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Author Topic: Wicking Beds  (Read 5764 times)

Offline Lesgold

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Wicking Beds
« on: September 25, 2023, 02:52:17 am »
Hi Folks

I thought I?d show you a test wicking bed that I made from half a 200 litre plastic drum. I constructed it about 12 months ago and have been testing it during that time. When we got home from our holiday 6 weeks ago, I pulled out some old plants that had gone to seed, added some worm castings to the soil and planted some lettuce seedlings. As you can see from the photo, the plants are coming along really well. We are in drought at the moment and it looks like the upcoming summer will be hot and dry. The garden will take too much water so I will tend to downsize this season. The advantage of the wicking bed is that water is not wasted or lost to the same extent as it is in an open garden bed. The plants draw water from below as it is needed. I might build a couple more over the spring to grow some herbs and vegetables. Is there anyone else out there using this type of garden bed? Would love to learn more about them.

Offline The15thMember

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2023, 12:56:54 pm »
I've never seen anything like that, Les.  That's really interesting. 
I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led.  And through the air, I am she that walks unseen.

Offline Kathyp

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2023, 01:56:36 pm »
I have not either.  Can you explain how you made it and a little more about how it works?  and maybe how it is that you have so much energy  :grin:
Someone really ought to tell them that the world of Ayn Rand?s novel was not meant to be aspirational.

Offline Lesgold

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2023, 06:38:40 pm »
Thanks guys. This test bed has worked really well. I didn?t want to build any more until I was satisfied with their viability. Construction is quite simple. I used a 200 litre drum that was cut in half. A jig saw is the safest way to do this. Both halves can be used if bungs are in place to ensure the beds are sealed. In the bottom of the bed you need to add an air space of some kind that will not allow sand or soil to penetrate. It will hold water. 100mm flexible drainage pipe is often twisted into a donut and used. This pipe is covered with a sock which keeps soil out but allows movement of moisture through the slots in the pipe. In this bed I used an old plastic milk crate as my air space to hold water. It was a little too high so I cut it down a bit and then rapped it in some shade cloth to make the air space. This space will eventually fill with water an act as a reservoir which will provide moisture for the plants. A pipe is connected to this air space to allow filling. The crate is then covered with course sand. The sand layer is just over half the depth of the bed. This is where the wicking occurs. The sand layer remains wet all of the time and draws moisture from the storage area. A layer of shade cloth is placed on top of the sand to prevent soil and sand from mixing. A good quality garden soil is then added to fill the bed. I added some manure, compost and a bit of perlite to my soil to make it just right for the plants. An overflow tube is added to the side of the bed just below the soil level. When the bed is filled with water, you can see water flowing out the overflow tube when the correct level is reached. The overflow tube also comes in handy during periods of heavy rain and prevents water logging of the bed. A layer of mulch is critical to prevent the bed from drying out too quickly in hot weather.  When seedlings are planted into the bed, they are watered from above for a week or so until the root system is established. After that, no watering is required. During cool weather the reservoir is filled once a week but in the hotter weather it is topped up every 4 days. The soil always remains moist and plants thrive. What I like about this system is that it?s water efficient, low maintenance, and eliminates overhead watering. I want to make a couple of beds in the next few weeks before the hot weather arrives. Will post some pics of the construction as they explain the process better than the written word.

Offline Kathyp

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2023, 09:31:10 pm »
Pictures would be great.  I live in a place with lots of water, but my parents place is pretty dry and our hideout has a river and a relatively high water table, but a dry climate.  That place especially could use some low maintenance stuff because we are not there often enough to water plants.
Someone really ought to tell them that the world of Ayn Rand?s novel was not meant to be aspirational.

Offline Lesgold

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2023, 11:00:03 pm »
It?s time to get a couple of beds made so that there will be some salads and veggies ready for Xmas. The first step is to mark the centre line on the drum and cut it in half. I used a portable circular saw but a jig saw or even a handsaw would be a better choice if you don?t feel comfortable or safe using that piece of equipment. The burr that was left on the edge of the cut was then scraped off using the side of a wood chisel. The drum was then rinsed with water to remove any residual plastic shavings. I decided to seal the bungs with silicone and when this dries, I will start on the water reservoir and the overflow.

Offline Lesgold

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #6 on: October 10, 2023, 06:09:10 pm »
The water reservoir is made from an old milk crate. The crate is cut down until it is only 130mm high. A jigsaw was used to do this. The crate will be inverted in the bed. The base of the crate will support the sand and soil placed above it. The crate is now covered with some old shade cloth. It is wrapped just like you would wrap a Xmas present. Tape holds everything in place with all folds covered. Geo fabric can also be used for the wrapping material.

