To set up your own wireless sensor network you need access to the Internet which is usually provided by connecting a “router” connected to your cable, DSL or satellite Internet modem in your farm office or home. A router with a wireless option allows it to be a WiFi “hot spot” and provide access for mobile devices in the vicinity.
Some wireless sensors can communicate directly via WiFi to your Internet router, but most use a different frequency and connect to a “gateway” device which may be plugged into your Internet router with a cable or talk to the router via WiFi. For sensors too far away from your Internet router you can use a gateway that sends data to the Internet via the cell phone towers. It requires a SIM card and data plan just like a smart phone.
If there is no cell phone service satellite versions are available but at higher cost. Another alternative is to plug a wireless gateway directly into a USB port of a computer but then your access to sensor readings will be limited to that computer unless that computer is connected to the Internet so it can send the data to the Internet.
A basic sensor network where the sensors are mostly indoors and are within a few hundred feet of your Internet router and there is little radio interference especially from metal is relatively easy to set up yourself for temperature and humidity monitoring. But you won't buy the sensors from Amazon or your local store. You'll need to work with an online vendor or consultant that specializes in the technology and can provide the components, support and assistance you'll need. (See the Vendors/Consultants section of this site.) When your sensors will be long distances from your Internet router or there is much interference or sensors need to be hardened for the field a sensor consultant that can test the equipment on your farm and recommend a network design can be helpful. Some manufacturers and consultants are available in New England. See the vendors section.
It will take some investment of your time to set up and, more importantly, your time to manage and use effectively. If you’re unsure of the effort involved you can start with a very simple network and expand it over time.
Managing the technology is not particularly difficult. You or a member of your crew needs to know enough about a computer to install a software program plug something into a router or assign a WiFi ID and use a browser, tablet or smart phone to view your sensor readings. You'll find a smart phone such as an iPhone or Android phone to be a big help in monitoring your sensors and especially receiving alerts when conditions exceed the limits you've set. You'll need to change batteries in sensors occasionally (usually once a season) and make sure all components of your network are communicating with each other. As with your existing computer when there is loss of power you'll need to be sure everything is back up and running. Sensors can get run over by tractors, invaded by insects, destroyed by weather, etc. In other words, the same things that can happen to your crops can happen to your sensors, so your sensors will become one more thing to manage on an on-going basis on your farm. Plus, as your crops mature you will be moving some sensors to other locations. Ideally you will have someone on your crew that can manage and maintain the sensors. Once installed it only takes a daily check to make sure everything is working well. And in fact, unless you have a major power outage, the system can be set up so that you are notified by smart phone if a component is failing.