Adding an external sensor to the WS1

We wanted to measure the soil temperature in the greenhouse, so we ordered an external sensor for the Ubibot WS1 that we have just bought. It wasn’t expensive – £16 from Amazon. We thought that soil temperature might be just as important to the plants in the green as the air temperature.

The sensor arrived next day and it simply plugs into the micro USB port on the side of the WS1. What did surprise me, however, was that the WS1 measures the temperature of the external probe AS WELL AS the temperature from the WS1 itself. In other words, it is measuring two different temperatures. This obvious as soon as you look at the Ubibot dashboard.

WS1 external temperature probe
External probe available for the WS1 on Amazon

This makes the WS1 and an external probe a really cost effective solution. If you didn’t want to measure soil temperature, you could measure the temperature outside the greenhouse as well as inside the greenhouse. This was something that I was already considering. And all from one sensor!

Ubibot dashboard
Temperatures from the WS1 itself (top left) and from the attached external probe (bottom right)

New outdoor WiFi access point

Looks like I was a little optimistic about the WiFi in the house reaching the greenhouse! Although my iPhone was showing 1 bar on the house WiFi, the Ubibot sensor could only hold onto the signal for about an hour or so. Clearly, the WiFi from the house was at it’s limit. Time to invest in an outdoor WiFi access point!

I updated our internal WiFi access points (we have 3) in the house last year to TP-Link EAP225. There are three of them in different parts of the house. These were installed about a year ago and we have been pleased with the performance. See here. However, they do need to be rebooted every 2-3 months. After this period, they don’t appear to be able to hold a connection for any significant period of time. I have the latest firmware installed on them, but this hasn’t fixed the problem. Rebooting them does the trick! Maybe a future update will fix this issue.

I decided to use the outdoor version of the new WiFi access points that we are using inside the house. The first unit arrived quickly from Amazon. Unfortunately, it was DOA and had to be returned – the green light on the POE injector went out every time that the EAP was plugged in. Not good. I tried different cables. I even tried different POE injectors. Same result. Like a flat tyre that I put on three different wheels. It was still flat!

The replacement unit arrived next day.

I think longer term the right place to install this unit is actually in the greenhouse itself. This will keep it out of the worst of the weather and I have a conduit installed to the greenhouse. It should be straightforward to run an Ethernet cable out to the unit and power it using POE. But for now, I am just going to install it temporarily to see how well it performs.

New Greenhouse

We installed a new Robinson’s greenhouse a few weeks ago. It is a 14ft x 8ft Robinson Rushmoor greenhouse. This one is aluminimum and powder coated to a pastel green (I think they call it “sage”!). It matches the window frames on the house. It was ordered last November and it arrived at the end of February.

Working out where to site the greenhouse was reasonably straightforward since we didn’t have many options. And none of them were particularly flat. We had to take down an old dry stone wall (to the right in the picture below) and the new greenhouse will now form part of the field boundary. To get things relatively level, we dug some foundations and then brought up some blockwork on the one sided (to the left in the picture below). Then the small dwarf wall was built on top of the blockwork.

The dwarf wall could have been single or double skin (i.e. one or two rows of bricks). We opted for a double width wall. Having seen the price of bricks, I wish we had opted for the single skinned version! All the groundwork took is 3 weeks to complete. Just in time for the fitter to work his magic on the greenhouse. It took a professional fitter 2.5 full days to install this greenhouse – I hate to think how long it would have taken me to do it!

The end result looks fab!!

Digging the foundations for the greenhouse. The soil from the trenches is piled up in the middle as much as possible.
Concrete laid. All three tonnes of it! We have used blocks to create “steps” in the concrete
Once the blockwork is up, we can sort out the soil in the inside. The dwarf wall is going to sit on top of the blockwork and the blockwork is going to be covered with “feather boarding”.
Outside skin of bricks in place and the returns for the doorway done!
Dwarf wall now complete. Two rows of bricks with a set of “soldiers” on top. These are engineering bricks with no holes or frog is this will allow the greenhouse to be fixed directly to the bricks. 4 tonnes of soil put inside the greenhouse to bring the floor level up to the bottom of the dwarf wall internally.
Frame installed, no glass.
Glass and fancy finials added!

Greenhouse temperature

Having just installed a new greenhouse, we thought it might be a good idea to monitor the temperature in greenhouse. You would think that there are lots of solutions out there. Nothing complicated. Just a display in the house showing the current temperature in the greenhouse, plus maximum and minimum. Maybe a graph. And connected wireless somehow.

There must be loads around. Let’s look on Google! MMMmm. I must be searching on the wrong terms. Where are they?

