In short, a wicking bed consists of a basin of gravel with rich soil on top of it. There is a pipe set into the gravel, which bends and rises to the surface for watering. This is how you water your plants. The water settles in the gravel and is wicked up by the soil to the plants' roots. It is very conservative with water, as it doesn't lose as much to evaporation as surface watering.
It's easy to make and it doesn't take up much space. You can plant it intensively due to the richness of the soil.
For more detailed instructions, see here.
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Step 1: Frame
- Choose your site and dig a hole the size you want your wicking bed to be, 12" deep.
- At each corner dig a hole 1 ft deep, and put a 2" x 2" post in each hole.
- On the long side of the wicking bed, put a post every 2 1/2 ft.
- Screw 2" x 2" boards in between the posts.
Step 2: Gravel Bed
- Line the hole with black plastic, vinyl tarp and shade cloth.
- Snake 4" flexible drainage pipe throughout the hole.
- Put the elbow on the end of the flexible drainage hose and connect a 3 ft long piece of 4" PVC pipe to the elbow, so that the PVC is upright.
- Fill the hole with gravel.
Step 3: Soil
- Mix a rich soil, with some compost, worm castings and dirt. Add some wood ash if your soil is very acidic.
- Fill the shade cloth walls with dirt, 1 to 1 1/2 ft above the gravel. Compact it as you go.
Step 4: Shade Cloth/Greenhouse
Attach either shade cloth or greenhouse plastic to the frame, both on the sides and roof. This will keep your plants at the right temperature and free from pests. When the plants are flowering, you can lift up a part of the shade cloth to allow pollinators inside.
Step 5: Planting
- Make a grid on the surface of the wicking bed, so that you can plant intensively in each square.
- Fill the wicking bed with water via the PVC pipe that is sticking up. Look inside the pipe and fill to the top of the elbow.
- Plant your seedlings in the soil. You will want to water the young plants from the top until their roots get established.
- Fill the wicking bed once a week, or when it seems like the soil is getting dry.