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Wicking Bed

A wicking bed is an extremely water efficient way to garden, and its frame allows for easy installation of either shade cloth or greenhouse plastic.

In short, a wicking bed consists of a basin of gravel with rich soil on top of it. There is a pipe set into the gravel, which bends and rises to the surface for watering. This is how you water your plants. The water settles in the gravel and is wicked up by the soil to the plants’ roots. It is very conservative with water, as it doesn’t lose as much to evaporation as surface watering.

It’s easy to make and it doesn’t take up much space. You can plant it intensively due to the richness of the soil.

You can make it any length you wish, but keep the width something you can reach from each side (like 4 feet wide). Figure out how big you want to make it and then calculate the sizes of the materials listed below.

Materials & Tools
Materials 

Black plastic

Vinyl tarp

Gravel

4″ flexible drainage hose

4″ PVC elbow

4″ PVC pipe

Shade cloth

Old logs

2″ x 2″ lumber

3″ wood screws

Staples

Tools

Shovel

Pic axe

Tape measure

Scissors

Saw

Stapler

 

Step 1:Frame
  1. Choose your site and dig a hole the size you want your wicking bed to be, 12″ deep.
  2. At each corner dig a hole 1 ft deep, and put a 2″ x 2″ post in each hole, so that it stands 5 feet above ground level.
  3. On the long side of the wicking bed, put a post every 2 1/2 ft. These posts need not be so tall, only 3 ft up from the bottom of the hole.
  4. Screw 2″ x 2″ boards in between the posts at the top and at 2 1/2 ft from the base of the hole.

 

Step 2: Gravel bed
  1. Place black plastic on the floor of the hole.
  2. Line the hole, floor and sides (which are 12″ deep) with vinyl tarp. Staple it to the wooden posts.
  3. Staple shade cloth to the posts around the perimeter of the hole. The shade cloth should come up to 2 1/2 ft from the base of the hole.
  4. Snake the 4″ flexible drainage pipe throughout the hole.
  5. Put the elbow on the end of the flexible drainage hose and connect a 3 ft long piece of 4″ PVC pipe to the elbow, so that the PVC is upright.
  6. Fill the hole with gravel.

 

Step 3: Soil
  1. Place some shade cloth on top of the gravel. This will help prevent the soil from falling into and filling the gravel.
  2. Place some old logs on top of the shade cloth. These will store water and release nutrients as they rot.
  3. Mix a rich soil, with some compost, worm castings and dirt. Add some wood ash if your soil is very acidic.
  4. Fill the shade cloth walls with dirt, 1 to 1 1/2 ft above the gravel. Compact it as you go.

 

Step 4: Shade cloth or greenhouse

Attach either shade cloth or greenhouse plastic to the frame, both on the sides and roof. This will keep your plants at the right temperature and free from pests. When the plants are flowering, you can lift up a part of the shade cloth to allow pollinators inside.

 

Step 5: Planting
  1. Make a grid of the surface of the wicking bed, so that you can plant intensively in each square.
  2. Fill the wicking bed with water via the PVC pipe that is sticking up. Look inside the pipe and fill to the top of the elbow.
  3. Plant your seedlings in the soil. You will want to water the young plants from the top until their roots get established.
  4. Fill the wicking bed once a week, or when it seems like the soil is getting dry.

 

Your wicking bed will need very little attention. Just make sure you water it once a week, or whenever it seems like the soil is getting dry. Each time you are about to pull up a plant (like a root), make sure you have more seedlings ready to transplant, so that you can make the most of the space.

We have been so impressed with our wicking beds that we have converted almost the whole into a series of them. We only put a tall frame on some of them.

You can make them any shape and size you want, and even have flexible drainage hoses in the PVC, so all you have to do is turn on a tap.

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