18 Jul

Wick Gardening

It’s been a couple of weeks now since Jake and I started our first wicking bed out of an old bath tub.  I’ve read about it quite a lot – a very efficient means of keeping your plants well watered.  The strawberries and chamomile are doing very well, to the point we’re going to have to thin them out a little! The picture gallery down the bottom shows the process we went through in setting this one up.  Once we had gathered our supplies, it took Jake and I less than 1 hour to put together, including planting. Click here for step-by-step instructions on putting it all together.

What’s a wicking bed?  Wicking, as the name suggests, draws (wicks) the water up from below, just like those self-watering pots you can buy at the garden centres.  On paper the benefits of having self-watering garden beds is a win-win situation. So why would you not do it?  Is there anything to be gained over installing a regular drip system or micro-sprays throughout your garden?  Well in my humble opinion a wick system will win out every time and here’s why. $$$$ and ongoing maintenance… oh wait, there is no ongoing maintenance!  Once the install is done, that’s it, nothing to do except monitor your water levels.

For a new garden bed, the effort involved is fairly minimal, but retro-fitting an existing bed would take a bit more work.  I believe that the work involved would reap it’s rewards ten-fold come your first hot, dry summer.

One of the great things I love about this system is the simplicity and the fact that you can use a variety of items, new or old, mish-mash different things together and you won’t see it.  The only bit you see is the single pipe you see coming up through the surface of the bed.  This pipe serves two purposes, firstly it’s the means by which you water your bed and secondly it provides you with a visual access point to monitor the water level of your garden bed.

Child’s Play Permaculture has another good explanation of how it all works and this is basically what I followed for our bath-tub.

Depending upon the success of this one, we plan on adding more around the property for other perennial veges.

  • Hacksaw, for cutting your pipe to length and also for creating the drainage slits.

  • Old bath tub
  • 2 x Bessa blocks.  This is to raise the bath up off the ground.
  • 4-5 buckets of gravel, depending on the size of your bath.  You want enough gravel to line your bath and cover the pvc pipe.
  • Approximately 2m of PVC pipe. Any diameter will do, the size doesn’t really matter.  We used 90mm here as that’s what we had lying around.  The length you require will depend on both the length and the depth of your bath.
  • 90º PVC elbows.
  • 2 x 90mm pvc end cap.
  • 40mm screw on bung.
  • Silicone and some plumbers’ tape.
  • Geotextile landscaping fabric, you could probably use weed matting or any other fine weave cloth.  You want to prevent the loss of your soil – too large a weave and your soil will disappear over time! 
  • Good quality soil / compost mix.
  • Some plants!


Take a look at the pictures as well as reading below to see how we put it all together.

  1. Position  the bessa blocks in such a way that the bath will sit evenly and steady.  You don’t want it wobbling around all over the shop.  You could use old tyres, wooden stumps, bricks – whatever you have laying around.
  2. Sit your bath on the blocks.  Depending on what the drain of your bath is like you’ll have to wing it a little here.  My bath still had the 40mm threaded pipe protruding out the base so I just wrapped this in plumbers tape and screwed a bung on to make it water tight.  This way I can drain the water if I need to.
  3. Put a layer of gravel in the bottom of the bath, approximately 10cm deep. Take the piece of pvc pipe and cut it to the length the bath, generally this will be around 150cm. Save the off-cut, you’ll need another piece.
  4. Using a hacksaw or angle grinder cut a series of slits along your pipe.  You could also drill a series of holes.  The aim is to provide a means for the water to exit the pipe evenly along its length once you have it buried.
  5. Lay the pipe on the gravel, slit-side down. On one end of the pipe put an end cap and at the other end a 90º elbow.  Measure the off-cut you saved from before so that when you put it in the 90º elbow the opening will be above the top of the bath. You could use blue pvc pipe glue if you want but it’s really not necessary.  We don’t need these joints to be water-tight.  You should now have an L-shaped piece of pipe with slits running the length of the bath and a shorter piece rising up above the top of the bath.
  6. Add more gravel until you have covered the length of pipe then lay a piece of geo-tex fabric over the top, allowing the upright piece of pipe to poke through.
  7. You can now fill the rest of the bath with soil / compost, plant it up and mulch it.  That’s it you’re done!  Grab a hose or watering can and fill the pipe until you can see the water has filled the bottom section.
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  1. Pingback: Wick Gardening: 6 Months Down the Track - DemetersRest

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