I’m considering a SMALL, 5 herb garden for my deck, is there a “smart” solution?

Like maybe a system that auto monitors the soil and turn on a watering device when needed?

there are some out there like Fibaro, but this got me thinking into doing something DIY.

you can get an analog moisture sensor (something like https://www.amazon.com/XLUX-Soil-Moisture-Sensor-Meter/dp/B014MJ8J2U/), and get an external contact sensor (something like a ZEN16/17). then wire up the external contact sensor to the meter in the moisture sensor (this will require opening it to tinker). set one lead on the meter, and the other on the face where you would want to trigger your watering. then when that contact sensor gets triggered (because the soil is dry enough that the leads make contact), turn on a solenoid (https://www.amazon.com/Solenoid-Electric-Magnetic-Normal-Control/dp/B08NX6QBVJ/) to allow water to pass through. set it to shut off on a timer (maybe a few minutes depending on how big the plants are, but you can just adjust the delay in your rule as they grow) and let it go from there.

the hardest part would be if you wanted to change the watering based on the saturation, as that would require physically changing the leads in the moisture sensor

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+1 on the solenoid - I've used a similar one and it works great in conjunction with a smart outlet like this:

I've used GE but others have reported success with this unit as well.

Are you automating just for fun? Because IMO a 5 pot herb garden is not worth the complexity and effort to automate based on soil moisture. Like spaces where a dumb motion light works just as well as a connected dimmer + sensor without the complexity or maintenance.

A simple programmable timer controlling a drip system that runs 5-10 mins 2x a day won't use very much water. I like the Rainbird line a lot.

could even skip the outlet. i specified the ZEN16/17 because it can be powered with 12V. break that 12V to one of the relays, then send that to the solenoid, and you're in business. this is actually how i'm controlling one of my 12V devices.

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That's a good idea too! I did my garden thing before I knew about those. I have 2 Zen 17's and one of the Zen 16. I may give it a shot thanks for the idea.. mmmm

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Just to throw out an alternative, I bought an Aerogarden Harvest 360 a while ago. It's a hydroponic garden that allows you to "plant" 6 different herbs. It automatically waters and provides light. I just have to refill the water and add plant food periodically. I've been happy with it and frequently have more herbs than I know what to do with. I don't know where you're located but Kohls has it for $20 off making it $80.