If you want more details on why the basics are set up a certain way, there are plenty of great instructables both here and all over the web, so I won't reinvent the wheel in this one, but this should be everything you need to get up & running.
Not starting with a pre-built plastic container as the main housing means some extra steps, time, and care, but for me the final product is worth it.
Step 1: Gather materials
- (3) found dresser drawers
***Before you get the other materials, take careful measurements and know what you're working with. The length and width of any drawer determines the size of the screen/basket(s) you'll need; the height of the bottom drawer determines the height of the ABS pipes, etc.
- 1 piece of 2" diameter PVC pipe (length should be the total height of all drawers stacked, or slightly longer)
- 3 pieces of 3" diameter ABS pipe (about 1/3 of the total height)
- 2 plastic baskets (or something stiff and porous enough to serve as a nontoxic, waterproof, weight-bearing screen)
- outdoor stain & sealant combo wood finish, or paint for waterproofing
- wood glue
- utility knife
- wire, string, or cable ties
- landscape tarp, opaque plastic bag, or river rocks
- potting mix
- plant(s) or seed(s)
- painter's tape (to prevent bleeding)
- tarp or old newspapers (for easy cleanup)
- river stones or rocks (as one more layer between the soil & water reservoir, and as a topsoil cover)
- Leatherman (it just feels good)
*from the hardware store, .99 store, nursery, your local curb, or the Craigslist free section
Step 2: Remove hardware & bottoms
Step 3: Stack, glue & sand
I used a cinderblock for weight while the glue set, since I didn't have large enough clamps, but anything heavy with a flat base should work. Wipe off any excess wood glue before it dries.
The original plan was to stain each one separately to prevent dripping/bleeding, but the timing was such that I needed to take up less space, so I ended up assembled them first and just using painter's tape instead.
Step 4: Stain & seal
Step 5: Drill holes & cut screen
I also used holes at the bottom of the fill tube instead of cutting it at an angle, only because the drill was out and it serves the same purpose of allowing water to flow into the reservoir.
I needed 2 baskets to fill in the extra length of the drawer, so I did the same (see photos) to both, cut down the edge, and laid one on top of the other. Yours may be a different length or from a different material, as long as it serves as a screen and ends up fitting snugly against all sides.
Use one of the ABS pipes to mark a spot for the overflow hole, then drill. This is to allow excess water to flow out, so your roots will never be water-logged.
Step 6: Cut, connect & attach the insides
Cut inside the lines to allow some space to help support the weight of the soil. Some designs only use one pipe as the wicking chamber and the others as pure support (uncut at the top), but I decided to try using all 3.
Use wire, string or cable ties to attach the wicking chambers and fill tube to the screen.
Once all drawers are completely dry and assembled, place the screen, wicking chambers and fill tube unit inside and layer with river stones or small rocks.
Step 7: Add soil, plants & topsoil covering
Transplant something you already have, or follow the directions on the seed packet(s) to start something new. I chose these peppers since they were the most in need of room to grow.
Add more soil and enough fertilizer for the size of your container. Leave at least an inch from the brim for the topsoil cover, which could be a piece of landscape tarp, opaque plastic bag, or more river rocks.
Step 8: Soak it, sit back & watch it grow
After that, all you have to do is use the fill tube maybe once a week, watering until some spills out the overflow hole, sit back & watch it grow.