Wicking Bed Guide

We're delighted to have Tony Buckle visiting and helping us at the Village. Tony has been here for the last few weeks and has brought his skills in creating a ‘Wicking Garden Bed’. It’s an ideal workaround for our sandy soils. Here’s what Tony has to say - with detailed instructions on how to make a Wicking Bed if you’re interested in creating one yourself...

Sandy Soil Sucks!

Written by Tony Buckle Feb 2018

Sandy soil really does suck! I spent eight years in Mordialloc, Melbourne trying to improve beach sand until I decided I needed another solution.

Do you have to water morning and night each summer day just to keep your plants alive? Are you a slave to your garden? Do you go away for a week or long weekends and have to rely on friend to water to your plants satisfaction? Do you have hydrophobic soil where water beads and actively runs away from your plants? Do you continuously feed your plants with compost, manure, seaweed solution, worm wee and blood & bone, only to wash it away with each watering?

Well, let me introduce you to The Wicking Bed System... Wicking beds (if you don’t know already) are a self-contained, water wise, nutrient wise, time saving system that will give you back the time and money to spend on yourself, your family and friends.

So what is a wicking bed and how do we make one?

The great thing about this system is that it is completely scalable. It can be applied to pot plants, raised garden beds and straight into the ground. I have done single pots of eggplants/tomatoes, raised garden beds and 10m x 5m (x2 beds) in ground/tiered and the basic principles remain the same.

When I first researched water wise gardening solutions, I was blown away by how much contradictory information there was. So I decide to grab the common principles and adapt them for my conditions and over the years have developed a robust system. I will never look back at that hydrophobic sand again.

The basic premise is that you provide your garden bed with a cool reservoir of water which “wicks” its’ way up to you plant roots through capillary action through the soil. This helps to minimise loses through evaporation (assuming a suitable layer of mulch is applied).

Not only will your plants appreciate the constant, cool, moist soil condition but they will be healthier for it and help them cope with the extremes of the weather. You can also plant out more densely as they are not fighting for the same resources. Yields are higher and you don’t waste water, nutrients, time or money.

Existing Raised Veggie Patch Wicking Conversion

Existing Wicking Bed

The photo is a classic example of a neglected veggie patch due to inconvenient access to water.

Dig Out Wicking Bed

Step 1: Dig out bed to a depth of 650mm from the top lip of the bed (200mm for reservoir; 200mm wet zone; 200mm root zone; 50mm mulch zone.

Improve Soil  WITH Manure and Compost

Step 2: Improve soil with chicken manure and compost.

Source Sand and Scoria or Similar for the Reservoir Zone

Step 3: Source sand & scoria/limestone or other porous stone/rock for the reservoir zone with sufficient volume to fill to 200mm.

Place Cardboard, PVS Pipe and Ag-Pipe at the bottom of the Wicking Bed

Cover Ag-pipe with Geotech Fabric or Newspaper to Prevent Clogging and Cover with

Step 4: Line with builder's plastic or similar and then source cardboard, PVC down pipe with 90 degree elbow and a length of Agi-pipe sufficient to distribute water around the base.

Step 5: Ensure the base and sides are free from sharp stones/roots etc. and place cardboard or old carpet around the base and cover with 30mm of sieved sand. Fill with water to the same depth to aid levelling and check for leaks.

Step 6: Position PVC downpipe, elbow, cap and Agi-pipe.

Step 7: Cover Agi-pipe with geotech fabric or newspaper to prevent clogging and cover with scoria/limestone to 200mm thick.

Step 8: Cover scoria base with geotech fabric.

Backfill Bed with Improved Soil and Top Dress with Compost.

Step 9: Drill a hole 250mm from the top lip of the bed for the overflow pipe.

Step 10: At the same depth lay a length of Agi-pipe wrapped in Geotech material across the length of the bed and connect with the overflow pipe.

Step 11: Backfill bed with improved soil and top dress with compost.

Step 12: Fill bed with water through down pipe until it runs out of the overflow pipe. Water from the top to ensure the root zone is also saturated. Capture overflow water and pour back into the bed.

Step 13: Plant out and cover with mulch to a depth of 50mm, cover with bird netting and enjoy your new water-wise organic growing.

Step 14: (Optional) Make a float (water level indicator) and place inside the inlet pipe.