The closest I could find is a solution from a company called Ubibot. You will find them here: Ubibot.com. They produce a variety of WiFi environmental sensors for industrial and commercial use. I bought one of their cheaper sensors (WS1) for £78 on Amazon just to see if I can get it to work. Ubibot have a store page on Amazon. You will find it here. The WS1 sensor measures temperature, humidity and light levels. More than a enough for a greenhouse!

Image of the Ubibot WS1 sensor.

According to the blurb that comes with the device, 2xAA batteries will power the device for 4-6 months based on readings that are taken every 15 mins. The device connects to the internet via WiFi and the data is stored in Ubibot’s cloud based platform. There is no subscription fee and it is free to use within certain usage limits. It is clearly designed for much larger scale use and I doubt that one sensor in a greenhouse is ever going to reach the limits of the free account.

The Challenge

The main challenge with this device is setting it up. Obviously with a device at this price point, it has a pretty limited user interface and this can be a challenge when setting it up. Combine this with some fairly scant instructions and if it doesn’t all go to plan first time, then you can be in trouble. This happened to me as something went wrong when I was trying to connect it to me home WiFi. I was trying to do this using my iPhone and connecting to the devices on WiFi network. Somehow, it all went wrong. Even though I had followed the instructions. I reverted to the PC based pages. That didn’t help either.

I finally cracked it by using Ubibot’s PC offline tools. You can download them from here. There was the briefest of mentions of it in some of the Ubibot support pages. It allows you to connect to the device using the micro USB port and set it up without connecting to it via WiFi. You have to download some software from the Ubibot site (the install was a little quirky!), but it was a cinch to set up via this route. I wish I had tried this in the first place as it would have saved so much time! It was much easier than trying to connect to it via WiFi.

Once set up, it connected to my home WiFi network and started posting measurements every 15 minutes! The device (and it’s measurements) appear on the Ubibot data warehousing pages. The main screen shows the latest readings and clicking on the device opens up a set of historical graphs. Wow!

The good stuff

  • Even though my iPhone was showing only one bar on my WiFi, the WS1 has connected to our WiFi in the house. I am guessing that it is 20m to the greenhouse through a number of thick masonry walls. The WS1 only supports 2.4G WiFi and not 5G WiFi so it is more susceptible to physical obstructions between the access point and the sensor.
  • Now the data from the WS1 is on the Ubibot platform, I can set up a number of alerts (e.g. sending an email) if some of the data readings reach particular limits. There are some really cool options here. Most of them totally OTT for a greenhouse!
  • Now the data is on the internet, it is possible to view it from anywhere or even share the data with others. Just on the off-chance that someone wants to know the temperature in your greenhouse!
  • It integrates with Alexa too! You need to add Ubibot as a skill to Alexa. Just follow the instructions here then you can say “Alexa, what is the temperature of the Greenhouse?” It took me a couple of minutes to set this up. I wasn’t sure how useful this feature might be – either way, it makes a cool demo!
Summary table from the Ubibot site displaying the WS1 sensor that has just been installed.
Here’s the view from the data warehouse table view.
Detailed information page for this sensor from the Ubibot site.
Here’s the detailed sensor view. There’s not much data here yet as I only got it working this morning!

And we are back!!

WordPress.org logo - Manually updating WordPress

I have had a bit of a nightmare with WordPress for the last few weeks. It seems that an automatic update at the end of last year didn’t work as it should have and a number of the core WordPress files were missed out during the update. The result was the blog went offline and should did the admin dashboard! I had no way of getting into it to fix it!

Here’s the error message I was getting: “PHP Fatal error: Cannot redeclare _wp_register_meta_args_whitelist() (previously declared in /home/j6yrsllk82zz/public_html/blog/wp-includes/meta.php:1394) in /home/j6yrsllk82zz/public_html/blog/wp-includes/deprecated.php on line 4060”.

So today was spent getting things back up and running. Fortunately, it seems to be back working

The fix entailed:

  • Background reading on what to do and how. Unfortunately, I am not a WordPress expert;
  • Backing up all of the content and the database for my blog (I didn’t want to lose any content);
  • Installing a new clean set of WordPress files and overwriting any old ones that might have got corrupted previously;

Now we are back up and running. We are on the latest version of WordPress (5.7) and I everything looks like it is working as it should. I haven’t had chance to check all the pages, but it looks like there isn’t anything missing. And the good news is that the content is backed up too! All 2.3Gb of it!