Offline Lesgold

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #7 on: October 10, 2023, 06:20:33 pm »
An overflow hole is now drilled 160mm up from the base of the bed. I use a step drill to do this. The hole size is 22mm in diameter and matches some hydroponic rubber grommets that I purchased last year. You will notice from the photo that 19mm poly joiners are also used. They are a push fit into the grommets. A few cable ties are also required for the project. A small piece of shade cloth is wrapped over one end of the poly joiner. This stops the overflow from filling with soil and clogging. The grommet is pushed through the hole in bed and then the joiner is positioned inside the grommet. A fair amount of pressure is required to do this. A fill pipe is then constructed. I used some old PVC that I had lying around. Size is not critical but it does need to be large enough to allow a garden hose to fit inside. The elbow is glued. Note how a cable tie secures the pipe at the top of the bed.

Offline Kathyp

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2023, 06:23:22 pm »

That helps a lot.  Not only are you handy, but you are a good teacher!
Someone really ought to tell them that the world of Ayn Rand?s novel was not meant to be aspirational.

Offline Lesgold

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #9 on: October 10, 2023, 06:26:39 pm »
Two small cuts are made in the water reservoir shade cloth to allow entry of the fill pipe. Use some tape to close up any holes at the join. You don?t want sand entering this space.  A circle of shade cloth is then cut to a size about 70 to 100mm larger than the size of the wicking bed. This will be used to stop the sand in the bottom of the bed from mixing with the garden soil at the top. I will locate and fill the beds later today.

Offline Lesgold

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #10 on: October 10, 2023, 06:30:12 pm »
Ha, ha. Thanks Kathy. You guessed my former profession before retiring. Pictures tend to explain procedures well and support the written word. I hope this helps.

Offline Lesgold

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #11 on: October 11, 2023, 08:58:27 pm »
Just picked up some course river sand and filled the beds to about 40mm above the reservoir. Notice the overflow is also covered. The overflow also comes in handy during periods of heavy rainfall. It prevents the beds from becoming waterlogged. Unfortunately it may be a long time before that becomes an issue in my area due to the drought. A layer of geo fabric or shade cloth is now placed on top of the sand bed. This will prevent soil and sand from mixing. A layer of sugarcane mulch or straw can also be used but it will break down in time. After a coffee break, it will be time to mix up a soil blend for the bed.

Offline Lesgold

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #12 on: October 12, 2023, 01:21:12 am »
The final step is to mix up a good garden soil ready for the plants to pop out of their skins. I grabbed some of my garden soil and placed it in a wheel barrow. To the soil there was a good quantity of rotted cow manure added and some castings from one of the worm farms. Some perlite was also introduced to help with drainage. This was thoroughly mixed before being added to the bed. As the garden soil was very dry it was hydrophobic and needed a good watering. The reservoir was also filled at this stage. The soil will be left for a day to settle and if need be, topped up to about 2 inches below the top rim.This will allow mulch to be added after planting.

Offline Lesgold

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #13 on: October 12, 2023, 07:18:00 pm »
We had a cool change come through last night with a bit of rain. We will have lower temperatures for a few days so it is just the right time to plant out some seedlings. Mulch was placed around plants and they were lightly watered in. Both beds will be watered from the top for about two weeks until root systems establish. After that, the wicking beds will do their thing. Fresh lettuce and beetroot for Xmas should result. Will give an update in a few weeks.

Offline Skeggley

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #14 on: October 15, 2023, 01:51:18 am »
Hiya Les, been using wicking beds here for many years now, some pretty much exactly as yours. I use a unseal close to the bottom with an elbow attached which allows me to adjust the height of the overflow. The wicking beds compliment the aquaponics system. I've given up trying to grow veggies in the ground.

Offline Lesgold

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #15 on: October 15, 2023, 02:45:10 am »
Hi Skeggley, I?ve seen an elbow with a sheet piece of poly attached. This is a great idea as it does allow for variation in the water table heights according to what you are growing. Pardon my ignorance but what is an unseal?

Offline Skeggley

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #16 on: October 18, 2023, 08:43:31 am »
Used to be tricky to find however are easy to get now days.
Here's a clip I found which explains better than my words. Just as long as there is no load on the pipe they're great.
https://youtu.be/hUmh38Ud450?si=m0ZKtSVZQ8uMpy5m
Hope this helps.

Offline Lesgold

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #17 on: October 18, 2023, 06:10:41 pm »
Thanks skeggley. They would work well.

Offline Occam

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #18 on: October 23, 2023, 01:13:55 am »
The principle is very similar to using hoya (pronounced oi-ya) pots for watering, where a narrow necked clay pot is burried and water periodically added. Water wicks out into the soil and hydrates the roots. Glad the wicking beds are working out for you
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Offline Lesgold

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Re: Wicking Beds
« Reply #19 on: October 23, 2023, 02:15:27 am »
Same sort of idea Occam. With a hot, dry summer coming up, water will be a valuable resource. I won?t be wasting much on garden beds as the ground is very thirsty.

 

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