NewCanuckGardener
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Tell me about your wicking gardens!

Hello again everyone!

Very new gardener here - I have just planted my seeds/seedlings in my wicking gardens, and I'm worried that they aren't getting to the water. (or th eater isn't getting to them, I guess I should say!) I am still top watering as well, particularly in the areas I have direct sown, as I know they won't be reaching far enough to get to the wet soil yet. I guess I'm just looking to hear how others with wicking beds handle things - how often do you add water to the reservoir, does the rate at which you need to add water change drastically with weather/other circumstances? Have you encountered any downsides?

When I read about the process of watering with wicking gardens, I was very intrigued, and I figured there was no point in creating regular gardens, and then have to dig everything out to convert to a wicking bed later, so we just went for it, but as a new gardener I always wonder if I'm doing something wrong, so any advice/experience is greatly appreciated!

Thanks in advance!
Lori.

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skiingjeff
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Re: Tell me about your wicking gardens!

I've not created wicking garden beds but the theory is similar to the earth boxes. It would be helpful if you could explain how you set up your wicking garden in order for us to help answer your questions.

The main idea around wicking beds and earth boxes is to provide a reserve for water underneath the bed. If making one in the ground a layer of non-porous matting is used to keep anything from growing up through the bed from underneath and also to hold the water reserve. The reserve area has a pipe for the water to be filled from the top of the bed area and the reserve is filled with stone to provide space for the water and then the stone is topped with weed cloth to keep the stone area free of soil. Then the garden soil is placed above that for planting. The water then is absorbed by the soil to feed the plants.

Based on this if your not getting water absorption then several questions come to mind. What type of bed did you create? In the ground or raised? Does your reserve have an overflow drain? What type of soil are you using? If the soil is not absorbent enough it won't work. When you created the bed did you initially make sure the soil was moistened to aid in the beginning of the wicking process?

If you can provide some additional information it would be helpful. :)

NewCanuckGardener
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Re: Tell me about your wicking gardens!

Hi skiingjeff, thanks for your reply!

I have created beds nearly exactly how you have described. Approximately 70mm of water reservoir, created with washed rock, weed barrier, and then approximately 40cm of soil. The soil is a mixture of top soil, sand, and peat moss. I water until there is water coming out the overflow pipe that is at the top of the rocks. When I scoop away soil from the top, I can definitely tell that the soil further down is damp, but not overly so. When I first placed the soil in I watered through the reservoir many times a day to keep it topped up, but I did not do an initial water from the top.

imafan26
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Re: Tell me about your wicking gardens!

Aha, that was the problem. For the wicking to work the soil must be moist to pull the water up. After it is set up it should be evenly watered and the reservoir filled ask long as the soil is evenly moist water will wick up. To help with water evaporation on the top, use mulch.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

NewCanuckGardener
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Re: Tell me about your wicking gardens!

Ah, I see! How do I know when it's begun to properly wick? I will do as thorough water from the top as I can with seeds/seedlings in, and see what happens.

pepperhead212
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Re: Tell me about your wicking gardens!

I have a bunch of homemade "Earthboxes", or self-watering containers that I put together this year, plus 6 original Earthboxes, so I was curious if I really had to moisten the mix, before adding to the container - just dumping it in dry would be much easier! LOL So I took one of my smaller ones - just a 4 gal bucket inside a 5 gal, and put dry Promix in it, and filled the reservoir to overflowing, then let it sit, to see how long it would take to soak it up. Turns out, I gave up after a week, as it was still dry, even in the wicking column, with only about 1/2 of the mix on the inside of the column getting moist! And when I tried to moisten it through the top, it sort of floated the mix away, and ran down into the reservoir - I guess it needs to be mixed in physically, like mixing flour with water, otherwise it just sits there. So this proved it to me - I have to moisten it before putting it in. And it is surprising how much it takes to make it just slightly moist!
Dave

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applestar
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Re: Tell me about your wicking gardens!

Ooh thanks for doing that experiment @pepperhead! 8)
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pepperhead212
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Re: Tell me about your wicking gardens!

@applestar - That really surprised me that the mix had not moistened after a week. It probably does eventually, but I didn't want to find out how long it takes - the fact that it does it that slowly was enough for me! And since I mix in dolomite and other things, no big deal.
Dave

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skiingjeff
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Re: Tell me about your wicking gardens!

