DIY with TI: Getting a kick out of growing chili peppers with ‘Chili-Gation’

At TI, we celebrate the makers and hobbyists who enjoy creating and innovating on their own time. In our ongoing DIY with TI series, we share their incredible Do It Yourself inventions using TI technology.

TI AvatarDave Smith loves to cook. And equally satisfying to him is plucking a ripe chili pepper from one of his potted plants, plopping it into a saucepan, and adding some zing to his latest culinary delight.

But Dave has had a problem growing chili peppers in Texas, where his beloved plants tend to die on his patio in the searing summertime heat.

So he set out to come up with a solution.

“In the Texas heat, these pots totally dry up during the day, so I needed a way to water them throughout the day,” he said. “I used to grow chilies back in the UK, where it was never a problem. But here they usually die due to the extreme heat.”

The TI MSP MCU product marketing engineer put his love of gardening, creativity and MSP430 MCU know-how to use building an automated chili plant watering system he calls “Chili-Gation.” The contraption uses a few simple products – namely an MSP430 MCU – and cost him less than $50 to build.

Thanks to Chili-Gation, Dave can now automatically water his plants for up to five days without flooding his home or catching something on fire, he says. And his plants are thriving.

How it works

At the heart of Chili-Gation is the MSP430FR5969 FRAM LaunchPad, which features a capacitive touch controller user-interface. This is used to program the watering schedule and displays the timing on the Sharp® Memory LCD BoosterPack. When required, the MCU sends a signal to a relay board, which is used to switch power to the water pump. Water is stored in a large soda bottle, providing up to seven days between refills.

Dave had looked into expensive commercial watering systems for his plants, but he could only find systems for large greenhouses or gardens. He ordered a few parts, such as a 6-volt pump and a relay control board, and combined those with the TI products he had on hand. He also hopes to add soil moisture sensors to prevent over-watering.

While there are hundreds of varieties of chilies and sweet pepper plants available, Dave grows just a few types of peppers, such as habaneros. He says he gets a kick out of adding the fresh peppers to his recipes.

“I wouldn’t really say I am a keen gardener, but I find there is something therapeutic about picking a chili straight from the plant and dropping it into a recipe,” he said. “I enjoy eating the food I cook using the chilies I’ve grown.”

About Dave TI Avatar

You might remember Dave from his 2013 DIY project – a homemade meat thermometer – which he built in an effort to grill the perfect steak. An avid cook, Dave has worked at TI since 2001, originally joining the company in the United Kingdom as a technical sales engineer. He worked as a business development manager in Freising, Germany, before moving to Texas in 2011.

The do-it-yourselfer enjoys "tinkering and hacking," but spends much of his spare time experimenting in the kitchen, where he tries to replicate foods from the countries he has visited.

“I enjoy cooking, as it is something that I can lose myself in,” Dave said. “When I am home, I can forget about the day-to-day life surrounded by silicon chips and substitute those for tortilla chips.”

  • Cool Project Dave.. Or should I say HOT project given you are growing habaneros...  :)

    Which relay control board did you use?  Was  it off the shelf or did you build it from scratch?

  • Which pump?  Did you do anything to prevent siphoning from dumping the whole bottle of water on your plant if something goes slightly wrong?

    I've been claiming I'm going to do something like this for my daughter college apartment plants for a while now, and get tied up in details.  (I was thinking of using one of those automatic soap-dispensers as the pump unit, but they're annoying hard to connect up to other fluid sources.)

  • Hi, it is a peristaltic dosing pump that I got form Amazon for about $13.  I chose this type of pump as it makes things a little easier to setup, i.e. you don't need to prime the pump to get it to work and it is relatively low power (~60mA).   The system is open loop, so there are no safety features to stop the system over watering.  I'm thinking of adding a moisture sensor to the system to close the loop to prevent over watering.   Of course if the relay sticks, or something else breaks there really is nothing to stop the system from dumping the entire bottle into the pot.

  • The relay board was from Amazon, a low cost 5V DC Coil 2 Channel Relay board for just a few dollars, it seemed much quicker and easier than building one :)