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Wicking Beds

OrganicFarmMerri Bee Organic Farm  is creating a natural system of perennial abundance to satisfy human needs in food, shelter, energy , community and wilderness, whilst restoring a cleared and overgrazed piece of rural land. Our farm is designed as a ‘closed loop’ in which the yields and by-products of one system are used to satisfy the needs of another, constantly circulating nutrients and harvesting water and energy via multiple elements. We aim to protect soil biodiversity and its many ecological functions. We are exploring and demonstrating these principles, educating and inspiring people to perpetuate the building of sustainable infrastructure.

An example of this is wicking bedsOrganicFarm

We set up a wicking bed in a hurry recently to demonstrate how little water it takes to grow veges in this set up The growth has been phenomenal.... lettuce seedlings of the same size were planted in an adjacent, well watered and composted garden. The garden has had to be watered ( with a butterfly sprinkler ) once a week , the wicking bed only once a month. The lettuce in the wicking bed are 3 times the size of the garden lettuce. We dug a 150 ml deep level pit, lined it with black plastic and laid a 90 ml old storm water pipe we found at the tip on that .

We had previously cut numerous slots in the pipe and positioned the slots downwards, so the pipe wont fill up with dirt. We put a plastic OrganicFarmbag and a rubber band over the end of the pipe. Conveniently the pipe from the tip came with a 90 degree bend  ( elbow ) attached. We inserted another length of pipe in it, and set that up vertically. That’s your water filling pipe. We  then surrounded the pipe with small rocks at one end and woodchips at the other.

The woodchips were much lighter and easier to work with . I will see which end works best for the longest time. So you now have the 150 ml pit filled with aggregate which creates big air spaces between chunks, which will often be full of water. The aggregate essentially holds up the soil above. Place a thick layer of leaves or grass clippings , or a sheet of shade cloth on top of the woodchips or rocks. Then fill the bed with good soil and compost mix to a 350 ml OrganicFarmdepth. It can be up to 450 deep but no more, as the water can only wick up to a height of 450 or so. 350 is deep enough for most root zones.

A drainage hole is essential at the level of the shadecloth. You then hose or bucket water into your plastic lined rockfilled reservoir , via the fill pipe, till  water starts emanating from the drainage hole/pipe. In the event of a down pour, this drainage pipe or hole will ensure the soil doesn’t become waterlogged.

After all this work and materials, plant your seedlings and water them in as usual.Prepare to be amazed as they thrive without any further attention from you for at least a month. OrganicFarmThat’s what we found, and we certainly haven’t had much rain. See , one month later!

Compare to lettuce in garden with brick at the end of this article with this  picture .

My photography sucks, but hope you can see the bigger and lusher growth of the wicking bed. Tried to deliver same amount of compost to both lots of plants.

wicking bed

We want to construct another wicking bed which will use grey water from the house, having trickled first through a rock column and then travelled through a reed bed to remove nutrients. For more details on the construction of a wicking bed, do a google search. Many varieties are out there and well documented.

My friend Tash Levy has successfully used bentonite clay instead of a plastic liner. We will be following her lead on our next one, as it is more natural and less toxic to manufacture and use than plastic.

 Thanks Tash! We will also incorporate a worm feeding station for disposal of vege scraps.


Every home in arid lands should have a wicking bed!