It sounds like you've gotten good advice from Imafan and Peppered :) Good luck with your gardens!

NewCanuckGardener
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Re: Tell me about your wicking gardens!

Thanks everyone! I never would have thought that premoistening would have made such a huge difference, I would have thought that dry soil would wick up that water like there was no tomorrow! I know that my water is wicking to some degree because I have to keep filling the reservoir, but it is certainly still very dry near the top. I sent the hubby to water this morning since I was at work, but I'll water again this evening and try get as much in there as I can. We've also had very hot temps this week (for Canada) and absolutely zero rain, so that's not helping at all.

Oh also, I didn't add a worm bucket to my gardens, and there's no way for earthworms to even get in there since its lined, so, should I get some and toss them in there?

And an unrelated question - for those familiar with companion planting, how bad is it that I have planted potatoes next to cucumbers? I was going to do potatoes in a bag, but then figured I may as well use the open garden space instead, and planted them last night before thinking to search what's not compatible, and sure enough I stuck them right next to cucumbers, and sunflowers, which apparently are both incompatible.

Thanks for all the help everyone!!

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applestar
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Re: Tell me about your wicking gardens!

The primary concern with potatoes is that they need to be hilled and they need to be completely dug up for harvesting.

Hilling won't be a concern for vining plants that will set down roots when buried. I think sunflowers won't tolerate too much burying though it can handle a small amount. But the other problem with that is that sunflowes will set down extensively matted root system and will likely suck all the nutrients and water away from the potatoes. Sunflower could cast too much shade and cucumber vines could overwhelm the potatoes. Cucumbers could pull down the sunflowes.....

In my garden, potatoes are ready to harvest around beginning to mid August from the early to mid April planting. Once the tops start to die, I have to harvest the potatoes and not leave them in the ground because wireworms or gound critters like field mice or chipmunks will get into them. Some people can leave them in the ground until fall.

So when the potatoes need to be dug, cucumbers may or may not be finished producing, in fact they might be at their height of production. But cucumbers could also go down early from mildew or pests like cucumber beetles.

A lot of Companion planting is common sense guidelines -- you want to avoid plants that have dissimilar nutrient and moisture needs, or plants that will compete for the same growing space in terms of above and below growing growths. In that sense, too, potatoes need somewhat acidic soil but I believe cucumbers are better off with more neutral or even somewhat alkaline soil with plenty of calcium.

If they are big monster sunflowers, cucumbers are supposed to be good companion for them as long as you can keep them from climbing and pulling them down.

I do like trying different experiments -- this year, I have tried planting a row of potatoes in a trench next to a row of sweet corn. This may not work in terms of extra nitrogen needed for the corn which won't be good for the potatoes -- I will have to see how that turns out -- but I'm hoping to hill the potatoes with compost and in the process, hill the corn at the same time. The corn should be finished harvesting before the potatoes are ready. At least that is the plan.
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NewCanuckGardener
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Re: Tell me about your wicking gardens!

Thanks for the helpful info applestar! My plan was to use the sunflowers as a trellis for the cucumbers, but nothing is growing at any noticeable rate, so I am not sure that the sunflowers will get big enough to support them. The potatoes are next to my cukes and sunflowers, but separate enough that I could dig that area without upsetting any neighboring plants, so hopefully all will be well.

My latest concern is now in my other bed, where I planted lettuce seeds a week ago, but have seen absolutely zero action. If I am to be completely honest, I have seen essentially zero change in any of the seeds/seedlings I have planted. I am hoping I am just being impatient, or perhaps I am checking them too often to notice any changes!

Are all gardeners this worried, or can I expect to calm down at some point, lol! :P

imafan26
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Re: Tell me about your wicking gardens!

To understand wicking, you need to understand a little about fluid dynamics. and how a wick actually works. Water is pulled up against gravity by capillary action by the wick. If the soil is moist to start with, it is easier for the water molecules to rise.

Usually when I put a self watering container together, I moisten the soil first, then I give it a good soaking from the top. Wicking actually works better along the sides than in the middle.

Depending on the depth of the wicking bed, the top will be much drier that is why mulching helps. As the plants grow, even if the top is dry, their roots should be able to reach the water reservoir.

The bottom of the wicking bed will be anaerobic muck. As long as plants have some air roots, most don't seem to mind but plants that don't like wet feet may have a problem.

There should be a drain and hole to allow excess water to escape or the bed will become a bog.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

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