Wicking Beds

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Wicking Beds

Post  Blossom on Sat May 24, 2008 11:56 am

I just noticed a post from you on that other forum - the one that I'm banned from Rolling Eyes about wicking beds. Here on the Cosmic Connections forum we have a real expert in Scarecrow who has a lot of detail on her blog together with some photos. Not trying to hijack anything but if you want the nuts and bolts Scarecrow is you woman!

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  Fran on Sat May 24, 2008 12:23 pm

Great cheers Both of us are really interested in this after learning about the school community garden and plenty of people I know about are curious too. All of us want to be reasonably self sufficient with food but have to be even more careful with water than people in town because we are dependent on our own supply.

We need to know some of the problems we might encounter with a DIY. For example we know it has to be on flat ground but that's a no brainer. We were wondering if we built a timber frame much the same way as you would for a raised garden bed and lined it with pool liner - lay ag pipe down the length and up the side to shove a hose in would work to begin with. Fill it up but then we have to worry about a drain for excess water or you would end up with a sump.

All ideas welcome - and thanks Blossom Smile


Last edited by Fran on Sat May 24, 2008 1:09 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  Blossom on Sat May 24, 2008 12:27 pm

Scarecrows's blog is at http://scarecrowsgarden.blogspot.com/

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  Fran on Sat May 24, 2008 1:08 pm

Ta Smile

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  siri on Sat May 24, 2008 1:48 pm

Hijack away Cosmic. I couldn't find anything on Scarcrows blog that specifically deals with wicking beds. I'm not sure i understand the concept.
I intend to spend a lot of time this winter preparing for next summer - reading, and getting out there and laying drippers, and whatever. Some of it is experimental, but I'm also interested to see what other people are experimenting with. It's time to stop doing what the chain stores are telling us, and start being a whole lot more innovative and lateral thinking.
I will be collecting up as much left over poly pipe as I can for putting in watering points for trees as I plant them.

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  The Estate on Sun May 25, 2008 4:22 am

Awwww didn'y know you where banned Shocked How come, send me PM, coz you know 'lurkers' affraid I was unbanned now, I could not even lurk, my 2 ISP's where blocked Embarassed clown Suspect

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  Scarecrow on Sun May 25, 2008 4:54 am

Sorry Folks Embarassed
I've been too busy to keep up with this forum, thanks Blossom for the email.
Here's the link to my wicking-bed posts, you'll have to scroll to the bottom of the page to find the beginning. That's the way Blogger archives stuff. Wicking Water Beds

Fran
Wooden raised beds would be fine as it's only about 10cms at the very bottom that gets lined with plastic. This is the part that holds the water, as you raise the beds it's this area where the roots go. Roots can't survive in saturated soil.
You could leave an obvious gap in the base (somewhere) that will 'leak' water when the 'pool' is full, that way you can easily see when you've put enough water in.
They seem to take a lot of water while you're waiting for them to fill but it's ages before you have to water them again.

You might like to try the smaller boxes Here as these are quick to make and easy to look after while you're working out the concept of the system. I did it the other way around and have needed to re-build most of the in-ground beds.
Gardening is such a learning process! Rolling Eyes

Have a read of the blog posts and I'll try to keep an eye on this thread to answer any questions you might have. Wink

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  siri on Sun May 25, 2008 5:11 am

I like the idea of blocking out the tree roots. We have pine trees next door which suck a part of our garden dry so I have given up trying to grow anything there. I might take the time to dig all the top soil that is left there, and prepare a wicking bed for this summer. The shade of the trees would be beneficial too. The neighbours put in a bore last summer and on really hot days they run their sprinklers on the lawn, or pour it into their dam to evapourate. It might come as a shock to them to see a lush veg garden growing under their pine trees in the middle of summer, with no sign of a watering system. I will make sure I do the preparation when they are not around to see! LOL.

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  Fran on Sun May 25, 2008 6:37 am

That's a great site Scarecrow - some brilliant ideas there - one of the best food gardening sites I've come across - you are to be congratulated sunny

I'm familiar with the simple wicking system but at the moment we are thinking big and your 2 metre wide beds are more the size we have in mind. Deeper though because we were planning to put them onto rock up here by the house and put trellis round two sides - grow climbers up for a bit of afternoon shade. So we are thinking 50cm or so deep. Do you think this is manageable?

And will the black plastic last the distance - durable enough?

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  Scarecrow on Sun May 25, 2008 1:08 pm

Thanks Fran Embarassed Very Happy
50cm deep shouldn't be a problem...the beds at Gin Gin Primary School look that deep See this link (if you haven't seen it already!)
If your growing plants it's not too bad but seeds sometimes need to be watered from the top for a while until their roots can reach the lower 'wet' area.

