Soil scout sensors: Preparation, Installation, and utilization.

What is Soil Scout:

Soil Scout is a Finish company that make soil sensor for sport turf surfaces. The sensor is called the Hydra 100, it is wireless and can send data automatically every 5, 10, 20 or 55 minutes depending on the sensor configuration. Here we are using the 20mn sensors. The sensor can be installed at any desired depth in the ground, up to 2 meters.
The hydra 100 can measure soil moisture %, soil temperature and salinity.

How to prepare the project:

In our case we had a two phases program.
The first phase was to do a trial plot study in our steepest green to measure wetting agent and water movement across this unique green. For this, we decided to install 3 plots, with 3 zones with 3 sensors at different depth (6.5, 15, 25cm). For a total of 27 sensors in one green.

Once the collected enough data on our trial, we would relocate the sensors to a permanent installation, 3 sensors per green, 4 greens on the two main courses and one green on the short Par3 course, for a total of… 27 sensors! Wonderful mathematics, it was time to prepare the project with the international sale rep of Soil Scout, Adam Sedgwick.

With Adam’s expertise we looked at the base station and repeater antennas ideal location. The base station can collect data within a kilometer range in clear space, but on our 200ha golf course, sensors can be up to 1.5kilometers away from that base station, so two echo repeaters to cover each side of the course would be needed. The echo repeater can push the signal at up to 10 kilometers!

How to install the soil scout sensors:

  • Installing the base station and repeaters:

All the sensors are wireless but not the base station. We decided to install the omni-directional antenna on the roof of the clubhouse and using a nearby outlet. For the repeaters, no need of a power source, they come equipped with a tiny solar panel, meaning they can be installed anywhere on the course! We installed one of the repeaters on the pump house and the second one on the top of the greenkeeping shed. Covering 100% of the course.

The installation is as simple as plugging the antenna to the solar panel, screwing it to a pole or to a structure, flip the switch on and voilà! Do not forget to write the serial number somewhere, it will be needed later.

  • Installing the sensors:

Another straightforward process. Grab a cup cuter, cut at the depth you want the sensors to measure the moisture, push the sensors horizontally into the ground, put the plug back. 30 seconds, top! Each sensor come with a serial number on it, write them for later.

  • Installing the sensor in the cloud and web browser:

Simply go to soilscouts.fi, use your login and password. Add a site and location. Once connected, there is two important tabs: Scouts and Receivers.

In the “Scouts” tab you can add each sensors one by one using the serial numbers. You can add extra information such as ground type, sensors location, depth, wilting point %. Each sensor only takes 15 seconds and the website allow you to save and directly add another in one click only. Making the installation of the 27 sensors a 5minutes job.
You can also create groups, as many as you want. You can add multiple sensors in one group, or multiple groups in one sensor. A fully customizable experience.

In the “receivers” tab you will add the base station and the repeaters using the serial number previously saved.

And from here, everything will set itself automatically, the sensors will connect to the station and send data every 20mn.

And voilà! Your installation is finish. In our case it took us 2h30 to install all antennas, and the 27 sensors.

Installation “pro tips”:

  • Save the GPS position:

To retrieve the sensors more easily, it is recommended to save the position of said sensors. You can do it by measuring the distances from closest sprinklers or you can do it like the pro, by saving the GPS position.

There are multiples way to save the GPS position, you can use some apps on your phone, or your POGOpro if you have one by using the app on your phone.

  • Retrieving the sensors:

To retrieve the sensors before mechanical maintenance, we are using a basic metal detector and simply survey the surface of the green. Once located, we use a cup cuter to pull a core and remove the sensors. We are using white paint to paint a dot on the plug, so we can easily find the same location after mechanical operations are done.

  • Pin position:

With the sensor on the ground, you always run the risk to cut it with your cup cutter. To avoid this, we are using a pin sheet where sensors locations are marked. By using a metal rod, the operator can probe if the sensor is under the desired new pin position.

How to access the data:

Accessible on both computer and cellphone, the webapp SoilScouts.fi is one of the easiest websites I have ever used. Simply connect using your login and you will be directly conducted to your data. There is multiple way to access the data:

Accessing data:

  • Quick overview:

On the left side panel, you can see the latest reading of all your sensors and group. You can simply scroll to the list and review the sensors you want.

  • In depth graph:

If you click on a specific sensor, the right panel will show all the data on a graph. You can monitor change over specific time such as last 24hours, last 7days, 1, 3 or 6 months or a year. You can also select a custom range of date.

  • In depth group:

If you click on a group, you will access the data of all the sensors in this group. It is really useful if you have multiple sensors in one green. It is the review multiple sensors at one time.

  • Comparison:

If you desire to compare multiple sensors that are not in the same group, you can tick as many sensors as you want, and the graph will compile them all together. It is useful to compare specific sensors or a full course at one time.

Other features:

The website also offers different feature such as a map with all your sensors if you have recorded the location during the setup. You can also program some alerts if sensors drop bellow or go over a specific % range.

The advantages of using in-ground sensors:

There are many advantages to use the Hydra100 sensors:

  • Constant fresh data:

With data sent every 20minutes, you always have fresh data on your hands to take better decision, such as irrigation adjustment.

  • Labor free:

Using an hand-held moisture meter is time consuming and require a trained operator. With the hydra100, the data is coming to you. You can access it from the office or at home, it also allows you to relocate the operator to a different task.

  • No cell coverage needed:

One of the challenge here at WINSTON is the course is poorly covered with cell data. Soil scout sensors do not require any cell coverage, making them useable anywhere you want it.

  • No disruption to play:

With the sensors deeply installed in the group, the surface remains untouched and with no operator needed, the green is always free to play and you are not disturbing the pace of play.

The inconvenient of using an in-ground sensors:

  • It is in the ground!

Biggest inconvenient of all is the sensors is on the ground and could be damaged by mechanical operation or cup cutter as seen previously. If your mechanical operation (such as coring) is deeper than the sensor, you absolutely need to remove them before, and to reinstall them after, or it will be an awfully expensive day.

  • One spot only:

Opposite to handheld moisture meter, the sensor will only measure one spot on the green, which mean you will need multiple sensors (recommend at least 3 per green), making the bill pretty hefty.

 Conclusion:

Rich of my experience during our research, I am confident the soil scout sensors will play a big part on our way to maintain our putting surface. With a limited team and a lack of trained operator, our handheld moisture scouting is very time consuming and are mostly done when we feel the greens are on the edge. With the soil scout sensors, I can scout in real time the entire course and detect early sign of moisture deficit before visual signs appear.

The service offered by soil scout, and the support from Adam Sedgwick had exceed all my expectations and I can put my words on it to say you are in for a treat!

Moving forward if you are interested in trying or purchasing the soil scout hydra100 sensor, you can contact Adam at adam.sedgwick@soilscout.com  and by telling them you are coming from Erwan Le cocq at WINSTONgolf, you will benefit from a great pricing.

Links:
• Soil scout brochure

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