The Lazy Gardener’s Dream
Wicking garden beds are:
- highly productive
- transportable (take your garden or farm with you)
- suitable for hard surfaces including parking lots and roof-tops
- a great way to use space underneath trees, not competing with the tree roots
- able to be constructed and maintained without great physical strength. Perfect for families
- suitable for wheelchair users and people who don’t want to bend over all day.
- no dig, no carbon released into the atmosphere, no pain
- less likely to get trashed by your chickens
Wicking beds can be built in large tubs, baths, barrels, ponds or raised beds with a lining. However, if you too want to avoid plastics, you can recycle an old rainwater tank, a bathtub, a wooden barrel or large old commercial food tin.
Wicking is a simple technique of letting water be sucked up as required by the plants. Think of a drinking straw. The straw works by creating a vacuum at the top. The water rises to fill that vacuum. In a similar way, the soil and plants can wick up water as they use it. All we need to do is ensure: 1. there is a constant supply of water available at the base and 2. enough wicking material to transport the water.
Good ‘ol Osmosis
Osmosis is nature’s way of transporting water through the soil and plants. Osmosis happens when we soak ourselves in a bath for a long time. Our skin gets puffy and wrinkled. Organic matter in soil soaks up the water one cell to another.
Plants transpire water during the day and the sun dries out the surface of the land. This creates a vacuum of water at the top. Soil that is rich in organic materials, can carry moisture up to the dry surface by osmosis. [Remember to use mulch to reduce water loss.]
Jeremy Yau of Sydney has lots of wicking beds because space is at a premium. And the surrounding trees give the home valuable shade in summer. Jeremy employs the permaculture principle of stacking. He has placed some wicking beds beneath tall trees in the chicken run. Some of the wicking tubs contain large shrubs. His chickens roam around the mini food jungle without being tempted to trash the plants. In fact, they get to nibble anything hanging over from the sides in a run that would normally be empty of pickings.
The most valuable feature of a garden made of wicking beds is transportability. When you relocate, you can hire some heavy lifting gear to take the garden with you or sell the garden separately.
The technique of water wicking can be used in all garden beds. However, wicking is particularly valuable for difficult areas ie. boggy soil, hard-pan soil, rock or concrete slabs.
A primary goal in a permaculture design is to reduce soil erosion and nutrient loss. This is achieved by slowing the movement of water in the landscape. The addition of wicking gardens lets the soil and plants draw their own water.
Firstly, use garden mounds, ponds and above-ground trenches to trap the rain water and allow it to seep through. Secondly, use edge materials that resist erosion but have gaps to allow water to percolate through. These materials include papier-mache, rocks and recycled loose bricks. Finally, ensure that the gardens consist of rich high organic matter because this allows wicking to occur. You can add wicking material such as old jute or hessian bags at the base of the garden beds.
The Resilient Bog
If you are lucky to have boggy soil, then you can simply build the garden beds on top. Pile on the compost, put in a chicken dome, then plant it out. The height required depends on what you wish to grow, how much it rains and how the size of the reservoir of water. Experiment with a mixture of shallow (ie. Lettuce, tomato) and deep-rooted (kale, Spinach, carrots). The water in the boggy ground below will wick up if the soil in the bed is full of rich organic material.
Purple Pear in the Hunter Valley NSW., Australia is a busy community supported agricultural farm. With years of patient composting they have created lush and abundant gardens on a boggy field. They use bathtub wicking beds for their carrot crops and use the bog-based mandala gardens for leafy greens.
Wicking Delights on Rock
Most gardeners wouldn’t dream of setting their food gardens on rock or concrete. But then, most gardeners are not as inventive or determined as food gardeners. In a permaculture design we put the food close to where we can observe its needs and readiness. So the position is partially dependent on the site conditions but mostly on the end-user’s needs.
When creating gardens on rock, choose areas where the rock is flat with a shallow basin. This dish shape will form a hanging swamp and a good lens of water for wicking. If you don’t want the path to be the pool of water, dig a small trench on the high side. Earthkeepers in Buxton NSW built many of their gardens on bedrock.
If you want to do a workshop on Easy earthworks join an upcoming workshop on our site.
Study Permaculture with us at Permaculture Visions.