Wicking Garden Beds: Another Great Way to Grow Food in the Heat

I was driving down the road yesterday on my way to the park since the weather has been so wonderful lately and I heard a really great story on NPR about wicking garden beds.  I can’t believe I have learned about two great gardening options this year for our Texas heat that I had never heard of before.  You can read about keyhole gardening here.

I was really intrigued by the wicking garden so I looked up the site online.  It is called Food is Free  and is a project that is happening right in Austin.  The group is trying to help people to grow their own food in their front yards to help feed the neighborhood for very little money.  It is great for bring the community together and also getting people to eat better.  The materials they use are all either free or cheap and seem very simple to put together.

Their site also has other good resources for growing.

Basically, the garden works by making a water tight container (they use pallets and plastic liner).  You fill the bottom with recycled tumbled glass (which is free from the Austin landfill…I need to check ours to see if they do that) or pea gravel.  You put a piece of cloth like burlap, an old t-shirt, etc on top to keep the dirt off of the rocks and then cover with dirt.  There is also a tube (like bamboo or pvc pipe) that goes from the top down into the gravel so that you can water directly into the reservoir.  You fill up the container up to the top of the rock line using the tube which becomes like an aquafer.  There are also a few holes you drill into the side where the top of the rocks are so extra water from rain will drain out and not drown the plants.   You never have to water from above the traditional way which is less efficient because of evaporation.  The guys doing it said that you can go 2-4 weeks without watering even in conditions like last years heat/drought! Amazing!  I’m so intrigued!  They said that plants prefer to get their water from below and will wick up the water like a candle wicks wax.  It makes sense.

Here is a video where they show how to build one in a plastic tub.  It definitely looks easy!

Here are two more places to go to see how to build your own.  Go here and here.

Here are the reason Food Is Free gives for making one for yourself.

Why a Wicking Garden Bed?

  • Saves more than 50% of water compared to a conventional garden bed
  • It stays clear of weeds, root systems, invasive neighbors
  • The wicking effect causes continual automatic watering
  • Suitable for small patio space for those who live in apartment or townhome
  • Only water once every 2 weeks or less
  • Can be maintained by a low pressure water system, grey water drainage

So, what’s stopping you?  I think it is so great to use this for community gardens.  I would love to share our food with friends and neighbors but I wouldn’t put it in our front yard.  What are your thoughts on this gardening idea?

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10 thoughts on “Wicking Garden Beds: Another Great Way to Grow Food in the Heat

  1. I think this is an awesome idea!!! It would be especially good for folks with kids because each child could have their own tub to fill with their favorite vegeatables and herbs. However, as long as I have a yard I probably wouldn’t use this because it would be fairly limiting. Tomato plants have roots that go too deep for this and squash grows too big for most containers. However, it would be awesome for salad greens and herbs especially since they will get bitter if they don’t get the proper moisture. I will keep this in mind since at some point we will probably move to an apartment or condo and I will need a compact method of gardening.

    • That’s a great idea about each kid having one. One of the sites I linked to made normal looking raised beds so growing squash wouldn’t bea problem. How big are the roots for tomatoes? I didn’t realize they got so deep. It would make sense for a tall plant to have long roots.

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  2. Really interesting. I may not use this idea for food (although I possibly could someday!), but I have three pots on my back patio that are out of reach of the sprinkler system, yet I am so bad at remembering to water them…this is a great idea! Can’t wait until the weather is a little better here in Boise to try that out!

  3. This is a most awesome idea for lettuces, herbs or otherwise “daily harvests.” Bonus is that you can put it on a stand (making it easier for picking) on a back patio that will keep bunnies and others (deer?) off your edibles. So glad you posted about it! I have seen something like it before, but nothing as easy-to-build and use-of-recyclables as this.

    I’d really love to re-blog, but there is no link on your page (don’t know why). I guess I’ll have write my own post and ping-back to yours. Great job on doing most of the work for me. Keep it up, girl.

  4. Pingback: Wicking Garden — Above Ground « dirt n kids

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