Sounds like a great solution to the rock problem. As far as the black plastic goes, because it's out of the sun it lasts a fair while...if you're putting plastic over rock you'd better put a layer of sand down first so no rocks can damage it. Get the thickest plastic you can, even that orange stuff builders put down under foundations (that stuff lasts a long time)

Siri it works wonders under trees. flower

Check out the Waterright site
The basics for the system are explained there!

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  siri on Mon May 26, 2008 1:30 pm

The waterright site was very interesting. I had more questions but they must have dropped out of my brain for the moment.
My main question is - how mich difference does it make if you don't put worms into the system? Can you just buy worm castings and add them?
i'm reluctant to get into worm farming, because I don't look after things well and would probably kill them all ....repeatedly..... and I don't want to become a worm killer, as they are great little guys who deserve better than me.
I'll find some more questions later. I'm very taken with the idea, and keen to try it.

Ah! There's one. Hos long before Spring planting (mid to late october here) should I prepare the beds?
And another! Are some vegetables easier to grow this way than others? That is - what would be good for beginners using this method?

I have passed all the info on to my daughter in Melbourne. I think she will like this method as she struggles to water, with 2 kids demanding her attention in the allocated watering times.

Cheers, Jan

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  Fran on Tue May 27, 2008 3:27 am

Thanks very much Scarecrow - exactly what I wanted - a picture speaks a thousand words. I was thinking about black plastic on the ground and how long it would last - so put sand under it - no doubt DH would have thought of it but not me - I was thinking polyurethane and how expensive it would be for just one bed.

And the bagasse answers my other question - knew something would have to go between the soil and the plastic. At one stage I was thinking straw.

Never heard of extraphos - must be available here or they wouldn't be using it - I presume it's organic.

To the wormcasts - I feel much the same as Jan - toying with the idea but gave it away - I go away for weeks at a time. I do have worms in my garden though. Is there a way round this?

I am familiar with the smaller boxes but decided it wasn't worth it in our situation - we eat tons of vegies and are looking for an alternative to regular gardening to save water. Want to experiment - if it works for us - well we're home and hosed. If not we'll try something else.

So you plant, harvest - what then?

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  Scarecrow on Tue May 27, 2008 6:30 am

OOOooo so many questions!!! bounce
Fran first, sorry Jan but I usually read backwards and anyway Fran had fewer questions. (I think) Smile

Never heard of extraphos

Extaphos is manufactured by the Alroc people website here They have organic certification for their products. I have never used anything like this yet but have found a local supplier of a similar product that I will be trying as soon as I can get hold of some (I keep missing them at the local producers markets).
As I said I haven't used these products yet and things are growing well but I'm sure the inclusion of rock minerals would be a plus to any soil.
The Extraphos is available, online here but I've haven't bought from these people so am not actually recommending them.
And the bagasse answers my other question
Bagasse is used in Qld but not available over here, for the inground systems I've used sand but in the boxes I used straw and shredded paper and have found these are breaking down meaning that the boxes need frequent topping up.

To the wormcasts - I feel much the same as Jan
You've both asked about the worms...I believe them to be an integral part of the system. It's the worms that do much of the aeration of the soil and keep it 'living' if you know what I mean.
The waterright folks who (with Colin Austin's mastermind) have been studying this system for some time now so I follow their advice. I doubt it would work successfully with out them.

Keeping worms in these systems is not that difficult really. As the basis for the growing medium is compost they pretty much eat their way through that and any mulch sitting on the surface. Using a high quality mulch like lucerne hay would probably feed them enough. I only feed them when I have enough stuff and I remember to!

I stopped feeding and watering that first bed I made when the pumpkins finished and didn't get around to 'fixing' it up or planting Autumn veg due to that memorable 'Heatwave' SA had in March this year. When I finally got around to digging it out I found the base area (the former pool) full of worms. So they are quite tough little creatures.

I am a great 'killer' of things (I can't even grow indoor pot plants successfully) but I manage to keep the wormies alive. They are very much a feed when you remember to sort of creature IF they have some slowly breaking down types of bedding to keep them going.

