The benefits of planting in a wicking bed

The growing season is well and truly underway, in this post I wanted to share details of our latest gardening project, making a DIY wicking bed. I've also listed off the benefits of creating wicking beds or wicking pots.

The area we wanted to transform was this scruffy bit of space behind our greenhouse.  It actually gets lots of sun (through the glass) and is a bit of a heat trap. I'm always looking at spaces I can use for edibles.

Making a wicking bed

This is the plan we decided on - an L-shaped wicking bed and a screen to hide the other messy half behind the greenhouse until that get's transformed into raspberry cages next year.

What is a wicking bed?

Glad you asked, I didn't know until recently either!

A wicking bed is a raised growing bed which has a waterproof lining.  The lining holds a reservoir of water beneath the soil and through capillary action, water is drawn up into the soil.

To make our beds we used decking boards we picked up from Homebase as they are nice and rigid, we painted them to make sure they are protected and last until we're 107 and can't face another french bean, although they're probably fine without it.

To keep the tank topped up and the soil nice and moist, you have a pipe with holes in which runs through the bottom of the bed to distribute water.  The pipe is surrounded by gravel and then the whole lot is covered by a weed proof membrane.

As you can see in the diagram, our wicking bed is connected to a down-pipe from a gutter on our greenhouse, we're making use of every drop of rainwater we can.  There's an overflow pipe to ensure it never gets too full.

The principle behind this wicking bed is really adaptable.

I've also made wicking pots from old chicken feed buckets.  It's the same thing except you just need to drill a hole a few inches from the base of the bucket, then fill with gravel, line with weedproof membrane, add a pipe and fill with compost...    and plants.

We're very excited to see the results of this new wicking bed and the pots. It looks great but the real test is whether we get a bumper crop of beans.  So far I've planted courgettes, french beans, broad beans and dwarf beans - I'm going to plant winter and summer squash at the end to grow up the trellis (fingers crossed)

What are the benefits of a wicking bed?

1. They are water efficient, the water doesn't evaporate off the top and you don't need as much to get to the important part of the plant - the roots - because you are watering from the bottom up.

2. You don't need to water as often, in fact they are effectively self watering, although they may need topping up a little more often in very dry spells. 

3. If you do have lots of rain the soil will drain quickly because of the gravel and the overflow - it's a bit like a french drain system in this way.

4. There is no guess work - you water until the overflow pipe tells you to stop, you know it's topped up enough and no water is wasted.

5. Fertilisers and nutrients are not washed away through top watering.  You can just add in your feed direct to the resevoir and hungry plants will suck it all up directly from the roots....  happy plants! No wasted fertisliser.

6. Weeding is virtually eliminated as you can mulch over with bark chippings, seeds and weeds like wet surfaces to get growing in and this bed is dryer at the top.

7.  The top layer is dryer, so there is less chance of mould.  

8. You'll be able to crack open a beer and say "I made that!"

I'll update you on how successful it really is based on the above list!

Before and After - from scrappy space to productive veg garden.

We added a frame for the bean canes so they lean forward, it's supposed to be easier to collect the beans this way (gravity makes them dangle out and down) and gave us the opportunity to hang baskets of marigolds to distract the aphids and attract the bees.


My cute/lazy greenhouse companion, Bramble :)

Courgette's are ready for planting out! The one on the left is grown from seed by me, courgette on the right from seed by my Aunt... hopefully they'll both be winners but the competition is on!

Happy gardening - any questions about wicking beds or wicking pots, just let me know :)