The problem with handheld moisture meters for plants

While the popularity of handheld moisture meters for plants shows no signs of abating, there are some significant disadvantages for growers using this tool. Handheld soil moisture and substrate moisture meters are a staple of every greenhouse grower’s toolkit. Most growers own one or have owned one at some point. The popularity of “handhelds” stems from their portable nature, their accuracy, and affordability.

Moisture meters become an essential tool
Once manufacturers of soil moisture monitoring technology released a moisture meter that was small enough to be handled comfortably, robust enough to take a knock or two, and affordable enough for even the most cash strapped grower, the handheld meter secured its place on the list of essential tools for both commercial and domestic growers. Portability also played a big part in the success of handheld moisture sensors. Hand-held units could be shared amongst multiple growing teams across shift changes or at multiple sites so greenhouse growing operations could make do with just one or two units.

Disadvantages of the handheld moisture meter
Despite these factors, handheld moisture meters have their downsides – particularly in greenhouse environments. The first of these is that handheld probes can only provide the grower with the current soil or substrate moisture reading – one from just a single moment in time. While growers may record many readings over the course of a day or week, these are typically noted only at the moment the reading is required. If notes are taken, however, they tend to be handwritten making it difficult to analyze data over various time periods without consulting many sheets of paper. 

Whether growing in Rockwool, Coco Coir, or soil, growers want to consult their data and ask themselves: “How is the water content for my plants tracking?” Even with data entered into a spreadsheet (the inputting of which is time-consuming and subject to human error), it can be hard to achieve macro and micro views of moisture content readings without some additional (and often more involved) digital fiddling. 

Crops like raspberries quickly become irrecoverable if an irrigation pump fails in between scheduled moisture meter readings.
Even growers who take soil moisture measurements 5 or 6 times a day are prone to missing events that may happen in between their scheduled moisture data recording. Should an irrigation pump fail, soil can quickly dry out with devastating effects. Crops like berries and cannabis quickly become irrecoverable after just a few hours and if the failure event occurs between times when moisture readings are taken, growers can be unaware of the issue until it is too late.

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