Last week was all about spring cleaning – tidying up my smart home mess – and this week I’ve been doing the other thing everyone tries to do to at this time of year as the weather gets better: sorting out the garden.
And while I won’t bore you with details of my new garden fence paint, the new plants we’ve opted for, or the new brick trim on the flower beds (London Yellow Stock by the way, a very nice effect), I will get you up to speed with my smart garden improvements.
First up, I’ve got big plans to install a heck of a lot of Wi-Fi connected gadgetry in my back yard over the next few weeks so I’ve decided that I needed my internet connection to be stronger outside of my house.
I’ve mentioned before how I’ve got a remote office (a shed with a desk) at the end of my garden and how I’ve got this wired up to the router in my house courtesy of a buried Ethernet cable. I get Wi-Fi in my office as this wired connection plugs into a Sky Q Mini box that acts as a hotspot, and I’ve of course got Wi-Fi in the house too.
So, while I do get some connectivity in the garden – if I’m close to the house it picks up the Wi-Fi from there and as I move nearer the end of the garden it grabs the signal from the office – it’s not brilliant. With plans for more devices leeching on to this under-strain connection, as well as BIG PLANS to stream the World Cup in glorious HD on an iPad in the garden this summer, it really needs to be better.
Enter the TP-Link CPE510 – an outdoor access point that replicates my home Wi-Fi network (with its own 2.4GHz and 5GHz BSSIDs). The beauty of this weatherproof Wi-Fi extender is that it works via PoE – Power over Ethernet. That means I could squeeze a thin Ethernet cable out of the same hole the Ethernet comes into my office to power it up – there's no need to worry about a weatherproof power socket being nearby. I simply mounted it on a fence post next to the office.
By using the same Wi-Fi SSID as the network in my house and office, I’ve essentially just added another node to my Wi-Fi mesh system (although it’s not officially part of the mesh), so my mobile devices – tablets and smartphones – can just hop from one access point to another as I leave the house and walk into the garden; and my permanently outdoor devices have a stronger signal to work with. On that note I’ve already found that my Nest Cam Outdoor is a lot more responsive and faster to spring into action.
The main garden action this week though was the installation of the Gardena Smart Sileno City Set: A robot lawnmower (main image).
Gardena is part of the Husqvarna group – an absolute Goliath in the garden tech game – and the Smart Sileno City Set is designed to be a simple to use, easy to set up, robot lawnmower for urban folk without humongous lawns; hence its snazzy name. In the box you get the lawnmower itself, the charging base station (you need outside power if you want a robot lawnmower), a smart box for app control and a reel of cable…
Now, I’ll let you into a little secret. For the last 12 months I’ve actually had the Husqvarna Automower 450X mowing my lawn for me – the company’s top of the line machine that costs north of $3,000. This beast was installed for me by Husqvarna last year, with the border wire (that reel of cable I mentioned) all put in place by a professional. The border wire basically creates the zone in which the robot lawnmower operates – it stops it going into the flower beds, mounting the patio, that sort of thing.
Now, the Gardena Smart Sileno City Set is designed as an out of the box product for consumers. You can pay for a pro-installation but you can also just set it up and do the border wire yourself, which would involve a bit of digging. However, to my absolute joy I found that the cable reel in the box of the Gardena machine was exactly the same as the green cable that already borders my garden from where I had the Automower running – I hadn’t got around to digging it all up. So it was just a case of popping the cables into the charging station.
It’s only been running a couple of days but early impressions of the Gardena are promising. It’s not as quick, quiet or clever as the Automower (I had to bury an additional guide wire to get it home okay) but it’s still terrific. Robot lawn mowers still feel very first-gen, like robot vacuum cleaners did a few years back, but for anyone who hates mowing the lawn, especially in the summer when it seems to need a trim every few days, they are a real life changer.
Basically, you just let them go every day for a couple of hours with the idea being it’s just maintaining a grass height rather than hacking away at a garden that’s not been mowed for weeks. It’s best to do a ‘proper’ mow yourself first but then you’re away. Sure, you’ll need to do some strimming and tidying up here and there, but they do mean an end to back breaking mowing sessions.
The Smart Sileno City Set mows lawn areas up to 500 square metres and you can set schedules, change settings and the like all within an easy to use app. It's great.
But I want more. I want automated watering of the plants, I want smart outdoor lighting, I want the security beefed up and I want to know if my soil levels are okay for the plants I've got planted (honestly). The good news is there's smart garden tech for all of this – and I'll be testing a load over the coming weeks.
Now read - Week 7