I recently moved into an apartment where my landlord said that I could use a small plot of land for a garden this year.  I had been reading through a number of instructables on self watering planters and came across a design for a Wicking Bed Garden.  They are designed for arid environments, but I figure that one would likely work here in Connecticut.  I also bought and read "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew, from which I got my inspiration for my (limited) soil amendment.

Here were my two primary information sources when I was trying to puzzle out my design:


Step 1: A Bit of Background

There's a few reasons that I thought the wicking bed idea was interesting. First and foremost is the lazyness factor - I forget to water plants all of the time. The idea of having a large resevoir of water under my planter to mitigate my inherent inability to remember to keep my plants alive was very attractive.

In reading about Square Foot Gardening and the wicking beds, both sources indicated that having uncompacted soil was desirable. In my mind, not adding the majority of the water on top of the soil seems like a very good start in keeping the soil uncompacted.

Another tidbit that came up was that of nutrient leeching. One of the claims regarding wicking beds is that because the water is largely contained within the raised bed. Because the overall direction of flow is upward, the watering action does not flush nutrients away from the garden and out of the soil (as run-off to nearby streams or else just out of the cultivated area). I'm not sure that this would be a significant effect within the time frame that I am expecting to use this system, but it does seem like a realistic concern, especially in the case where the installer has to spend significant time with soil ammendment to achieve good productive soil.
<p>Hi, I'm interested in that main image above of the finished wicking bed. I'm from Gardening Australia magazine, and we're looking for an image like that to possibly use in a story. Would you be able to contact Ally Jackson at <a href="mailto:allyjackson@nextmedia.com.au" rel="nofollow">allyjackson@nextmedia.com.au</a>. Many thanks.</p>
I've since moved from that apartment, so I don't have access to show you any recent pictures. I have made a new wicking bed garden at my new house. I have attached an image of that from this spring, before I planted anything in it.<br>Good luck!
<p>Help, wick bed failure! I filled the reservoir with water, waited a little while and then checked the soil -- bone dry, no wicking action whatsoever. I'm wondering if my overflow hole is maybe too low -- it's at the top of the gravel and I'm thinking that it's overflowing out the hole before the layer of burlap has a chance to get saturated and do its wicking. Does that sound like it might be the problem? It means I'm going to have to empty out my bed (all 9 of them, oy!) and remove some of the gravel so that everything sits lower.</p>
<p>Before you do that, it is possible that the dirt is too dry for the capilary wicking action to begin. I'm starting seedlings this year, and getting freshly unpacked potting soil to actually wet with water is a slow process - it mostly just floats on the water I pour in. You could try spraying water on top and trying to soak the soil through, then see if the wicking action starts. I built an improved model Wicking bed (better drain design, etc) 2 years ago that I have yet to do a write-up on , I should probably do that, eh?</p>
<p>Okay, I'll give that a try -- thx! But on a conceptual level, how can their be wicking action if the water level is below the burlap layer? What can the burlap wick?</p>
The gravel stays moist throughout when it is partially filled with water. My understanding is that the water can wick up through it to a certain extent, then it wets the fabric, which in turn wets the soil. If i remember correctly, <br>http://www.maireid.com/wickingbeds.html had more info on how far up water will wick through soil. Good luck!
<p>Okay, I'll give that a try -- thx! But on a conceptual level, how can their be wicking action if the water level is below the burlap layer? What can the burlap wick?</p>
<p>I've seen another site for building a wicking bed (but they didn't give very good step by step and no measurements). But they did mention putting landscape fabric over the plastic to cushion the plastic from the rocks, and then another layer between the rocks and the dirt to prevent soil from setteling into the rocks (but at that point I am confused on how the water wicks up to the garden).</p>
The landscape fabric acts like a coffee filter, it seems. The solid stuff like dirt and rocks can't pass through, but water passes through fairly easily (in both directions). The landscape fabric just being in contact with the wet rocks seems to be enough to keep the soil moist.<br>
