Raised beds to wicking beds...

20 April, 2015

There have been big changes happening in Bek's Backyard. I mean, literally, in the backyard.

I have read for a long time on both foodnstuff's and frogdancer's blogs about the joys of wicking beds. For those uninitiated, wicking beds are essentially a container system where there is a water reservoir below the growing medium. This system can be implemented in both small spaces like plastic containers, buckets etc, or in large spaces like garden beds. If one has enough pond liner.

The benefits are mainly in the water savings, which in our dry climate is considerable. Also I'm sure in some situations where poor soils, or close trees with invasive roots, just having a wholely seperate soil would be advantageous.

Unfortunately I discovered the wonders of wicking beds after I had put in my raised bed veg patch. And I knew it would be a long hard slog to convert these to wicking beds.

The main reason I have decided to go the whole hog to convert is because of chickens. Now this may seem like a side issue but bear with me. My chickens live in a pen in a corner of the backyard. With the house to the rear being subdivided and a new unit put in what was previously facing a shed and no inconvenience to anyone will now be right next to a courtyard area. Council regulations say any chicken coop must "located far enough away from any habitable room windows of a neighbour to minimise possible nuisance by noise or smell.  Suggested minimum  distance 15 metres" which will not be possible with the new unit to be built.

So the chicken coop needed to be moved. But with pretty much all of my garden space utilised I had nowhere to move it to. Unless I moved something else.

Hmmm, I could move the raised beds the backyard, which would have the additional advantage of putting my main veg growing space right outside my kitchen door, and move the chicken coop to where the raised beds were. Further advantages allows for extra space to build a polytunnel.

Sold!

So I set about the mammoth task of converting the backyard into raised wicking beds. I don't think I realised at the beginning exactly how huge this job was going to be. I not only had to dig up my whole backyard, including many semi established plants and re-landscape the yard, but moving the raised beds themselves, spacing and levelling them out, lining with pond liner, filling with soil/gravel (for the water reservoir) and soil/compost was a huge task.

So much so that I started converting these in November last year, and it is only just this weekend gone that the beds are completed and filled, the soil in levelled and re-gravelled and the backyard is semi presentable. I was mainly delayed over summer due to it really being too hot for the more strenuous parts of this work, and also preferring to spend my limited gardening hours on more immediately profitable (i.e. food producing) garden activities.

But with summer winding down, and with a hand from family members, most notably my mum (thanks heaps mum, I couldn't have done it without you!), the wicking beds are finally done.


Compared to the same picture in my header above, you can see just how much has been done.

It is a bit hard to see, but there are three in a row (two more behind the one above right), and three in a triangle on the left (one behind the blue central pond, and one further to the left).

I actually completed the front two beds in December last year. These beds have been in use for the summer and grew cucumbers, eggplant, bush beans, capsicums and basil. They are now planted out with carrots, radishes, broccoli and onions.

The first two beds, from front.

Just look at that seedling growth.

Almost at broccoli stage already!

But even in these four months of use I have been surprised at just how much better these have been compared to raised beds in soil. Plants are happier, more productive and there is more I can cram into my 2.4m x 1.2m beds.

Two more beds are now planted out with cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, and peas.

Brussels sprouts and cauliflowers in bed, remaining seedlings also protected by net.

Peas coming up. Also weeds. 

They likewise appear to be doing well, with seedlings suffering less transplant stress and the seeds requiring less watering. So far it is all looking good.

I will post in a separate post exactly how I have built the wicking beds, so you can see my methodology.

Now I just need to move the chicken coop and build a polytunnel. More info to come on that down the track. Hopefully that wont take four months!

A lot of plants have been transplanted in this move. The edibles (step-over apples, alpine strawberries, golden marjoram, chives, rhubarb) and ornamentals (agapanthus, many bearded iris', port wine magnolia) have been moved to around the edges of the perimeter garden beds. Only two cherry trees previously in this area are to be moved to another space, where I will be espaliering them.

It's been a big change, but I'm expecting it to be a productive one. Stay tuned to see how it goes.


17 comments:

  1. Good work! I don't think you'll regret it. I was sceptical about my W/B's but love them now. Brassicas in particular just keep on giving.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good to hear! I hope I have a similar experience.

      Delete
  2. I am so intrigued by this - I am thinking of building some wicking beds as well, but my question is this - do you imagine that in wet winters such as we get in Tas (or Melbourne) that the soil would become waterlogged due to not being able to drain?

    I will watch and learn with great interest..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My guess would be no, that shouldn't be an issue as long as the water outlet remains functional. The level of water in the reservoir should remain the same, no matter how much rain we get. Over the last few rainy days we've had they seem to be pretty happy.

      Delete
    2. Ok, so there is a water outlet? I must have missed that on the plans I have been looking at. Is there something like a drainage hole at the bottom of the bed?

      Delete
    3. Yes, there is. Usually it is on the side, around 10cm above the base, with around 20-30cms of soil above. So the water reservoir below the outlet can empty if there is such a thing as too much rain (oh, what a lovely thought!)

      Delete
  3. I didn't know people did whole beds that wicked. But I could see how it would be really useful in your climate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes. It is totally a thing, and really catching on over here.

      Delete
  4. wow bek, that's a massive amount of work and it looks amazing, the beds look wonderful. it really has transformed your space!
    ps jo - what wet Tassie winters do ye speak of? send them down south if you have plenty of them up north...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheers! I had thought that putting the veg patch in my 'relaxing' space might be less relaxing than mainly ornamentals, but I have to say I enjoy it more like this. It is fun to sit outside and eat, with the plants the meal came from meters away.

      Delete
    2. Ha ha, e, not this last one for sure. But the winter of 2013 was so wet here that the the ground was completely water logged, and one of my heavily laden lemon trees developed an alarming tilt..

      Delete
  5. It looks amazing. You're going to love not having to water so often.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Bev! I sure am. Cheers for the inspiration!

      Delete
  6. Brilliant!! I'd love to know how much this cost on average per bed

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good point. I'll make sure to include it in my 'how to' post. Coming soon.

      Delete
  7. Hi Bek. I'm finally catching up on blogging and blog reading. You're going to love the wicking beds.
    I'm currently tossing up whether to include all wicking beds when I rip up the back lawn, or whether to use the chook tractor to fertilise the garden beds. (Can't have chooks on a wicking bed, more's the pity!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure I will! :)
      Any reason why you couldn't do both? Maybe some wicking beds and some food forrest style gardening that the chooks can happily roam in (after the trees are established of course...)

      Delete