Plant life comes at you fast; before you know it that little sprout is a full grown monster plant, desperate for a bigger pot. If you’re a green thumb type who’s fascinated by your plant’s progress, here is the perfect way to document every tender unfurling.
Artist and programmer Nicole He set up a camera powered by a Raspberry Pi computer to document the slow growth of her fiddle-leaf fig plant. She programmed the computer to post a picture everyday to Twitter under the handle @grow_slow, in case anyone else wanted to follow its development.
After two years, He compiled them all into a little video of “growth and movement”:
My little bot @grow_slow has been taking a photo of my fiddle-leaf fig plant every morning at 10:17 am for over two years. I finally put all the photos together, so here's what 2 years of growth and movement look like!!! pic.twitter.com/58q4RvAMGg— Nicole He (@nicolehe) June 17, 2018
On her website, He writes that the project is a “meditation on nature and technology,” and explains that the webcam takes a picture of her plant every morning at 10:17am:
Often, I’d be going about my life, happen to take a glance at my plant and think, “huh, when did it grow so fast?” I found it easy to forget that plants — being alive and all — are not just household decorations, but organisms that move and change and grow.
The internet is fast, but plants are slow. This project is an experiment in combining those two things. @grow_slow follows the philosophy of the Slow Web. Any one picture might be mundane by itself, but as a collection, they become interesting over the course of time.
He also provides a step-by-step how to for setting up your own technology meditation — or if it’s not that deep, a way to take daily pictures of your plant.
What You’ll Need
He uses a Logitech HD Webcam C310, which she connects via USB to a Raspberry Pi, an external monitor and keyboard and some sort of wifi connection if you also want to send pics to the Internet. She uses a Linux utility called a cron job, which is basically a scheduler, with a Python script. Oh, you also need the plant.
Set Up Your Pi
He recommends setting up SSH access from another computer, because it may not always be convenient to connect a monitor, keyboard and mouse to the webcam in charge of documenting planty. But for beginners with the Raspberry Pi, it’s helpful to have those things.
Set The Date For Your Timer
You presumably want to set a specific time on a daily basis, rather than getting five hundred pictures in an hour. You have to make sure your Pi is set to the right date. Sometimes it’ll set automatically, so type in “date” to check. If it’s wrong, type “tzselect” and it’ll walk you through selecting the correct timezone.
Connect The Webcam
The webcam should connect vis USB to the Pi, but to work it, He offers this code:
In order to get the webcam working with the Pi, we’re going to install a package called fswebcam:
sudo apt-get install fswebcam
With the USB camera plugged in, we can very easily take photos via the command line:
Give It Social Media (Life)
You need a Twitter handle to send these pics to if you want to follow in He’s footsteps. She used a Python script to run once a day and tweet the plant photos from her webcam, which requires a package called Twython, and the cron task scheduler.
Her instructions are fairly involved (but still totally doable!) and you should check them out here. And remember, this is a project He wants to share so people can bend it to their own needs.
“You can change the frequency of the photos, or give the photo names a timestamp, or upload each photo onto a server, or tweet words as well as photos, or instead of taking photos of your plant take photos of your piano, or window, or bed, or aquarium, or whatever,” she writes.
Hmm, @slow_goldfish, anyone?
This article has been updated since its original publication.