This post is dedicated to the many followers of this blog, and to the one specific reader in Washington wanting to know “just what the heck is a wicking bed, anyway”.
Well, the best way I can describe a wicking bed, is to recall a 4th grade science project we had to do one day. We came in and sat down, the teacher had roll call, and then he passed us all two cups and a piece of string. One by one, we all went up to the sink in the classroom, and filled 1 cup about 1/2 way with water. We were then instructed to set up our cups side by side on the marble style science table, and place the string so the ends were in both cups, with one end about and 1/2 way in the empty cup and the other end of the string touching the water in the other cup, with and the excess slack in the water cup.
You probably know where I’m going with this. The string acted as a ‘wick’, pulling up the water, and depositing it in the other cup. A wicking bed acts on this same principle, except instead of string, the soil is used as the wick, ensuring a constant and even moistness throughout the soil. Today I will illustrate exactly how you can build your own wicking bed.
First thing you need is a food safe, water tight container. I have used 75 gallon watering troughs, 30-gallon-ish ICB Tote tops, an old kiddie pool, a re-purposed ice cooler and even a 5 gallon bucket as a wicking bed. The possibilities are numerous, and limited only by your imagination. It would seem that 5 gallon buckets are fairly easy to come by, so we will use one of these as our example.
2nd thing you need are some hard plastic containers, again food safe. I use ‘sports drink’ bottles. Tear the label off, and drill several holes in each container. I use an 1-1/4″ hole saw, on the end of my power drill. Then place this container inside the 5 gallon bucket. Continue drilling and adding bottles until about 1/3 – 1/2 of the bucket is full. This is the reservoir. The rigid plastic gives the soil something to ‘perch’ on, while the water stays pooled on the bottom.
3rd thing you will need is some plastic fabric. I used to be in construction, and had access to ‘silt fencing’, which is the orange or black stuff you see along the side of the road to prevent erosion, allowing water to pass through, but not soil or silt. Cut out an area twice as large as the opening in the 5 gallon bucket. I cut mine 2 ft sq. and lay it on top of the drilled out sports bottles, allowing the excess to fold up along the sides of the bucket. This will keep the soil from filling up the reservoir.
4th thing you will need is soil. You can dig it up from the back yard, or simply go to the gardening store of your choice, and purchase top soil by the bag. A single 1 cu ft bag of soil should be more than enough for your starter bed. Lightly tamp the soil firm.
5th thing you will need are plants! whether you buy your plants from seedlings or prefer to start them from seed yourself, now is the time. Actually, If you start from seed, you could have started 3-4 weeks ago, and then planted those seedlings now.
OPTIONAL – to make it easier to keep the water in your wicking bed at the correct depth, make a mark on the outside of the bucket where the soil and fabric meet the water. Then, with some pvc piping, either 1″ or 1-1/2″ piping and (1) corresponding 90, or ell. Cut one piece of pipe about 24″, or long enough to reach from the bottom to the top of the bucket. Place the 90, or ell onto the end of the 24″ piece of pvc pipe, and place another piece, 6″ in the other end of the ell. Finally place the 90 ell on the bottom of the bucket, under the sports drink bottles, and standing up along the side of the bucket with the longer piece standing upright. This is your periscope, to check water level. The water in the pipe, should be as high as the mark on the outside of your bucket.
6th and final thing you will need is water. Water in your plants, or better, pour the water directly into your periscope, until the desired height is reached. Pouring the water in this way, will help prevent soil bourn diseases from effecting your plants. Often times these diseases get splashed up onto the plant when watering.
Congratulations! You are now fully prepared to build your own Wicking Bed.