Maybe we need to start up a thread on worm keeping in the 'Four legs or Feathers' part of the forum, even though they don't have four legs or feathers. Perhaps in the beginner's section...Lucky1 would be the one to give you all the info on keeping worms. She's quite a worm expert!

toying with the idea but gave it away - I go away for weeks at a time.
I have to wonder how you grow many vegetables by going away for weeks at a time??
No offence intended but veg growing is a fairly constant activity in itself. If your garden survives being left at these times the worms (in a wicking bed) probably would too Wink
I find the hardest part is making sure the birds don't eat all the 'worker worms'.
So you plant, harvest - what then?
I think I'll be answering that in the next post for Jan

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  Scarecrow on Tue May 27, 2008 6:44 am

OK Jan
I hope I've answered about the worm castings you can just add compost worms straight into the beds and not keep a worm farm but it's cheaper to 'grow' your own. By the way a lot of folks just use the worms sold for fishing bait...that works out a lot cheaper. Or you might be able to steal some from a fellow gardener. I have to say that since keeping worm farms around here the soil in my garden has improved dramatically, especially for growing veg.
Ah! There's one. How long before Spring planting (mid to late october here) should I prepare the beds?
As far as preparation for spring planting goes I'd get stuck into compost making...she says knowing full well she hasn't started her heaps yet! Compost forms the basis of the growing medium in these beds...lots of compost!
When good compost is used planting can happen straight after building the beds. Especially by using a handful of worm castings as a buffer when planting out. Wink
Are some vegetables easier to grow this way than others?
I'm still experimenting with what will grow well in these beds. Having a very dry summer season this year didn't really give me a chance to judge how well things adapted. My tomatoes were miserable in one of these beds but I have heard from local radio talkback shows and Graham Brookman who grows organic veg for the farmers market in Adelaide, that tomato crops didn't go very well anywhere in SA this year. So I will give tomatoes another go in this system next year.

Green veg - brassicas, lettuces, silverbeet all love these beds as does the zucchini that are still producing (one week before winter here...amazing) I've put the Mediterranean herbs into their own pots on these beds as they might just get a bit too wet but Basil grew very well on one. Parsley and beans (I have trouble growing beans here normally).

I am at present trialling leeks, onions and beetroot to see how root type crops will go.
Greens are definitely easy beginner crops in these system especially because they require so much water to grow really well.
what would be good for beginners using this method?
If your daughter is a beginner then perhaps a box setup like mine or even the ones in the pdfs on this link would be the way to go for her. Growing some lettuces or something like the salad mixes you can get in punnets these days would be an easy way to get to know the system. She should get the kids involved with growing food too...it's amazing what they will eat when they've seen it growing!

Keep the questions coming I'll answer what I can and let you know when I can't Cool

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  Fran on Tue May 27, 2008 6:48 am

Thanks Scarecrow - sorry for all the questions - here's some more - but answer in your own time Smile

Had I know about the Extraphos I would have been using it before this - to trial in any case.

Straw and shredded paper would take longer to break down then straw alone I imagine. Does it have to be lightly mixed or packed in tightly?

Found out I can get worm casts from a permaculture setup by the trailer load and the worms bought anywhere you buy worms. So will consider that . YOu're absolutely right about using them - I was just thinking I could maybe transfer some from the other garden beds - with a shovel LOL.

Re going away - I go away very infrequently but mostly on my own and so DH is here to look after things. He isn't into gardening but will potter in the vegie garden quite happily and keep the rest of the garden up for short periods. He's retired now but always worked 24/7 before so gardening was never his thing. He did come in handy for the hard yakka though - and has become a whizz at planting - has the magic touch. He's coming round - still rather be off with the horses or playing golf though Smile

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  Scarecrow on Tue May 27, 2008 6:59 am

Hey Fran I don't suppose hubby could be encouraged to enjoy fishing...like I said before the compost worms can be used for fish bait. That way maybe He could be in charge of the worm farm Wink Wink Wink

I think packing the straw down tightly (which I didn't do) would mean it would take longer to break down but I think sand (which won't break down) is the way to go. But please feel free to experiment.

Wow Shocked worm castings by the trailer load I'm green with envy. You would find you'd get the worms in your garden from this as it usually contains worm eggs. Very Happy

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  siri on Tue May 27, 2008 9:22 am

Some REALLY good information there Scarecrow, which will take me some time to digest before I have more questions. The worms can be sourced right out of my garden I guess. I know how well they breed in shredded lucerne.
My granddaughter will be right into gardening. She is turning 2 next week and likes to help Mummy wiv her wittle wake. She's a real outdoors girl. Her 5 year old brother prefers his books and legos.
will discuss this all with my daughter when i see her tomorrow. might try and drag her onto the forum :-)
Cheers, jan

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Re: Wicking Beds

Post  Scarecrow on Tue May 27, 2008 10:33 am

Actually Jan they are different worms. No

The earthworms in the garden usually live deeper within the soil and eat well decomposed materials.
Compost worms, the ones I'm talking about, live in the top 30 cms of the soil all the time and eat more un-decomposed (fresher??) stuff.

Both are great garden friends but while the compost worms aren't usually kept in the garden, they are used in these wicking beds. That's why I have to be careful the birds don't steal them especially escapee chookies! They can be real killer chooks sometimes.

Those earthworms that are breeding in the lucerne can be spread around the general garden beds to improve them.

Your grand daughter sound sooo cute! flower

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