back to article Be Your Own Big Brother: Going to pot

A lot of the tech we've looked at so far in this series has been for safety – like monitoring seniors – or curiosity, like pet tracking. Another very useful area is productivity... and we don't mean the sort that involves management jargon. We're talking horticulture. With the right tech, even the least green-fingered of us …

  1. Andrew Jones 2

    We could really do with knowing how long the batteries actually last in these things - especially the ones listed on page 1.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Indeed; I'd dearly love to have people lend us their kit for much longer, but sadly that's not very common these days. You will, obviously, find the BTLE in the Parrot kit has much better life than the WiFi used in the Koubachi, but the downside of that is also the need to have a device that supports BTLE to make use of it, and that rules out quite a lot of older phones.

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Seeeeeeeed moisture sensor

    Why did I read that as 'seaweed'?

    More to the point - she who must be obeyed and I share a common plant meme: if you plant it, and it grows, great. If it dies, try planting something else. Which reminds me - I need to grab the last crop of rhubarb.

  3. Khaptain Silver badge

    Tamagochi in the real world

    Something is in contradiction here. The idea of green fingered gaiens bowing down before the cult of the IOT......

    What's next, adding a webcam and recieving alerts when it rains, is too sunny, a dangerous looking slug is in proximity.....

    By adding technology and we removing the possibilty of failure the garden becomes a factory rather than a playground.

    1. xj25vm

      Re: Tamagochi in the real world

      I am with you - up to a point. I have resisted using technology in the garden over the years - as I deal with tech all day in work - and I wanted the garden to be at least one place where I get away from it. However, there are three reasons why I have slowly changed my mind in the last few years:

      1. As I accumulate more plants, try new fruit trees and vegetable varieties every year, the number of plants in my garden has expanded considerably. I find that in the summer, close to 95% of my time in the garden is spent watering. If I could at least partially automate the watering, I could spend more of my gardening time doing other (potentially more interesting or useful) stuff in the garden - weeding, mulching, replanting, cropping, cooking, grafting, research etc.

      2. Having a busy schedule in work at times means that I might not end up with enough spare time every single day to look after the garden. If a week of dry hot days coincides with a spike of activity in my work, I risk loosing a good deal of plants in the garden because I didn't get around to watering them. An automated watering system would cover my back in such a scenario.

      3. Holidays. This one is pretty simple - if you do fruit and vegetable gardening, you can't have a holiday during the growing season. However, an automatic watering system should be able to look after the watering of the garden just about well enough for a week or so - enough for me to get away. Also, it would be good to be able to monitor the moisture of the soil in at least a few places in the garden - and know for sure, remotely, that the system is working properly.

      1. Khaptain Silver badge

        Re: Tamagochi in the real world


        I can sympathize with you, my wife is an avid gardener. BUT that is exactly the point I was getting at, if you can garauntee that everything will always be perfect you are removing half of the challenge..

        There are obviously some plants, vegetables, fruits etc that are not suited to our climate, it's nature's way of adding variety, and hence are almsot impossible to grow correctly. Obviously with some electronic gadgetry things can be made to grow with a higher success though.. ( bit like pesticides really, I know there is a positive side but there is also a very negative side).

        1. xj25vm

          Re: Tamagochi in the real world

          Personally, I don't care much about the plant profile know-how behind these gizmos. I like to learn about plants myself, what makes them grow and what doesn't. The bit I am interested in is the potential labour saving, as watering the garden during the warm season, once you go past a few pots, takes a lot of time. Figuring out how to look after plants, what works and what doesn't, and how to do it - well, that's exactly what I'd like to get more time for, instead of lugging water around :-) Watering is only one aspect of plant care - but a time consuming one. So to me, a good automatic watering system would allow for more high quality gardening time - a real promotion from the job of waterboy :-)

    2. frank ly

      Re: Tamagochi in the real world

      "... a dangerous looking slug is in proximity....."

      Remotely operated frickin lasers!

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: Tamagochi in the real world

        I'd rather like those for the foxes.

  4. Frenchie Lad

    Flawed Solutions & Superficial Analysis

    We can all read the manufacturer's claims and putting them in an article so this article does really not move matters forward. Take the case of the Koubachi WiFi sensor. It's technically backward and the software is flawed. The Wifi is "g" which surprised me, the range is limited so a medium sized garden is out let alone a biggish one and the method of transferring the sensor to another plant is extremely cumbersome, and speaking from practical experience the replacement (original one did not last more than 3 months) has given up the ghost after less than one year.

    Bottom line: a great idea spoilt by old and unreliable hardware and software that's "work in progress". Where your article is correct is questioning the price of this unit.

    Please, if you decide to do a review try to add value: for example the Koubachi does not have ph readings which are available on my £2,50 standalone device (it has light and humidity as well).

    1. xj25vm

      Re: Flawed Solutions & Superficial Analysis

      I would take your suggestions further. To the author: please use some or all of the reviewed products for at least a week and let us know how well they work , how reliable they are in real life situations, how useful they prove etc.

      I have been working on an Arduino based automatic watering and monitoring system for myself, on and off for about a year - and for example, what I found so far, is no reliable way to measure the moisture in the soil. For example, that little $5 sensor I found to be absolutely useless. First off, it is far too short. The soil in many real life situations is drier and far looser towards the surface - so inserting that probe, which is only about 4cm-5cm long - yields utterly useless results - as it doesn't make proper contact with the loose soil around it. It might work better in a small pot indoors, than in the garden, though.

