I have a 6 acre permaculture farm, and I would like to be able to plant something at a location, log the location, and be able to find it again to within about a foot accuracy.

I do not need the position of these plants globally: I only need them relative to each other.

Is there any cheap way to accomplish this? For instance, could I put some kind of transmitter on two fence posts (at fixed locations), and triangulate my position relative to them in a cheap way? Are there off the shelf solutions for this?

My apologies if this is not the correct place for this question.

  • 1
    This seems reasonably on-topic here. You might get some different suggestions on Home Improvement, but then again it might be off-topic there. Have a look at this article about GNSS systems and see if that seems like it does what you want: eos-gnss.com/high-accuracy-data-collection-for-beginners.
    – csk
    Dec 8, 2019 at 17:24
  • 1
    For questions seeking hardware recommendations there is the Hardware Recommendations Stack Exchange.
    – PolyGeo
    Dec 8, 2019 at 20:15
  • A post in the ground is generally cheap and reliable to within a foot. Dec 8, 2019 at 23:11
  • @madphysicist physical posts are not searchable or durable. They also would be pretty crowded and the density we want to plant. Dec 8, 2019 at 23:51
  • Can you be more specific as to what you consider "cheap"? (Even range of magnitude - under a hundred? under a thousand?)
    – gspontak
    Dec 10, 2019 at 22:02

2 Answers 2


Current mobile phones with a multi-constellation GNSS chip might yield you submeter repeatable accuracy.

A Garmin GLO is about $110.00 but one foot positional accuracy would be difficult to obtain. This would be true of most consumer grade GNSS receivers at this time.

Handheld laser distance meters with a range of 330 feet can be found for around $100 to $200. (Bosch, Leica, and others)
You could use one to locate two or more permanent points (Fence Posts, Building Corners, Prominent Rocks, ETC.) on the property from the plant locations so long as the permanent points are visible from said location. This is the modern surveying equivalent of two-taping. The solutions will be better with strong geometry if only using two reference points. (The closer to a right triangle, the better.) Semi-permanent or permanent reflective laser targets could also placed as reference points. (You could also use bicycle reflectors, or reflective tape.)

You could go old school and define a grid with a transit and steel tape. Create three permanent points which form a right angle at locations which will not be disturbed, and encompass the area of interest. You could then measure the distance along each line to the plant locations. (Latitudes and Departures, or Up and Over measurements)

If you are patient, and have a helper or two, you could do the above without a transit by using two steel ( or cloth tapes) and squaring up the grid using Pythagorean theorem. (This is really old school)

The above suggestions are dependent upon terrain and vegetation, but are workable for a reasonable cost.

I have yet to see a radio translocation/triangulation solution which would provide the accuracy you desire, for a reasonable price.

  • Dual Band GNSS GPS Chipsets (L1+L5) will give you 30cm (1 foot) accuracy
    – Mapperz
    Dec 8, 2019 at 18:58
  • 4
    I do not wish to start an argument here, but I use Survey Grade GNSS (L1, L2, L5, G1, G2, ETC.) equipment on a daily basis, and without real time corrections (RTK or Real Time Kinematic) I have yet to see any equipment provide repeatable, one foot accuracy in the real world. Add any type of canopy to the equation, and you will be chasing your tail looking for a reliable, standalone solution. The future is bright, and there are interesting solutions on the horizon, but they are just not readily available or affordable to the casual consumer at this time.
    – jbgramm
    Dec 8, 2019 at 20:26
  • here is an interesting study insidegnss.com/… the cost is coming down rapidly.
    – Mapperz
    Dec 9, 2019 at 2:09
  • I did a little multivariable calculus, and the "two tape" laser solution actually seems viable. The error in the position is on the same order of magnitude as the error in the distance measurements to the reference points, at least as long as I am a fair distance away from the reference points. I am also totally going to use this problem as an exercise next time I teach multi-V. Dec 11, 2019 at 13:59

Yes. I think you can get good relative locations of plants for cheap.

My suggestion to you would be to adopt the model I use to inventory trees. I use QGIS and QField to centralize my mapping and field data collection. QField can be used to digitize the location and collect information in the field and QGIS is where you store, organize and analyze the information about the plants. Both are free, and if you don't already have a compatible device, you can get a tablet that supports QField for under $300 (and I'm assuming you have a desktop for QGIS based on the fact that you posted this question).

For cheap, free software is unbeatable; sometimes good data is not free. Lucky for you is that it appears Columbus has orthophotography available through a WMTS, meaning you have free access to very current, high-resolution (3"/7.5cm) aerial imagery. It is more current and better quality than Google Maps. It has also been updated biennially since 2007, so you may in fact be able to locate your crop from last year in this year's imagery, and as it gets updated, you may be able to see your plants in subsequent years' images.

With current, very clear imagery, you should be able to get rather accurate relative locations for your plants (located in a global reference, but for no extra money). For obtaining high-accuracy locations, we have a GPS unit capable of delivering 4" (10cm) precision, but this unit cost thousands of dollars, and then there's the cost of real-time correction to get it to that precision. I don't think sub-foot accuracy that you can trust using GPS is going to be cheap, and to verify/improve its accuracy you'll probably want to bring the data into a GIS anyway. Digitizing with imagery uses a different relative measurement (so in this case, relative to landmarks identified by your eyes on the map and in the field), and is likely more accurate than relying on the GPS on your phone/tablet the great majority of the time. You could also support your locating by measuring distances in the field and in QField to establish control points, or locations of individual plants. If your device has an integrated GPS, QField can interact with that; it's better to use that to lead you to a location than collect the location outright, though.

Something to consider is that your time costs money, too, if you're doing this for a living. While high-precision equipment can cost a lot, it also can save you a lot of time. I think what the digitizing solution does is saves you money, but also saves you time in the field. So other solutions may cost little capital, they may end up costing way more in time. The other thing is that consuming and using that data should be easy, and with the abundance and cheapness of good GIS technology, collecting data in identical or closely compatible systems definitely helps that. You may be able to collect information with pencil and paper, but manipulating that data can be time-consuming and error-prone.

  • Thank you this is very helpful. I am actually in Cleveland area now, not Columbus though. Should change my profile. Dec 11, 2019 at 13:57
  • You're welcome. Cleveland doesn't have a WMTS like Columbus, but you can acquire imagery of Cuyahoga County from its interactive mapping.Before you do, you should read and understand the terms of use for that before you download anything. In Canada, I would be able to use this for my own purposes (like plotting plants in my farm), but not to publish a map that someone is paying me for.
    – rwjd
    Dec 12, 2019 at 14:40

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