Moisture Duck Gives You A Green Thumb

Around the Hackaday bunker, any plant other than a cactus has a real chance of expiring due to thirst. Perhaps we should build some of [MakersFunDuck]’s Moisture Duck boards. As you can see in the video below, the simple PCB with an ATtiny13A tells you when it is time to water the plants. The video also covers several exotic methods of determining the watering status, some of which are pretty complex.

The board is simple because the operation of the device is simple. A fixed resistor creates a voltage divider with the soil, and dry soil has higher resistance than moist soil. A pot sets a threshold, and the microcontroller measures the voltages.

Of course, if you can’t remember to water the plants, you probably can’t remember to change batteries either. So the device sleeps most of the time, and only wakes up every eight seconds to conserve battery. It would be nice to alarm on a low battery, and, honestly, we would probably have made the sleep time longer.

The video covers how he minimizes corrosion, but we aren’t sure how well the board will survive in damp soil, but with a little protection, it might last a while. Besides that, you could probably just consider them almost disposable.

If you are really lazy, you can also automate the actual watering. You can even build that into a smart flower pot.

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Comparing Cheap Capacitative Soil Moisture Sensors With Commercial Sensors

When your residence has soil moisture sensors embedded that were dictated by your friendly neighborhood HoA, you may start asking questions about the system used. That’s what [Modest Maker] did and the resulting findings along with an attempt to beat the commercial system with some cheap capacitive sensors, are covered  in a recent video that’s also embedded below. Part of the motivation here was that the commercial system in the community was not clearly installed properly.

To make a long story short, the commercial system by Hunter (Soil-Clik) appears to be a tensiometer-based system that uses the pressure produced by moisture intrusion into the measurement column. This translates to how easy it is for plant roots to extract water, depending on the soil type. [Modest Maker] had to first dodge the broken-by-design capacitive sensors that are available everywhere, but after that was able to cobble together a measurement system that he hopes will allow him to validate the commercial system’s installation.

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A display in a field showing the water stress index over time

Hackaday Prize 2022: Using Infrared Thermometers To Measure Crops’ Water Stress

If you live anywhere on the Northern Hemisphere, you’re likely to have experienced one of the many heatwaves that occurred this summer. Extreme heat is dangerous for humans and animals, but plants, including important crops, also suffer. High temperatures lead to increased transpiration and evaporation, and if the water lost in this way is not replenished quickly enough, plants will stop growing and eventually wither and die.

In order to keep track of the amount of water available to crops, [Florian Ellsäßer] built the Crop Water Stress Sensor: a device that checks whether plants have enough moisture available to stay healthy. It does this by measuring the temperature of the leaves to calculate evaporation levels. If the leaves are cooler than their surroundings, this means that water is evaporating from them and the plant apparently has enough water available. If the leaves’ temperature is closer to the ambient temperature, then the plant may be running low on water.

[Florian]’s system performs this measurement using an infrared array, which is basically a low-resolution thermal camera that remotely measures the temperature of everything in its field of view. This IR array is pointed at a field, where it will see both leaves and the ground between them. The difference in temperature between these two can then be used to calculate the Crop Water Stress Index (CWSI), a standardized measure of how well-hydrated plants are. The result is shown on a display and also indicated using a convenient red-yellow-green status LED that shows if the crops in question need watering.

The system can be solar powered for completely remote operation, while its data can be read out through a WiFi interface. [Florian] is planning to update the design with a LoRa interface for greater range: the eventual goal is to build a large network of these sensors throughout agricultural areas and use the combined data to raise awareness of water shortages in certain areas. In order to make the sensors easy to build by anyone interested, all design files are available on the project page.

Keeping crops moisturized is one of the key tasks of agriculture, and we’ve seen several projects that aim to optimize and automate it, from a simple-but-effective ESP8266-based moisture sensor to complete hydroponics systems.

A soil moisture sensor with silkscreen chipped and copper corroded

Soil Moisture Sensor Coating Lessons Learned The Hard Way

Ever wanted to measure soil moisture? Common “soil moisture meter module arduino raspberry compatible free shipping” PCBs might deceive you with their ascetic looks. Today, [Raphael (@rbaron_)] is here to teach us (Twitter, unrolled) what it takes to build a soil-embedded sensor that can actually survive contact with a plant.

As the picture might hint, waterproofing is of paramount importance, and soldermask doesn’t quite cut it. Raphael describes his journey of figuring out approaches and coatings that would last, starting from simply using nail polish, and ending with the current option – a rotisserie-like device that rotates sensors as the coating applied to them dries, mitigating a certain kind of structural failure observed long-term. With plenty of illustrative pictures and even a video of the rotisserie device in action, you’ll quickly learn things that took time and effort for Raphael to figure out.