      I have then made my own resistance based probes and tried them - and unfortunately, the results are so variable that no meaningful data could be extracted. The resistance read from the probe varies so much, that I simply can't tell the difference between a soaking wet pot and a half dry one. Also, the type of compost or soil will affect the reading, the soil temperature, and any chemicals or fertilizers present in the soil.

      So although there are wonderful tutorials out there on the internet - in real life things just don't seem to work like that. Yes - those sensors work really nicely when inserted into a perfectly smooth and uniform material - for example reading the moisture of a banana (well - I couldn't think of another way to test them!) - but not so well in the garden.

      Maybe some of the other solutions in this article work better.

      I am still searching for a reliable way to test soil moisture - but what I've learned so far is that just reading the articles on the internet, or the manufacturers' claims, is not good enough.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: Flawed Solutions & Superficial Analysis

        Where we can, we get kit in - that's not always possible, and where we do, sometimes it's for a very short loan - I'm not sure that a single week with a plant monitor, for instance, would yield much useful information. So, I also try to talk with people who use some of the kit as well, who have played with it for a lot longer. Where possible, I do aim to get things in for longer so that we can do a full review of them later on (or, as in the case of the Netatmo, for instance, an earlier review informs a piece like this). I'm guessing from the tone of some of the replies, you'd prefer the latter way of doing things, and I'll bear that in mind when doing some of the next pieces.

        One of the other things we hope to draw out in the comments on these pieces is exactly the sort of experience you talk about, because there are a huge number of Reg readers doing some of the things talked about here, and we'd love to hear more about your experiences.

      2. frank ly

        @xj25vm Re: Flawed Solutions & Superficial Analysis

        When measuring the electrical resistance of wet soil, you need to be aware that using a d.c. voltage/current could easily give you electrolysis effects or even plating of your electrodes. It might be wise to use a.c. excitation of the resistance probe.

        Have you tried purely capacitive sensors? You could make a simple one using two plates of metal, fixed a short distance apart, that have been dipped/painted with epoxy resin to remove resistive effects. Ideally, the plates would be perforated to allow rapid migration of soil moisture between the plates.

        1. xj25vm

          Re: @xj25vm Flawed Solutions & Superficial Analysis

          @frank ly Re: electrolysis - I've read online on various forums and websites about this and I've used a bit of code on the Arduino which keeps on reversing the polarity of the current flowing through the probe to avoid/compensate for electrolysis.

          Re: capacitive sensors - several people mentioned this to me, but I am yet to try it. Thanks for the suggestions!

  5. Frenchie Lad


    The experience with Netatmo has been quite the reverse, though I doubt its suitability for gardening except in a very general sense i.e. "red sky at night shepherd's delight". The units have proved reliable, accurate and long lasting with a long range and with a very good app side to them (they seem to mix local data with the main weather forecasts). The main criticism being that the secondary indoor unit lacks a sound meter (actually purchased) and the rain-meter looks as if it's lacking the quality of the other earlier units (technology suspect and plastic rather than the brushed aluminum of the others, hence not purchased). The Netatmo support has been vastly superior to that of the Koubachi. Edyn looks, I underline the word "looks", to be a far better but typical of many crowdfunding projects it appeals to the emotional side rather than by boasting its technical credentials.

    If The Register wants to retain credibility it should really insist on being more demanding in its evaluation. A criticism of this article for sure but also applicable to other earlier reviews. Bottom line is that currently I use these reviews as guidelines for further exploration rather than as a basis for purchasing decisions.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Nigel

      Thanks; comments much appreciated.

      There were a few other crowdfunded projects that I cam across when researching this piece, and some of them do seem to have a habit of going awfully quiet when the first flush of excitement is over. I hope the Edyn does bear fruit, but as you say, it's a case of wait and see.

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    All beside the point.

    The gadget I really need is one to stop all the neighbourhood cats from crapping in the garden. Maybe some of that low level electric fencing they have to keep the rabbits out of Painswick Rococo Garden.

    1. Vic

      Re: All beside the point.

      The gadget I really need is one to stop all the neighbourhood cats from crapping in the garden.

      A Jack Russell?


    2. romanempire

      Re: All beside the point.

      I assembled something to do this a few years ago. Used a PIR of the type used to control a flood light to control a socket into which I'd plugged a 12v transformer which powered a 12v water valve (from a washing machine). This controlled the water supply to a impulse sprinkler. This worked pretty well once I figured out how to shade the PIR from the sun as it had to face south. Also had a bit of fun finding a PIR with adjustable sensitivity (got it from RS in the end).

      It wasn't pretty but it worked. There is an all-in-one device that does the same thing:-

      but its good to feed your inner Heath Robinson :-)

  7. Richard 30

    You need to use a moisture probe based on permittivity, xj25vm. I could tell you who provides them in the UK but then El Reg would have to kill me (or at least this comment as the last two attempts to pass on this piece of useful albeit recondite information have been moderated to death).

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Richard 30

      Your first rejected comment had a link in it that looked like spam. Your second rejected comment was complaining you'd been rejected.


  8. Richard 30

    Well, now we have that cleared up, Delta-T in Cambridge make the kind of kit you need to emulate. I would provide the link as a courtesy but the fear of spam haunts the land.

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