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Retrofitting Above-ground Beds to Wicking Beds

Once I realised how incredibly dry the mix was and that however much water I poured onto the beds, the plants were not doing well, I had to figure out why.

And ‘why’ is probably a combination of gardening on a slope and the surrounding trees helping themselves to the largesse on offer.

Given the amount of organic matter added to these beds over the years, it’s only been when there was a lot of rain that I got enough crops to justify the work involved. It’s taken a while to work all this out ;-)

As some of you will know, I’ve been keen on wicking beds (or bins aka self-watering pots) for some years. I had thought of tackling the conversion of the above-ground beds but the amount of work was daunting so I put it off. Without my partner to help me, the whole job would be impossible: it takes the two of us 1.5 to 2 hrs for each bed so by myself that would have been 3 to 4 hours of slog. The beds are around 5ft x 2ft 6ins and about 1 foot high.

Looking at the mix as we dug it out

you can see how dry it is. The roots you can see are but a small sample of the root masses we recovered from the mix. Those roots are now part of the bed and will feed the microbes for a while.

Dig out all the mix then level the bottom - a wicking bed must be level or the reservoir water will either pool and stagnate or drain away. Even though ours keep the water within the mix and not in a separate reservoir, water still will find its way down slope.

Once level, add the plastic. Possibly pool-liner would be better but not only is it very costly but more heavy than either of us can manage (we’re 79 and 71 and not as strong as we used to be). This plastic is 'builders plastic' fairly heavy and at $2 a metre, just the right price.

Next start shovelling back the mix previously taken out. Water each layer to start the re-hydrating process. Using tank water delivered by gravity in a 1 inch hose - it’s not recycled water, just the purple low-pressure hose.

We added 2 barrows-full plus a 30 litre bag of Searle’s 5 in 1 and a top layer of mix plus the sugar-cane mulch. Watered all again and added two slits about ⅔rds of the way up the side as an overflow.

Some of the struggling plants which I transplanted earlier are thriving now. So we’re hopeful of decent crops from here on, drought or no drought. It will be worth it - we’ve done 5 of the 10 so far.

And here is our first dragon of the season, not a happy little camper at being just about stomped on:

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Comment by Elaine de Saxe on May 16, 2016 at 18:02

Hmmm, don't know. Haven't seen any evidence. The tree roots which were having such a glorious time before the conversion were only in 1 bed. I believe that tree roots only go where there is moisture so am expecting there not to be root invasions although the overflow slits are an area I hadn't considered. All I can say is 'so far, so good' and so long as I keep topping up the water and refreshing the mix, they are performing well.

Comment by Cres on May 16, 2016 at 15:18

So after a few years of use have any sneaky tree roots tried to work their way up between the wicking bed wall and plastic and make it's way in through the overflow slits?

Comment by Lissa on September 19, 2013 at 5:08

PS love the lizard!

Comment by Lissa on September 19, 2013 at 5:07

That's a heck of a job you've tackled, well done! Both my shoulders are playing up now, wouldn't even think of doing something like that. I have to garden to suit the physical impediments lol, which means no digging.

Fingers crossed that it makes the difference for your crops now.

Comment by Andrew Cumberland on September 18, 2013 at 18:29

Nice work Elaine.  Spring has sprung at your place.

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