke alarm. Basically all plants (and maybe all living things) produce a bioelectric field of energy. If one can tap this field to harvest electricity, then why cant we tap into it and feed these plants with extra electricity to help them grow.

One question i asked in my old blog post was if plants even need sunlight at all as long as they are getting some form of energy to grow. I still haven’t done an experiment to test that idea, but it’s still an interesting question. Because it makes me wonder if there are ways plants could be grown in complete darkness.

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Regardless, this summer i finally built a prototype plant coil. I built it rather late in the season, so i really wasn’t able to give it a good test. My original plan was to plant 3 or 4 genetically identical tomato plants near each other in the relatively same soil with at least one plant being the control. I was then going to observe over the course of the summer f the tomato plants within the coils had larger and better growth than the control. That was plan anyway, i just didn’t quite get to it.

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You can see here we were trying to use a volt meter and another coil to see if we could detect that our coils were working. We weren’t having much success with the meter in the beginning and i don’t remember if we did later after increasing the power supply a bit. But in theory you should be able to measure with a second coil.

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I placed it on three smallest tomato plant clusters in the very late planted tomato patch. Interestingly enough, the three plants it happens to be on might be the only three blue tomato genetic varieties that survived my haphazard tomato disasters this year. Since placing the coils on these plants i have noticed an improvement in them and they have since catched up to the growth of the other tomato plants in that spot. Although at the same time i did also make a furrow and started watering them more. But even so i’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that the coils did help them go from “runt” status to catching up to the others. I may yet get a few tomatoes from the larger two before winter hits. Thanks to Gilbert for providing the motivation to actually build this project. And a thanks to the Homegrown Goodness plant breeding forum where i get so many of my adventurous gardening and plant breeding ideas. You guy’s are the best and a continual inspiration to me. Read more: http://alanbishop.proboards.com/thread/8623/breeding-tower-potato-ideas-wanted?page=13#ixzz4LoiDtFZE

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So, while my experimentation was a bit haphazard this year i think i still did ok. It was a fun project that went from an interesting patent to a cool project idea in my head and at the back of my mind, to a fully functional project / prototype. Plus i think these coils look cool. haha.

But it makes me wonder what other cool patents are out there that i can exploit, reverse engineer and build to experiment with. One of my next projects i think will go the opposite route and will be heavily steeped in Open Source as i think i will try and build a “Food Computer“. Basically it’s a small climate controlled aeroponic grow box. It should allow me to continue my plant breeding efforts even in the winter which is really what i want. Plus it will allow me to learn more about this “urban gardeng”, “vertical gardening”, and “aeroponic” stuff. I can’t wait to get back to pea, bean, and tomato breeding even though the summer and fall are waning fast. I think i’m going to repurpose my 2ft x 2ft t-slot frame that i was intending to turn into a large 3D printer and/or CNC mill. But it’s still going to be a long time before i finish that project, so i figured hey why not actually use it for something useful in the meantime! So.. that’t the plan.. 😀

 

 

Fixing Mesh Issues & Layer Gaps in 3D Printing

So today i had an interesting experience. As i have been lately, i sometimes go to the library to print out parts I’ve designed for my custom 3D printer project. While they print i use the time to crunch out upcoming essays for for school.

But this time instead of the printer happily moving along and producing perfect parts i got a rude awakening. The parts that came out looked like picture #3. Instead of my corner pieces being printed with two triangular pyramids and four “arms” they printed with one triangle, a “tail” and two “spaghetti blobs” on the side in a mess. It looked more like a deformed geometric fish instead.

Looking for info online i found helpful information on the Ultimaker Forum. It seems if i go into Layer view beforehand i can see what it will print out like and see any obvious gaps before hand. X-ray mode is even more helpful in a situation like this because if there are any faces or walls that have problems they get highlighted in bright red.

As you can see on mine, the bad models have several red triangular “internal” walls. The models have internal walls because they were created in Solidworks as assemblies from smaller parts and “digitally glued together”. Normally that shouldn’t cause a problem, but for some reason it did.

Currently i’m using Solidworks 2007 to create my 3D models. I wish i could use a good Open Source CAD program that works in Ubuntu Linux, but sadly none really exist. Not to my liking anyway. FreeCad has potential, but has a long way to go. OpenSCAD looks decent, but is for people who have mathematical minds. Sadly i don’t. And Blender has amazing graphics, but is not a CAD program. If someone could combine the beautiful elegance of Blender while stripping out it’s over-complexity and merging it with FreeCAD, and taking the user friendliness of Solidworks it would be perfect. Oh, and it has to be cross-platform (meaning runs on Ubuntu Linux). So until that day i’m forced to use a proprietary CAD program on a otherwise useless proprietary operating system, either on it’s own machine (or run in a virtual machine like Virtualbox). Far from an elegant solution. -End Of Rant. lol.

For me my problem was some sort of issue with the internal walls. Normally this should not be a problem. Since my version of Solidworks does not export whole assemblies as STL files (instead each separate part is exported into STL), I’ve been using 3dContentCentral to convert my CAD files into single STL files. Apparently the issue i ran into arises when i export my assemblies into single part files before converting them to STL. If i instead upload the entire assembly (and dependencies) and convert those to STL files it seems to work fine. Somehow that makes a difference when fixing whatever was wrong with those internal walls/faces. Whatever. At least i’m happy to find a solution.

I wanted to fix my bad CAD models from the beginning, but for example if i had a bad STL file that was not created by me and i still needed to print it, i could turn to Cura’s expert settings. In Cura’s expert settings there are some tools that attempt to “fix horrible” models that would otherwise fail to print correctly. I could have gone that route to print them anyway, but for me the better solution was to fix the source of the problem which was a bad CAD model.

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So, all in all, check your parts before you print them. Cura’s x-ray mode and layer mode are invaluable tools that can help you avoid problems with your 3D printing endeavors.

This site also gives some good tips on bad edge geometry and bad STL meshes.