Wicking Worm Beds

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Introduction: Wicking Worm Beds

How to construct garden Wicking Worm Beds
Water once a week in summer and less during the rest of the year!

"The wicking worm bed is a highly productive growing system which not only produces more food from limited water, but also recycles waste organic material to provide plant nutrient and capture carbon. The essence is to form an underground reservoir of water or pond contained by a waterproof container or liner below the surface of the soil. Plants are productive because they have a continuous supply of water and nutrients." Colin Austin

Water doesn't evaporate in the bottom of the wicking bed it 'wicks' up to the roots, and, the top soil will stay soft, under the mulch. Now, we'll only need to water once a week in summer, and less during the rest of the year.

DIY eBooklet now available (USD$4.50): http://www.maireid.com/wickingbeds.html
Purchase my fully illustrated instructional eBooklet.
"Water for Food: The wicking worm bed revolution"
This booklet provides detailed information, including exact measurements and lists of materials needed for constructing timber-framed Wicking Worm Beds, plus everything you need to know about adding compost worms to the wicking beds.



Step 1: The Box

Step 1.
We removed the soil from our existing 5x3 meter garden bed and then leveled and terraced the ground for the two new beds, which must be completely level for even water distribution. We put a layer of soft-sifted soil on the bottom for cushioning, and created a waterproof bed for the plastic sheeting (make sure no sharp objects can cut into the plastic sheeting).

Step 2: Plastic Lined Water Reservoir

Step 2.
We added the agi-pipe, stretching the full length of the bed. (agi-pipe or agricultural piping has holes along the ridges to allow water seepage.)

Step 3: Adding Agi-pipe and Screening Rocks

Step 3.
We covered the bottom of the bed to just above the pipe with the screening rocks, then placed the PVC pipe into the 'mouth' of agi-pipe, and then we covered the rocks with the shade cloth, to separate the soil from the rocks and pipe.

NOTE: When we finished the beds, we cut the pvc pipe down close to the top of the bed. Someone suggested covering the pvc pipe opening with a net - good idea. BTW, you can see the reservoir water level via the pvc pipe

Step 4: Sifting Old Soil Back Into Bed

Step 5.
Then we sifted the old garden soil into the bed, removing stones, seeds, weeds and roots.
This was backbreaking, tedious work,bending, and reaching out with a heavy tray of soil, then shaking it to sift it out, so we put new soil in the second bed. Easy!

Step 5: Renewing Old Soil

Step 6.
We turned in a generous mixture of our own organic compost, mushroom compost, lime, and blood & bone, leaving a space at the top for mulch.

Step 6: Adding Mulch

Step 7.
We filled the top with a layer of organic sugarcane mulch, and drilled drainage holes. (see letter, below, from Colin Austin re. options for placement of drainage holes.) When it was finished, we added the water through the pvc pipe - testing how long it took to fill the bed to the drainage hole, and measured the water level in the pvc pipe, so we can know in future, by looking into the pvc pipe, when the water is low.

Step 7: Planting Winter Crops

Step 8.
Next, after a couple of days break, (to heal our sore bodies and attend to our work in the studio) we built the second (terraced) bed on top of the old garden bed soil, (no more digging for us! :), using the remaining screening rocks to make a gravel pathway between. We waited until the waxing moon to plant above ground winter veggies, using a combination of seedlings started in our glass house, and seedlings from the local nursery.

DIY eBooklet now available (USD$4.50): http://www.maireid.com/wickingbeds.html
Purchase my fully illustrated instructional eBooklet.
"Water for Food: The wicking worm bed revolution"
This booklet provides detailed information, including exact measurements and lists of materials needed for constructing timber-framed Wicking Worm Beds, plus everything you need to know about adding compost worms to the wicking beds. 


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    65 Discussions

    Very nice post! Thanks!

    Hello ,, i have made the same design but with a different apporach ,,, i added CLAY BALLS instead of gravel.. Will it work the same ? Thank you.

    Here's another interesting way to create a wicking bed using rammed earth or recycled materials with ferrocement...

    http://www.mortarsprayer.com/wicking-beds-made-with-stucco-sprayer/

    wicking bed stucco 1.jpg

    was just wondering how something like this would work for strawberries. my wife wants to plant strawberries but i dont know how shallow strawberries grow. what thickness should i make the dirt

    1 reply

    I suggest drilling a hole in a ping-pong ball and gluing a wooden dowel in there,
    if a ping-pong ball fits into your pvc pipe you can then have a visual indicator of the internal water level by how much of the dowel sticks out

    1 reply

    Maybe next time it might be easier to sift using the screen material thats used for windows.

