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How to Make a Wicking Bed

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Main pic A productive wicking bed.

Dave Hamilton, author of Grow Your Own Food For Free, shows how to make a Wicking container, the ideal, permaculture solution to irrigate your container plants, for next to nothing.

Container gardening is a very thirsty way of growing, and lack of water is especially a problem for those growing most of their produce in pots. The driest days are always inevitably when you want to take a holiday, meaning you are more likely to come back to a potted version of the Gobi desert rather than The Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

One method of overcoming this is to construct a wicking bed.

The theory behind them is very simple: plants don’t take water from above. Instead, they rely on ground water, which they ‘wick up’ through their roots.

Wicking beds and wicking containers have a pool of water underneath the plants, which is topped up once a week or so, and the plants ‘wick up’ this water.

This means that having a week-long holiday might not spell disaster for your container-grown veggies and you’ll still return to harvest the odd tomato.

The required parts for a wicking bed.

This is all you need.

There are many variations on this theme, but the ‘reservoir’ consists of a home-made pipe covered with absorbent material such as coir or compost. In the case of my wicking bed, a plastic pipe made from old pop bottles sits on the bottom of an old polystyrene container – the kind you might find fish or watercress in. This is then covered in an absorbent material (such as leaf-mould or coarse compost), which will hold onto the water much longer than it would in a traditional bed.

The following simple step-by-step guide should help you make a wicking bed.

1           Cut the tops and bottoms off two identically sized plastic bottles.

Cut the tops and bottoms off two identically sized plastic bottles.

Cut the tops and bottoms off two identically sized plastic bottles.

2           Slot them together to form the pipe.

Slot them together to form a pipe then fit in the container.

Slot them together to form a pipe then fit in the container.

3           Cut a hole in the side of a third bottle and slot the ‘pipe’ made from the other two into it. Alternatively, you could find a length of agricultural piping that will do the same job – this would be more appropriate if you decide to do this on a large scale in a raised bed.

Cut a hole in a third bottle and slot in the pipe.

Cut a hole in a third bottle and slot in the pipe.

4           Place the ‘L-shaped’ pipe into your container.

Place the L shaped pipe into your container.

Place the L shaped pipe into your container.

5           Punch holes at one end of the container. This will act as drainage so the container doesn’t overflow.

Punch holes at one end of the container.

Punch holes at one end of the container.

6           Cover the pipe with coarse organic material such as straw, coir, leaf-mould or compost. Larger, outdoor beds can use expanded clay balls or similar.

Cover the pipe with coarse organic material.

Cover the pipe with coarse organic material.

7           Top with compost and plant your seedlings or sow your seeds.

Top with compost and plant your seedlings or sow your seeds. Water once or twice a week, or when the container dries out. A liquid feed may come in handy at this stage.

Top with compost and plant your seedlings or sow your seeds. Water once or twice a week, or when the container dries out. A liquid feed may come in handy at this stage.

8           Water once or twice a week, or when the container dries out. A liquid feed may come in handy at this stage.

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