How did your plants fare in this set-up? I've been trying to do wicking gardens but the soil seems to get too damp and my plants rot. Since you said that the soil is constantly damp, have you encountered this with your garden?
I did not have problems with root rot. I'm not sure exactly why. Maybe because the soil was fairly loose and friable? Possibly because air could get to the roots via the fill pipe? Either way, my basil, lettuce and tomatoes grew like gangbusters! Good luck :)
Hello, I just read your posting and really enjoyed it. How was your end result? I tried a square foot garden this year and honestly I didn't like it. I felt everything was crammed in the spaces. But, I think I will build another frame for next year, Lord Willing and just plant in rows. I m ight also make the thingie with the PVC pipe to water the plants, hopefully I can do it. I am too going to do like you did and not work up the garden like I normally do, I'll just do a Lasagna garden. I'm thinking of doing some of it this fall with either cardboard or newspaper and let it sit thru the winter. Here's another thing I did one year and that's plant potatoe peeling in a bale of straw. I poked a hole in the straw and poured in some potting soil and put in a hand full of peelings then covered them with soil. I was shocked they grew. When it came time to harvest my potatoes I only had a few, but I think I would have had more if I put more dirt when I poked the hole in the straw. This year I was thinking of planting some flowers in a bale of straw and see how that turns out. <br>Thanks for sharing. PAM
That's a good use for old bathtubs! no worries about those leaking :)<br>You're right about the PVC glue - I used it mostly to make sure that nothing would wiggle apart or twist out of square as I was moving it around (since I assembled it in my basement).
I think you're spot on with that - after a few weeks, I needed considerably less water to keep the bed topped off. For the most part, the amount of rainfall here in Connecticut was more than enough to keep my modest number of plants healthy.<br><br>From a lazyness perspective you can't beat it - I only had to water once per week at most! Also makes vacations a bit easier in the summer.
I also noted that my bed when first filled dried out heaps and needed heaps of water. I then realised that the water is being wicked up in to the bed and that is why the water was needing to be fill so much . Now that the bed is constantly 'damp' I do not need to fill quite so much.<br><br>Still definitly HEAPS and HEAPS less that conventional watering on a conventional garden.
Just a point to consider is that you do NOT need to glue the PVC as it is not under any presure.<br><br>It wpould save you a little money a buch of time and possible frustration and also reduce the chemicals in the water from 'off gassing'.<br><br>Just my 3.2 cents worth.<br><br>By the way ... I have three wicking beds made out of old bath tubs full of corn, spring onions, basil, corriander, capsicum and other goodies.<br><br>Cheers.
I've never seen a SIP (sub-irrigated planter) this big. Very well done -- a really useful design and a great improvement on square-foot gardening alone.<br><br>The one thing I wonder about, though, is the lack of an overflow hole, which is part of SIP design. It should be possible to put one in, although since the PVC is such a small diameter it could be hard to get it right. Maybe larger diameter PVC or just using perforated ag pipe, which is much larger in diameter would allow it. <br><br>Also, since ag pipe is flexible, you could zig-zag it through the box so that the middle area is irrigated equally with the perimeter.<br><br><br>
Tthe early bird gets the incomplete Instructable :) I have since completed the construction of this project (part of which involved adding this hole).<br><br>I think that I agree that a larger diameter PVC pipe would have been better. It would require more gravel to be purchased though - so I couldn't have fit it in one car load!
Nice job! Here's an example of the type of pipe I was talking about:<br><br>http://www.flickr.com/photos/greenscaper/4933526360/<br><br>Whether you use that or PVC this project is a winner.<br><br>
I thought I may be able to help make your project even easier and more appealing by using Gronomics products. You can see them at www.gronomics.com or http://.facebook.com/gronomics <br> <br>Happy Gardening!
That would certainly by more attractive than my frame! However, the price tag ($230 for the unfinished 20 square foot product - closest in capacity to my 24 square feet) is significantly more than the two boards and screws that I bought<br><br>From a longevity standpoint, I'm sure something like the Gronomics frame will last longer than my frame - it does appear to be of a nice durable construction.

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