    You're not serious with that sifter are you? Tomorrow, in the light, I'll go out and take a picture of mine and post it to the thread. Nice planter boxes though. Where'd you get the wood for them, and what kind is it?

    8 replies

    Crazy eh! We do it all the time in smaller spaces. :) We actually removed a huge lawn on the west side of the house. Ben did most of the hard labour - it took 6 weeks and 2 hours per day to sift what we call kooch grass (Bermuda Grass (Cynodon dactylon) is an introduced weed to Australia) and other weed roots out of the soil. We did that in 2005, and haven't seen a weed since! So, it is worth the effort. The trouble with doing it over the boxes is that we had to bend over carrying the weight of the soil in the tray. Better to put fresh soil in anyway. (One has the old soil, so it will be interesting to compare results. Are you using wicking beds too? We used Red Gum (Eucalyptus). It is super hard wood, and doesn't rot on the ground like treated pine does. We got it from a timber yard in Bayswater, in eastern Melbourne. If that is near you, I can give you the actual address.

    Hi mate! To clean your water, you may use bamboo charcoal. It's easy to do.
    Use steel drums as oven, the bamboo inside of coarse. Close the steel and put under fire letting out a little steam. Watch until the bamboo turns to charcoal.

    When bamboo turns charcoal put in bags (or not) and inside water. Works something like activated charcoal. Replace the bags from time to time. Other charcoal type makes the same job. Bamboo charcoal is better.
    The old charcoal can be used as powder to make compost.

    If you've there a plant named Eichhornia crassipes, put it in your tank. Well, it needs sun, but makes a net on water, covering all area. Its roots take all hard chemicals and clean water too.
    See it: long roots=clean water, short roots =dirty water.

    Eichhornia crassipes here:
    http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/plants/weeds/aqua010.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_hyacinth

    This plant may be used to feed cattle, sheep, as hay.

    I don't have wicking beds. Some raised beds but none that wick. Really I have to raise my plants to keep them out of water. Sadly no Eucalyptus trees around here either. It rained here yesterday so I couldn't get a picture of my sifter, but I managed to get outside today to take one. And another reversed wetter view, from earlier this year. We set a monthly record for rainfall right before it was taken. For scale the frame of my sifter is made out of 2"x4" lumber, so it is about 2x3 feet. I can sift a level wheelbarrow in less than 5 minutes with it.

    Sifter.jpgSifterFlood.jpg

    I have got to make one of these. I assume the frame has something lilke chicken wire in it? I have been using a small plastic garden sieve like Maireid's. Do you return the coarse stuff to the compost heap? I am thinking of wicking beds as a robust, low tech hydroponic system, the coarse portion of my compost is very woody- an ideal medium to go in the bootom of the beds with the finer stuff on top.

    OK the mesh I use is 1/4 inch called hardware cloth. It is welded wire.

    The wood frame is half lapped 2x4s.

    The way I have my sifter rigged it easily dumps off to the side. When the pile gets too large I shovel it out of the way I guess in the general direction of another rotting pile.

    How my sifter is rigged:

    A piece of light gauge coated steel cable (got mine from around a defunct pool cover) thrown over round top support bar run to hooks into each end corner. Hooks threaded into sides of sifter frame, pointing down. Set sifter up on 2x4 blocking on wheelbarrow over where you park it then I use a simple knot in the wire to the corner hooks.

    Knot looks like this:
    http://www.finehomebuilding.com/CMS/uploadedimages/Images/Homebuilding/Departments/021200bs104-01_xlg.jpg

    Wow! That is amazing! It took me a moment to understand what this is. :) Great! And, yes, the wicking beds are really designed for dry areas - and we are definitely in one here in Melbourne. Where are you based? It looks like a rainforest area. We do have several rainforest regions near us.

    You sound impressed with my sifter. It only took me about a half an hour to hang up. I don't think I live in a rain forest, possibly a subtropical one. Though where I'm at it is a bit too low lying. I live in Delaware USA.

    Hello, I have followed the instructions (nice and easy to understand thanks), however now that it is winter I have realised that I forgot to put in drainage holes. You mention putting them in at the end but don't go into any specifics. I was wondering what size, how you stop soil draining out of the hole and how many holes. Hoping you can help as I will soon have raised pools instead of gardens!

    2 replies

    Hello Melanie, We made the hole level with the shade cloth, at the opposite end of the bed, — from the pvc watering pipe. We drilled a hole and put in a hose-size pipe with a screen around it to keep soil in. I'd better add this to the instructions. Thanks for asking

    Hi mareid, thanks for the information and the quick response, we'll try that this weekend! Cheers