Temperature sensors and soil moisture meters – at home and at a family-owned winery
We test the Zynect temperature sensor and soil moisture meter at home and with a family-owned winery.
As technology geeks, we’ve always been fascinated with sensors and actionable data. We bought some of the first Fitbits and when we got into cycling, we got Garmin bike computers so we could keep track of all our stats. We love our Sleeptracker that gives us a detailed reading of our sleep every morning. And of course we were early adopters of the Apple Watch, and now we are both on Series 6.
Affiliate Disclosure: This page contains links that may earn us a commission from Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. We received the Zynect Thermote, Soilmote and LoRaWAN gateway as part of this review. Opinions and conclusions are our own.
Beyond measuring our own data, we started adding sensors into our smart home when we got our first Z-Wave hub, and we have lots of things triggered by motion detectors and/or window and door sensors. We used a general purpose Internet of Things device called the Mother that let us customize their temperature and motion sensors for simple things like monitoring the temperature inside our stereo cabinet and reminding us if we forgot to take our vitamins. We have leak detection sensors all over our house that will alert us if there’s water under the toilet (or if we hit it with a wet mop.)
A couple of years ago, Northern California had a string of power outages triggered by high winds and fire danger, and we were one of 800,000 or so customers who lost power for days. Lucky for us it was more of an inconvenience than a dangerous situation – it was warm outside and we didn’t have too much food in the freezer to waste. After that we got some small Wi-Fi temperature sensors from Sensor Push and now we can keep track of our fridge and freezer temperature, even if the power goes out.
Over the last few years we’ve seen some new consumer devices hitting the market using LoRaWAN. LoRaWAN is a low-power, long range network standard, long used in industrial settings and smart cities, that allows you to connect many devices across long distances, without having to change the batteries as often.
Most smart home devices today use either Wi-Fi or low-power networks like Z-Wave and Zigbee, but over the last couple of years we’ve seen several new products using LoRaWAN for new use cases, like automatic openers for gates far away from your house, or the MimicGo, a sensor you can take with you while you travel to watch over your stuff. Our friends at Palo Alto Innovations launched Node-ify in 2019 using LoRaWAN, and we can’t wait for it to hit the market.
When we learned about the Zynect Soilmote and Thermote sensors that use both Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN, we couldn’t wait to try them out. While we’ve tried Wi-Fi sensors before, this would be our first opportunity to try out LoRaWAN.
Zynect was started by a couple of sensor guys out of Ithaca, New York in 2010. Their first project was the Air Quality Egg, a Wi-Fi based educational device that measures different air contaminants that can be used on its own or in conjunction with scientific curriculum. The device was one of the most popular Kickstarter projects in 2012.
Temperature and Soil Sensors
Zynect launched their temperature and soil sensors to help bring accurate, actionable data to consumers and small businesses. The sensors are rugged and waterproof and you can monitor them from anywhere using the Zynect app, without a subscription.
Zynect sent us two sensors to test, the Thermote and the Soilmote, as well as their optional LoRaWAN gateway.
Installation and Setup
Setting up the Zynect sensors was fairly easy after we went through it the first time. For us, the most puzzling part was the supplied magnet – but after we figured out how to use that to reset the device we were all set.
Once we connected the sensors, they worked really well and gave us simple, accurate data. It’s easy to customize the time interval for collection and set the boundaries for alerts. The Zynect sensors can send alerts via text and email, and you can also download the raw data in a format (.csv) you can easily import to your favorite spreadsheet for further analysis.
We tried the Thermote in our refrigerator, freezer and our stereo cabinet – all places where we like to monitor the temperature in our house. We could see how it would be really great for other uses as well – like in a chest freezer in the garage, in the attic, or in a wine cellar. It would also be great for vacation homes or rental properties away from home.
The Thermote and Soilmote are heavy-duty sensors in a larger package than we are used to with other smart home products, since they are built to last for years and withstand severe conditions.
Testing Thermote and Soilmote with LoRaWAN
We were excited to try the Soilmote too in our own garden, but in the late winter we are only growing weeds in our planter boxes. We thought it would be far more interesting if we could test it with a real crop, so we decided to collaborate with our friends Kari and Pete Hazen who own Rancho Roble Vineyards.
Growing Barbera Grapes in the Sierra Foothills
Kari and Pete bought Rancho Roble a few years ago as a turnkey winery in the Sierra Foothills Region of Northern California. Their winery is on the Placer Wine Trail, a small but growing region of about 20 family-owned vineyards. Barbera grapes grow really well in the hot, dry summers, producing full-bodied, fruit-forward wines that go great with all kinds of food. We really like Barbera with spicy food.
Kari and Pete have created a relaxed, laid-back experience for their guests at the ranch. With its beautiful outdoor grounds, Bocce court and playground, Rancho is a great place to hang out and enjoy a glass or bottle of the delicious wines. They often have live music on the weekends and fun events all year round.
Transitioning to Farming
A former school principal and high-tech executive, Kari and Pete are a couple who loves to learn and experiment and they’ve brought that spirit to their winery. As farmers, they’ve figured out new challenges from raccoons to birds and figuring out how much and when to water to get their Barbera vines producing the perfect fruit.
We brought over both Zynect sensors, the Soilmote and Thermote to test out at the winery and we had a great time experimenting with both of them (and tasting some delicious wine along the way!)
Working with LoRaWAN
Working in the vineyard gave us an opportunity to test the Zynect sensors with the LoRAWan gateway. Rancho Roble has Wi-Fi for their guests on the property but it doesn’t extend all the way out to the vineyard or to their wine storage barn. Using the sensors with LoRaWAN gave us great range throughout their property.
This was our first time connecting a LoRaWAN gateway and it was really interesting to see how it worked and how easy it was to use. The Zynect gateway connects to the Things Network, an open network with thousands of gateways up and running at any time. We were surprised to find a few open LoRaWAN gateways in our surrounding area and now AppMyHome is also on the map.
Monitoring the Vineyard
Once we connected to the LoRaWAN gateway, we experimented by placing the Soilmote in three different parts of the vineyard to see how the soil moisture varied. It turns out that the block that produces the most fruit already has higher moisture readings than the other two, even before the growing season really begins.
In this area, the vines typically bud around May 1 and most vintners don’t start watering before then so it will be really interesting to see how the soil moisture readings change throughout the growing season.
Rancho Roble also stores some wine on the property and the Thermote will help make sure their storage room stays at a consistent temperature year round. With the California forest fires and power outages over the last few years monitoring the temperature is critical to keeping the wines ready for their customers to enjoy.
Zynect Sensors – the Specs
The Zynect Thermote comes in two versions – the Thermote, with a range between -55 degrees and 125 degrees Centigrade, and the Thermote X freezer sensor, suitable for ultra-low temperature freezers and incubators with a range between -200 and 200 degrees Centigrade. The Soilmote measures from 0 to 100% volumetric water content.
All the Zynect Sensors are IP67-rated for outdoor use, and can withstand water and dust. They use standard AA batteries that last up to two years, depending how often you set the measurement interval.
The app is really easy to use and easy to share the data with others via a simple share code. In fact, if you want to see what it looks like for yourself, Zynect offers the ability to use a code right from their website so you can see the temperature from the Ithaca Farmers Market.
Whether you are monitoring your backyard garden or your precious crops, your chest freezer or your off-site storage, the Zynect sensors can provide consistent and accurate data to help you make the best decisions, at home or for your business. We enjoyed testing them and we look forward to learning more from the data.