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Improve Your Seed Starting with HomeKit

Whenever I’m introducing Take Control of Apple Home Automation, I tell people that the best way to get started with home automation is with a simple smart outlet. I’ve used the Eve Energy and Wemo Mini, and Adam Engst is a fan of the Meross Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini (see “HomeKit for the Holidays (And Home Troubleshooting Tips),” 15 January 2021). They’re cheap, and you can use them for all sorts of things. Recently, I put an Eve Energy into service to improve my gardening.

I’m a so-so gardener at best, but I improve a little every year. In 2020, after more failed attempts than I care to admit, I finally managed to start pepper and tomato seedlings indoors, planted them outdoors in the spring, and harvested from them all summer. This year, I’m heading into gardening season slightly more prepared.

There are a few tricks to seedlings. One is that they can’t get enough light. I managed to get a few seedlings to survive last year by leaving them in a lit bathroom all night, but I still had a lot of leggy specimens. Seedlings grow tall and thin when there isn’t enough light, which makes them more likely to be damaged when they move outdoors, and they’ll have a hard time growing into strong plants if they do survive.

This year, I’m trying to be smarter. I dug out an old chicken brooder lamp, fitted it with a very bright but efficient LED bulb, and clamped it to a bookshelf a few inches over my seedling tray. The nice thing about the LED bulb is I can put it close to the plants without overheating them.

Seedlings in a flat

The other thing seedlings need is rest. Most gardeners agree that 16 hours a day is the right amount. But I can’t guarantee that I’ll always remember to turn the grow light on in the morning and turn it back off at night. Happily, I had an unused Eve Energy smart outlet sitting in a drawer, so I decided to automate my grow light.

Could you use a cheap timer instead? Sure, but I already had an extra Eve Energy around, smart outlets are pretty inexpensive these days (as low as $10 each for the Meross models), and they’re a lot more flexible. HomeKit automations allow many more triggers than just time of day, and when I’m done sprouting seeds I can put that Eve Energy to other tasks, like turning on my dehumidifier automatically when it gets hot here in Tennessee (see “A Prairie HomeKit Companion: The Elgato Eve Room,” 19 June 2017).

Once I added the Eve Energy to HomeKit, I set up two automations. The first turns the light on at 7 AM, and the second turns the light off at 10 PM.

HomeKit automations for the grow light

Here’s how to set up timed automations in the Home app:

  1. Tap the Automation tab.
  2. Tap the plus + icon.
  3. Tap A Time of Day Occurs.
  4. Tap Time of Day if it’s not already selected.
  5. Enter the desired time. The default is the current time.
  6. Choose the days you want the automation to trigger. I chose every day.
  7. Tap Next.
  8. Choose the scenes or accessories you want to trigger.
  9. Tap Next.

At the last screen, you can review your automation and test it to confirm what it will do.

Now my grow light turns on in the morning and turns off automatically at night. Simple, but effective! My seedlings are happy and don’t require maintenance other than watering.

All this has me wondering if I could automate the watering too. Actually, yes I could, with an Eve Aqua water controller! In fact, I could tap HomeKit to grow an entire, if small, garden in an ēdn SmallGarden.

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