Make a wicking box


Boxing your way into a garden via Kim Arney (Eugenana resident, self sufficiency goddess)

Let’s face it, not everyone has the space, time or strength to put in a vegetable garden, and seriously there is nothing more disheartening than the planned garden of Eden ending up as a waste land that even the family cat is loathe to venture into.  So if you are new to the whole concept of growing plants, or are known by family and friends as “that person who can kill any plant” or even find that bending over is fine but straightening up again can take the rest of the day I have a solution for you to try.

Wicking Beds

They can be made cheaply from scavenged items

They are space efficient

They are self watering!

You can put them on a bench

You can make them in a variety of sizes

Easily covered if pests are an issue

The following directions are for making a wicking bed out of a styrofoam vegetable box.  You can use any kind of container as long as it holds water, it needs to be around 50cm deep.

So first of all you’ll need to gather a few materials, remember be creative, try to make use of what you have around,.  This is just how I do it.

What I used

1 styrofoam box

2 plastic softdrink bottles

a piece of material that easily allows water through, I used a piece of old stocking.

Hessian or other material to cover the box (optional), Bark chips, or another free draining medium like gravel.

Charcoal (optional)

Potting mix or compost – about a medium bag 20L

How to put it all together

Now if you have a sore back, it makes sense to garden at a comfortable level and it makes even more sense to then put this together where you want to use it!

Step 1 – making an overflow drain

overflow drainCut the top off a softdrink bottle,  and screw the neck it into the all the way through the outside of the styrofoam box about 5 cm up from the bottom of the box.  If it doesn’t go all the way through you will need to push it with your fingers from inside the box.  Then remove the bottle, put the piece of old stocking over the top and push it back  into the hole you have made this will give you a spout.

Step 2 – watering device

watering deviceCut the bottom off a plastic bottle, and place the bottle in the opposite corner from the drainage hole.

Step 3 – water reservoir

Next take the bark chips and put into the box, your aiming to have about 5cm of chips above the drainage hole. I also put in a couple of pieces of charcoal, as it helps keep the water sweet.

Step 4 – covering the box

covering the boxTake the porous material you’ve scrounged, make sure you have enough so you can bring the material into the box as well as covering the outside.  The material is going to act as a barrier so your soil doesn’t all drop into the reservoir (bark chips) and clog up the system!  I put a couple of pieces of cardboard over the top of the material where the drainage plug is, just to add a bit of stability.

Step 5 – filling

fillingFill your box with potting mix, compost, good garden soil or a mixture of these you want about 15cm of growing medium, This box took nearly a whole bag of potting mix.  I tied off the hessian with some old wool to hold it tight.

The whole thing took me about half an hour.  However I did have to remove the cats from the boxes at various times (what is it with cats and boxes???)

Now for the first watering, water the box from the top and give it a good soaking.  Water until water runs from the drainage bottle.  Don’t position the drainage bottle where it is going to leak onto things you don’t want to get wet, or over the top of the cat!

For future waterings, it is simply a matter of peering into the bottle to look at the water level, when the level gets low, just fill up the bottle.  You can use liquid fertiliser or worm tea to give your plants that extra boost.

Plant as you would any other garden bed, you can plant seedlings or seeds.

The picture below is of one I sowed with a mescalun mix about 6 weeks ago.  I’ll start picking this in a week or so, picking the whole plants which will give the other plants room to go.  I neglected to put a watering bottle in this one, and just water it from the top until water runs out of the drainage bottle.  It is sitting in our glasshouse and I have only had to water it once in the 6 weeks!  Bonus!!

growing lettuces

Once I started making wicking beds I started thinking about other uses, we are lucky we have a greenhouse, however I was still finding issues with keeping the humidity levels up around my cuttings, so with the help of a couple of pieces of clear plastic, duct tape, 6 stakes and pegs….I present the wicking cutting bed.  For this bed I used the basic technique, but instead of filling the bed up with soil I used sawdust.  To keep the plastic rigid I put bamboo stakes down the side.  It is working really well, I still need to water the punnets daily but they are loving the extra humidity.

Now for a bit of information on styrofoam

  • It is fragile, and small pieces swallowed could potentially choke small children and animals.  This is one of the reasons why I cover the outside of the box.
  • Never burn it, it releases toxic chemicals.
  • It is an energy intensive product to produce, and energy intensive to recycle. So reusing it makes sense.




2 thoughts on “Make a wicking box

  1. Hi, just curious, would the fact that you drain hole is 5cm below the top of your bark chips mean that your porous/wicking material won’t actually get wet/wick? Are you then relying on evaporation?
    Thanks in advance

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