There is a good article here on what to do if you need to manually install WordPress: https://wordpress.org/support/article/updating-wordpress. I also found this video helpful too: https://youtu.be/5UH7F_tGyRs

Shattered rooflight

The rooflights in the lounge and kitchen were installed in November 2013. http://www.haggleysfarm.co.uk/blog/?p=3398

Today, one of the panes in the lounge rooflights shattered. I only noticed it when I returned home. It can’t have happened long before I got it as it was still making a “tinkling” noise. It was the outer pane of a double glazed unit, so there was no mess inside the house.

We have had some really hot weather for the past couple of days, so I think it must have expanded it the heat.

We’ll have to work out how to get it replaced. But at least it isn’t about to fall inside the house as it is the outer pane that has gone.

Shattered rooflight

These rooflights were supplied by Standard Patent Glazing over in Dewsbury. Someone came out within a couple of days and assessed the damage. It looks like something has hit the glass from the outside, but it is difficult to tell. Unfortunately, it was out of it’s warranty period and it cost us £400 to get it replaced. However, it was done within a couple of weeks and the whole process was pretty painless.

Update on WiFi access points

Yep, they work! We now have around 60Mb/s through WiFi rather than the 5Mb/s we had previously! I have replaced both of the old TPlink 801ND.

When we originally moved into the property, we were on a slow broadband connection so the bottleneck was the broadband connection and not the WiFi access points. Now we are on Superfast Broadband, the bottleneck isn’t the broadband anymore, but the access points. It was time to change.

The property is large so we need multiple WiFi access points to ensure that every room is covered. Because we have ethernet access points everywhere, it is straightforward to install individual WAPs connected to a central switch. There is no need for an expensive Mesh network.

Plus, these new access points look much neater than the old ones!

New WiFi access points

Well, with the Corona Virus lockdown in full swing, it is time to get on with those jobs that have been hanging around for a while.

Next up: New WiFi access points.

While trying to fix an issue with a laptop on our wired network yesterday, I spotted that a number of devices connected to our network switch were connected at 100M rather than 1000M. In fact, this was the problem with the laptop connection – for some reason it was connecting at the slower speed. Anyway, while fixing that problem, I noticed that there were a number of other devices connected at 100M.

The Loxone mini server was one. No great drama there as the throughput is going to be low. But the WiFi access points were also showing up as connecting on 100M rather than 1000M (gigabit connection). Well, a quick look at the specs for the access points (TPLink 801N) did indeed confirm that they only support 100M.

When we moved into the property, we were on a slow broadband connection (just about 8Mb/s download) so the WAPs connecting at 100M wasn’t really a problem. However, in 2018 BT’ Infinity became available and our connection suddenly stepped up to around 60Mb/s download and 15Mb/s upload.

Time for some new ones! The existing WAPs have been installed since 2014. You can still buy them for around £30, but after 6 years I don’t think they really owe me anything.

In terms of replacement, I was looking for something with a gigabit connection to the network. Plus something that looked half decent. I settled for a TPLink AC1350. I have been happy with the original TPLink, so I decided on a simple upgrade for a faster, better looking unit.

I have bought one unit which arrives tomorrow. If it works ok, we will need a second one. But let’s just try one to start.

TPLink AC1350
New WiFi access point – TP Link AC1350

Chickens coming home to roost!

The new chicken coup in the orchard (the chickens are in there, honest!)
See! I told you there were in there!

Well, there isn’t much good news around at the moment, so it is important to make the best of things while you can! Jo has always wanted chickens, but being away 3 days a week in London has caused logistical problems in keeping chickens. Who is going to feed them? Who is going to let them out and then put them away at night?

Now that it looks as if we are going to be be working from home for the next 10-12 weeks, it seemed like a good idea to get some chickens! Why not?? We can sort the logistics out later!

The chicken coup arrived yesterday – I rather smart unit from Omlet. It is incredibly well thought through. It looks and feels fairly bomb-proof and as long as we remember to put them away at night, the foxes (and badgers) shouldn’t get to them. This coup can take up to 4 chickens, but we have only three.

The chickens arrived shortly afterwards. From a local supplier – Hinchcliffes. Two White stars and a black Nero.

No eggs yet. Plenty of poop!

TV distribution amplifier

LDU608G

I guess that it isn’t surprising after living in the house for five years that some pieces of kit need to be replaced.

This week I have had to replace one of the TV distribution amplifiers. Not surprising, but not the first one that I have had to replace since we have been here. The TV signal started to get a “bit blocky” on some of the HD channels. Eventually, I tracked it down to one of the amplifiers – there are two in the property (I wish I had labelled some of the cables better!). I suspect a recent thunder storm might have been the culprit.

Anyway, I have taken the opportunity to replace it with a slightly better unit. This Labgear amp looks and feels particularly well made. They aren’t expensive either – about £50 from Amazon.