This isn’t the first time Raphael shares some design battlefield stories and lessons with us – he has taught us about overall capacitive moisture sensor principles, too! If that interests you, we’ve covered quite a few moisture sensor designs, from cheap but hardy two-nails designs to flip-dot-equipped ones, and some of us take the commercial designs and upgrade them!

We thank [Chaos] for sharing this with us!

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Soil Sensor Shows Flip-Dots Aren’t Just For Signs

Soil sensors are handy things, but while sensing moisture is what they do, how they handle that data is what makes them useful. Ensuring usefulness is what led [Maakbaas] to design and create an ESP32-based soil moisture sensor with wireless connectivity, deep sleep, data logging, and the ability to indicate that the host plant needs watering both visually, and with a push notification to a mobile phone.

A small flip-dot indicator makes a nifty one-dot display that requires no power when idle.

The visual notification part is pretty nifty, because [Maakbaas] uses a small flip-dot indicator made by Alfa-Zeta. This electromechanical indicator works by using two small coils to flip a colored disk between red or green. It uses no power when idle, which is a useful feature for a device that spends most of its time in a power-saving deep sleep. When all is well the indicator is green, but when the plant needs water, the indicator flips to red.

The sensor itself wakes itself up once per hour to take a sensor measurement, which it then stores in a local buffer for uploading to a database every 24 measurements. This reduces the number of times the device needs to power up and connect via WiFi, but if the sensor ever determines that the plant requires water, that gets handled immediately.

The sensor looks great, and a 3D-printed enclosure helps keep it clean while giving the device a bit of personality. Interested in rolling your own sensor? The project also has a page on and we’ve previously covered in-depth details about how these devices work. Whether you are designing your own solution or using existing hardware, just remember to stay away from cheap probes that aren’t worth their weight in potting soil.

Soil Moisture Sensors, How Do They Work?

In a way, the magic of a soil moisture sensor’s functionality boils down to a simple RC circuit. But of course, in practice there is a bit more to it than that. [rbaron] explains exactly how capacitive soil moisture sensors work simply, clearly, and concisely. He also shows, with a short video, exactly how their output changes in response to their environment, and explains how it informed his own sensor design.

At its heart, a moisture sensor measures how quickly (or slowly) a capacitor charges through a resistor, but in these sensors the capacitor is not a literal component, but is formed by two PCB traces that are near one another. Their capacitance — and therefore their charging rate — changes in response to how much water is around them. By measuring this effect on a probe sunk into dirt, the sensor can therefore indirectly measure the amount of water in the soil.

This ties into his own work on b-parasite: an open-source, all-in-one wireless soil moisture sensor (which was also a runner-up in our Earth Day contest) that broadcasts over BLE and even includes temperature readings. One thing to be mindful of if you are making your own PCBs or ordering them from a fab house is that passing current through metal in a moist environment is a recipe for oxidation, so it’s important not to expose bare traces to wet soil. A good coated PCB should avoid this problem, but one alternative we have seen proposed is to use graphite rods in place of metal.

Parts of the automated soil moisture monitoring station

Solar Stevenson Screen For Smart Sprinkler

It’s not infrequent that we see the combination of moisture sensors and water pumps to automate plant maintenance. Each one has a unique take on the idea, though, and solves problems in ways that could be useful for other applications as well. [Emiliano Valencia] approached the project with a few notable technologies worth gleaning, and did a nice writeup of his “Autonomous Solar Powered Irrigation Monitoring Station” (named Steve Waters as less of a mouthful).

Of particular interest was [Emiliano]’s solution for 3D printing a threaded rod; lay it flat and shave off the top and bottom. You didn’t need the whole thread anyway, did you? Despite the relatively limited number of GPIO pins on the ESP8266, the station has three analog sensors via an ADS1115 ADC to I2C, a BME280 for temperature, pressure, and humidity (also on the I2C bus), and two MOSFETs for controlling valves. For power, a solar cell on top of the enclosure charges an 18650 cell. Communication over wireless goes to Thingspeak, where a nice dashboard displays everything you could want. The whole idea of the Stevenson Screen is clever as well, and while this one is 3D printed, it seems any kind of stacking container could be modified to serve the same purpose and achieve any size by stacking more units. We’re skeptical about bugs getting in the electronics, though.

We recently saw an ESP32-based capacitive moisture sensor on a single PCB sending via MQTT, and we’ve seen [Emiliano] produce other high quality content etching PCBs with a vinyl cutter.