GRRRR those ***** stones

I regularly receive emails from wicking beders complaining that their beds either do not wick properly or the water becomes stagnant and smelly.

 I have tried to explain the reasons in each email but got a bit fed up so wrote a little piece called 'history' which did not seem to attract attention so today I am going wild and putting on the front of my web.

 Most people recognize that I pioneered wicking bed technology.

 Some fifteen years ago I made my first wicking beds, very crude nothing more than a hole lined with a plastics sheet, filled with a layers of weeds then backfilled with soil. Very effective and saved water but did not catch peoples imagination.

 I then used the same method but in a box.  This time I used agi pipe (the standard type with lots of with holes) to direct the water to the base. The agi pipe soon filled up with soil so I covered the pipe (only) with a layer of cloth.  I put this on my web and YouTube and this seemed to catch people’s imagination. 

One person who was obviously much better at publicity than me made a video but they (incorrectly) covered not just the pipe but the bottom layer with cloth.  They also used stones in the bottom layer.

Now stones are far too large to have any wicking action at all but there is some water transfer by water evaporating from the reservoir and then condensing on the cloth and soil above as these are hydrophilic (attract water) so they do work to some extent.

This however really caught on and soon there were thousands of wicking beds made with this incorrect method.  The power of marketing over technology!

I however realized that nutrients were just as important as water saving so I moved onto the wicking worm bed.  On the large beds I had a container full of holes buried in the bed and put compost and minerals into this bin.  The worms would break this down and spread this nutrient mix throughout the bed.  They also aerated the bed so the soil became a virtual sponge holding a great deal of water so there is no need for a separate water reservoir.

This is technically far superior to the bed with stones and cloth providing a nutrient rich soil and the roots can go right down to the base of the bed extracting water so it never becomes stagnant and pongy.  This is a much simpler and more effective system basically just a box with a pipe to the base and a worm chamber.

However the power of marketing is such that this simpler and more effective system has been overwhelmed by the more complex, expensive and less effective system with cloths and stones.  This I find highly frustrating.

The only disadvantage is the worm chamber takes up some room in the box.  This is not an issue with a large bed but is a problem with a small box as people are likely to want to use on a veranda.

 So I continued with my development and came up with idea of a growing the plants in a basket so the basket can be lifted out and food waste and minerals added to the space under the basket.  Adding selected volcanic rock dust provides the essential minerals lacking in our diets.  Adding fungi and worms break down the minerals making them available to the plants.

While stones, sand or soil can hold between 30 to 50% water they do not compete (on a space basis) with a water reservoir.  This can be easily made by having an inverted box (or better several boxes) in the base of the wicking beds, they must not totally cover the base but allow soil to go down to the base.  Note they do need an air bleed at the top, just a small hole with a cloth taped over is all that is needed.

Another alternative is to use external water reservoirs which can be made as large as you like.

One external reservoir can handle several beds.  However if the water reservoir is too large then it can lead to stagnant water.

It is incredibly easy and cheap to make a highly effective wicking bed, virtually any waterproof container will do.  Why people spend large amounts of money on complex wicking beds that don't work as well is one of the mysteries of life.  Maybe its the mobile phone complex where the more difficult they are to use the better they are perceived

Despite the theoretical advantages separate water chambers most of my wicking beds are simple soil type beds.  I do put a lot of effort into getting really good soil which to me is the key to success with wicking beds.

I am thinking about calling these sponge beds to differentiate them from the rogue beds which are incorrectly called wicking beds.

I plan to write up more about wicking basket in the near future, however I see one major opportunity for wicking baskets.

I have just returned from China promoting the wicking beds concept as there are literally millions of apartments here where people would otherwise have no way of growing some of their own food.

The basic idea is that growers, probably commercial growers could grow crops in a ‘mother’ wicking bed.  When the plants are approaching maturity the basket only can be shipped to the customer, either directly or through a staging post such as a market or shop.

The consumer would place the basket in a small ‘daughter’ wicking bed and can so has immediate access to fresh produce.  I try and promote the concept of ‘chop and chew’ where the outer leaves are taken of and eaten letting the plant regrow new leaves.  Research has shown that removing leaves actually rejuvenates the plant so the freshness is maintained.

 I have an idea of setting up a web site where growers can display the plants they have for sale or are willing to grow on a custom basis and consumers can purchase on line.

 I would be very interested for any feedback you have on this idea.

 Colin

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