The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Meat thermometer as a soil thermometer

Soil temperature under the snowI've been itching for a soil thermometer, but haven't wanted to pay for shipping and couldn't find one locally.  When we were in Wal-Mart the other day, I stumbled across a meat thermometer in the cooking section that I suspected would do the job.  As far as I can tell, the only difference between a typical meat thermometer and a soil thermometer is that the latter tends to measure lower temperatures, and the Mainstays Quick-Response Thermometer goes all the way down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit so that you can test meat temperatures in the freezer as well as on the grill --- perfect!

Deep bedding temperatureI gave my new soil thermometer a test run in the chicken coop's deep bedding yesterday and was highly impressed to see that composting action raises the temperature from the exterior soil temperature (27 degrees Fahrenheit) to a toasty 58 degrees!  Just think how useful this thermometer will be to help me figure out when the soil is warm enough to plant peas (35 to 40 degrees.)  Usually, I just put the seeds in the ground two or three times throughout the late winter in hopes that I'll hit on the right soil temperature by chance, and I suspect adding a little science to the mix will save me the $7.97 cost of the thermometer in lowered seed costs during the first year.

Now, if I can just remember not to stick my chicken-poop-covered thermometer into a juicy steak....

Our homemade chicken waterer rounds our our flock's comfort with unlimited clean water.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I think the problem you might have is that the resolution isn't very good in the temperature range that you would use for measuring soil temperature, but on the other hand it looks like it would have multiple applications like checking meat and compost temperatures.
Comment by zimmy Sat Jan 8 10:20:33 2011
Good point! The hash marks are every two degrees, which means you can read the dial to about 1 degree accurately. That feels pretty good to me, but I can see how in some situations you'd want a more accurate temperature.
Comment by anna Sat Jan 8 13:51:23 2011

You can check the callibration of the thermometer by sticking it first in a mixture of ice and water and second in boiling water. If I'm not mistaken these two situations should correspond to the two red lines on the dial.

By mixing measured amounts of freezing and boiling water you should be able to create water of temperatures inbetween as well.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sat Jan 8 16:58:33 2011
Good point! At least with the freezing test --- since we live a good bit above sea level, I wouldn't expect the boiling point on the thermometer to be spot on.
Comment by anna Sat Jan 8 17:51:31 2011
P.S. I appreciate you not chewing me out about the difference between accurate and precise. I really do know the difference even if I use the terms wrong from time to time. :-)
Comment by anna Sat Jan 8 18:11:24 2011

Just spent the last few hours looking for compost thermometer for my new compost bin. [AreoBin 400] Your suggestion sent me running to my BBQ to check the meat thermo. which has a probe and transmitter and remote receiver. Put probe in freezer and it went down to -12 C befor it displaye error and all way to over 200 C in one degree increments. As we do not do spit roasts any more I will use it for the compost and monitor the temp from my favorite chair!

Comment by John Wed May 11 23:35:21 2011
Glad I could help! Our meat thermometer has been working like a charm all spring and has helped us get the garden in at the optimal soil temperatures.
Comment by anna Thu May 12 08:02:23 2011

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