Introduction: Self Watering Bucket Garden
Okay I just want to say that my thumb is not green, every garden I start looks good to begin with but dies a slow death (usually from lack of water). Also this is not my design, but I want to make life a little easier for anyone who is interested in building this without buying a kit from the designer. I spent a lot of time going from store to store and going online to get the needed supplies for putting this together. This is for the gardener who tends to forget about a vital aspect of gardening, watering their plants. I for one have been guilty of building my plants up, and then when life gets crazy, I kill my plants (accidentally). The idea behind this kit is to simply keep your water bucket full, and the rest will take care of itself. You can figure out which plants to grow and the growing medium you want to use. This is an experiment for me this year. I will probably make tweaks for next year.
Parts list (I found my parts at 6 different stores/online)
6 - 5 gallon buckets (I used food grade buckets from Walmart)
1 - Water storage bucket (I used a 5 gallon bucket but will probably upgrade next year)
6 - Reusable grocery bags
6 - Colanders
1 - 2 gallon bucket with lid
1 - Float valve
Small section of garden hose (mine is a few feet long and found at Walmart)
1/2" female coupling (Found at Home Depot)
Female garden hose adapter (Found at Walmart)
Rubber bands (Hold out for silicone bands if at all possible or use twine)
A roll of plastic sheeting (another Walmart find)
Growing medium (I'm using peat moss and perilite, I don't have a green thumb so research a good medium)
Your plants of choice (I'm going with tomato plants)
Step 1: Preparing Your Buckets
Before any modifications are made to your buckets, make sure that your colanders will fit in your buckets. You may have to get some shears and trim the edges to get them to fit. I couldn't find any colanders that were decently priced, so I bought mixing bowls instead and drilled a few 1/2" holes to allow water flow. Using shears, I trimmed the edges, and they slid right in the 5 gallon buckets.
Next, you will need to drill holes in the 5 gallon food grade buckets that are to be used as the planters. This will allow airflow for your plants. I measured roughly 6 inches from the bottom and went up. I drilled 48 holes in each bucket for airflow (each hole was roughly 7/8", depends on how drill happy I got). Okay, now that you are good and covered with plastic bucket shavings, its time to drill one more hole per bucket. This hole is for your water inlet. I drilled 5/8" holes roughly an inch from the bottom of bucket. I got drill happy again and some were slightly bigger.
Now you can put your rubber grommets in each water inlet hole. They should fit snugly on the bucket. I added a barbed "tee" to each grommet and checked for water leaks. And yes, I did find slight leaks. This is where the aquarium grade silicone comes in. Rub the silicone where the rubber grommet comes in contact with the bucket on the inside and outside of the bucket. Make sure everything is dry and give the silicone time to dry and cure completely. After trial and error, I would recommend you connect your water tubing to your buckets and add silicone where your "tee" fittings are inserted into the grommets. My water pipe was slightly distorted and added extra stress to the grommet/"tee" site, causing leaking. After a little more leaking, I decided to apply silicone to basically every connector that has water running through it. Now while you are waiting for the silicone to cure let's move on to the water level bucket and water storage container.
Step 2: Water Level and Storage Buckets
Grab the 2 gallon bucket and drill a 5/8" hole about an inch from the bottom. Apply a grommet, and make sure to silicone this one as well. Now to the desired water level. I chose to put my level about 5" from the bottom of the bucket. I drilled a hole to accommodate the float valve and installed my float valve (oh yeah, time for more silicone!). I couldn't find an adapter to fit on the valve, so I went and pieced together some fittings (the ones I used in the parts list are bolded, and I took a picture of them and I labeled it for easier recognition). Now I have a place to connect my garden hose. Whew! That seems like a lot of work so far, don't worry it's almost over.
Let's make your water storage bucket. I used a 5 gallon bucket, but you can use whatever size you want. I ordered a rain barrel spigot and did the easiest part of this whole project: I drilled a hole (the instructions on the packaging said what size), and put the spigot in place. It didn't leak at all, so no silicone. Now my garden hose connects to the water storage bucket and the water level bucket.
Step 3: Time to Plant Already?!?!
Now that enough time has passed for the silicone to cure, let's get planting! Put a colander in each bucket. All of the buckets should be connected in line with each other. Have the water in the two gallon bucket fill up to where the float valve cuts off the water supply (you can adjust the level with the little joint on the valve arm). Hopefully there will be no water leaks after using silicone on basically every fitting.
Now go get your reusable grocery bag or burlap sack and fit each one inside of your 5 gallon buckets, trimming off any excess from the bag/sack that is above the bucket rim. Next add your peat moss mixture, making sure to soak each layer you add until you get level to the top of the bucket. Add the plastic sheet around the top of your bucket and secure it with the bands of your choice. Now cut an "X" into the middle of the sheet (where the plant will be residing). Do this to each bucket you have prepared, and hopefully you will have plants that will be easier to keep watered (and many delicious tomatoes). Good luck. This is time consuming, but at the end of each year you will have the majority of the supplies to reuse for easier and quicker set up for the next growing season.
Alaska Grow Buckets store You can buy the kits from a site that's linked to the website, but I wanted to go from scratch.