Let’s start simple. As a full disclaimer, a wicking bed does still use soil, so it is not a pure hydroponic system, but this system waters the plants from the bottom up. In a normal garden, it is difficult to keep the soil happy. When watering from the top, much is lost to evaporation, and it is also hard to ensure the water reaches the correct depth; one foot for most vegetables, two feet for larger plants. This depth is not only hard to achieve with typical watering but nearly impossible to maintain. When using a wicking bed, the moisture level can be kept constant. When there are even moisture levels, there are happy plants.
Build Wicking Bed Garden
- Choose a container to use for your garden. This should be sturdy, non-toxic, able to hold water, and 18 to 24 inches deep. This allows room for the roots to grow. Purchase something new or look around your property for something to use. Also, check out social media or check with friends to see if anyone is giving a suitable container away.
- Choose a good location to place the container. It is wise to position the container in an optimal place before filling it with water, soil, and plants. It will be awfully heavy once filled up! The container should be in a location that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. If the sun is intense where you live, it may be a good idea to also provide some afternoon shade. It is also a good idea to put the container near a water source and in a convenient place for running out to grab some produce for dinner.
- Level the container so that the water is distributed evenly.
- Place a pipe or drip hose in the container. This should run from the top of the container to the bottom. This is how you will add water to the reservoir. A strong drip hose, a piece of perforated PVC pipe, or a weeping tile would work well. Just find something that will not be pinched or crushed when the soil is added. Make sure the pipe or hose sticks out of the top of the container so that water can be easily added.
- Place five to ten inches of clean gravel in the bottom of the container. This should cover the pipe. It is a good idea to use clean, sterile, medium-sized gravel so no preexisting pathogens are present in your bed, and so there is space for water to flow between the rocks.
- Use landscape fabric to line the bed and keep the water reservoir separate from the soil. Cut the fabric so its edges run up the sides of the container so that the soil does not fall into the water reservoir. Do not use plastic; the water needs to be able to wick up into the soil.
- Place a half-inch—and only a half-inch—of sand over the fabric to help keep the soil level.
- Drill a few holes in your container at the top of the water reservoir, where the soul will meet the water. This will allow rain to flow through and not waterlog the soil.
- Fill your bed with soil. It is a good idea to use new, high-quality, organic potting soil instead of native soil.
- Add the plants. Transplants work best in this system because seeds need the moisture to be in the top inch of soil to germinate.
- Fill the bottom reservoir with water. Go all the way to the soil line, until water starts to flow out of the drilled holes.
- Add some water from the top. This allows the wicking action to start. It is wise to water from the top for just a few weeks until the roots grow enough to reach the moist soil.
- Place mulch over the top of the soil. This will reduce evaporation and keep the top of the soil from getting too hot or cool.
Maintaining Wicking Bed
Once the plants are growing, they need to be fed, so add some organic fertilizer. Either place the nutrients right in the soil or opt for water-soluble ones that can be placed right in the water reservoir. Either could be a great choice. Talk to a representative at your local garden store for advice if needed, or just follow package directions.
The water in your wicking bed also needs to be kept fresh. Add water once a week. Fill the reservoir until water begins to drip out of the drilled holes. Flush out all of the water a few times a year to help keep salt, algae, or bacteria from growing. If mosquitos are a problem in your area, place a bit of screen over the opening of your fill pipe. This will keep them out of the reservoir.
Also, refresh the soil in your garden each year. While the bed is empty over the winter, add some compost or fresh soil. Do this a bit before spring planting to keep the soil healthy and vibrant. Worms can be a welcomed addition to the garden as well. Worms really enjoy moist soil. Consider adding a worm “tower” feeding tube to give the worms some delicious and nutritious food, which will, in turn, create some beneficial “fertilizer” for your plants.
A wicking bed can be a great place to start in the hydroponic world. It combines what many people are used to, growing plants in soil, with using more sustainable water practices. This will also create a more optimal growing environment and increase the health and yield of plants. The instructions for creating a wicking bed are also very simple and can easily be done by anyone.
It is also inexpensive and can be a fun project to tackle with the whole family.