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.