Wicking garden bed vs “modified” water wise no dig garden

Yesterday my dad and I spent the day making up a wicking garden bed out of one of two grape storage containers donated to him from a local winery.  Why only the one you ask?  Well let’s just say that dad is not convinced that the amount of effort and energy spent on making up the wicking bed will yield a better result than the much simpler method of just dumping all the soil/manure mix into the container and adding a tap at the bottom for drainage.

So I have set dad the challenge – one of the containers will be made up his way and the other will be my way (the wicking garden bed).  The goal is to see which garden bed out performs the other by the end of summer.  I must admit that I think the results may be similar given that his system is still essentially self watering (as it is a fully sealed system with a tap at the bottom).  However, If we get  a lot of rain over the summer,  he will need to remember to empty the water out every now and then to avoid flooding the plants.

We worked hard in the pouring rain putting the wicking garden bed together, which did get me thinking why we were spending all the effort to save water when there was plenty coming out of the sky!  Then I remembered back to last summer, when I was standing for hours on end watering the dried up ground in my garden.  It was in the middle of summer and I emptied our water tank after 3 weeks of no rain.  This meant that I had to switch to mains water just to keep the plants surviving in the raised garden beds for the next couple of weeks.  So its fair to say that in the heat of summer is when all the set up cost and effort for the wicking garden bed pays off.

Its amazing how fast you can put together one of these gardens when you are starting with a sealed system and you have the right tools.  We used the tractor to move the container from one place to the next progressively filling it with gravel, sand and then compost.  There was one minor (or should I say major) set back for the day, when I managed to slide the container off the forks of the tractor, spilling all the contents (sand soil and gravel) all over the ground!  It was then a matter of sorting through the gravel, dirt and sand and re-filling the container taking care not to mix the different layers.

Here are some pictures of our work in progress.

Installing and sealing the tap (30cm off the bottom of the container)


Adding the underground tank (upside down crate)


Wrapping in geotextile to prevent the sand going into the crate and outlet pipe.  Also installing filler tube.


Filling with gravel.


From this point, we added sand to just over the tank height, then another layer of geotextile to separate the sand from the soil mix and finally topped up with compost mix.

And the finished result planted out with 6 tomato plants..


If I didn’t tip out the contents of the container, this would have taken around 2-3 hours to complete, which is just as much time (if not less) than building a raised garden bed.  As you can see, the end product is not overly aesthetically pleasing, but it is only a prototype at this stage.  If you were to set up one of these at home, then some timber cladding around the outside would make it quite an attractive garden bed – maybe even for the front yard? 😉

So now its over to you dad, let the competition begin!