WickiMIx manual
  wmmanual created 23 Nov 2015 updated 12 Dec 2015  

WickiMix Manual


The WickiMix system


The WickiMix system was really developed based on wicking beds, but can be easily modified for use in sponge and conventional garden beds. (Sponge beds are like wicking beds but instead of a waterproof container holding water is it retained by a layer of highly absorbent material – normally organic material.)

The needs of people living with small gardens or apartments and living a high pressure city life were key considerations in the development of the system.

Typical components are;-

- a water tight container of some sort
- a seed tray with open mesh base
- steady supply of organic material such as food waste and weeds
- light weight bulk soil either garden soil or potting mix
- calcium such as lime, gypsum, dolomite
- WickiMix
- If outside in high rain area a sight tube and drainage system

What is WickiMix


The WickiMix system has two components. WickiMix-R (-R standing or Rhizosphere of Roots) is an inoculant which is used to convert organic material such as food waste or weeds into a nutrient rich soil. It mixed in with organic material to form a lower level of soil.

WickiMix-M (-M is used to form a layer of top soil for growing plants.

WickiMix-R

It is literally grown. We have beds in which a variety of synergistic plants are growing as part of a balanced eco-system. We extract parts of the roots system to create WickiMix-R which is used as an inoculant. It contains a broad spectrum of micro and macro biology which as long as they are fed by providing food (e.g. a steady supply of organic material and plant exudates (e.g. sugars from the root system of growing plants) will grow and expand.

-R is a living medium and will need to be put into a bed shortly after you receive it. It contains fungi and macro-biology specifically worms which are relatively delicate.

WickiMix-M


This contains minerals which fill two functions

- some minerals make the soil hydrophilic e.g. water loving so water will readily wick through the soil and hold onto water and nutrients and also provide void space. These minerals are not consumed by the growing plants so have an extended life in the soil.

-other minerals provide the secondary and trace minerals which are essential for health. As you harvest your plants these minerals are removed from the soil and will need replacing.

- It is based on vermicast and is rich in bacteria and will contain some worm eggs which will hatch out over time.

Advance warning


We use a variety of plants to create -R.

These include some herbs like basil, parsley and mint which are selected because they have very dense root systems. They are also very active so may push through the upper layer to form growing plants. If you do not want these plants you will need to chop them of as they emerge.

We also use other plants because they attract beneficial biology, for example we grow sun flower because it encourages mycorrhizal fungi. There could be seeds in the mix which may well germinate and again if you do not want these plants you will need to chop them out.

Soil biology has evolved to convert organic waste into soil which supplies nutrients to living plants.  In return the living plants extract carbon from the atmosphere which feeds the soil biology so completing the cycle by feeding the soil biology.

If there are already plenty of nutrients in the soil the biology become less active. (One reason for the drop in level of soil biology in commercial soils is the application of fertilisers). We therefore do not load -R with a high load of nutrients -this is what -M is for.

If you keep the biology fed with a steady supply of organic waste and there are plants with active roots the biology will expand and will not need replacing. However if the biology dies through lack of food or water it will need restarting.

Some components of soil biology such as bacteria are very resilient but others like fungi and worms are far less resilient. In particular calcium is essential for fungi so you may need to add further calcium (such as gypsum or dolomite) after a while.

Compost

Waste vegetation is a key part of the WickiMix system.  It is perfectly OK to use conventional hot compost however I am more interested in waste vegetation feeding the soil biology than providing nutrients so I prefer cold composting in the soil.

Also I want to use all waste material and don't want to have to sort the waste material

 
compost ringI have developed a two stage composting process.  I have set aside an area of my block as a dedicated compost ring. All the waste organic material is simply dumped in the centre of the ring - I don't bother to sort - in it goes.

I then grow a ring of broad leaved and deep rooted plants like Senna Alata, Queensland Arrow root etc. around the edge. I can then harvest the leaves to provide me with a source of cleaned compost which is free of pathogens, weed seeds and other nasties.

I do not compost these but use them directly in my beds as food for the biology.  I know most people prefer hot compositing but I am more interested in feeding - and hence growing - the biology than any nutrient value.

This system is only viable with a reasonable area but has the big advantage of storing all waste material until ready for use.

The system of a tray which can be lifted up and waste material added to the base section was developed for use in apartments where storing waste material is not viable.
 

Getting started 1


Conventional gardens, sponge beds and large wicking beds


WickiMix can be used to improve soil in conventional gardens, sponge beds and large wicking beds.


Basics of how to use

Details of the how to use the system for wicking beds are described in the manual. 

Here are the basic principles which can be in larger areas such as conventional garden beds, sponge beds and larger wicking beds.

 

trench First a trench is dug, minimum size 300mm by 300mm.

This is my heavy clay soil which is a challenge so I have gone for the minimum size.  I wish I was younger. 

 

hbfoodwaste.jpegThe trench is then filled with food waste.  This is where I stop being technical and live in the real world.

I wait until the compost bin is just at the point before the bin starts to smell and my wife will get grumpy then take it down to the sponge bed to empty the bin.

I guess the length of the trench so the food layer will be will be about 100mm high.

 

hbweeds.jpgI then cover the food with weeds. I have tonnes of weeds at my place and I used to think of them as a total pain.

I now look upon then as a highly efficient way of mining nutrients. (But weeding is still a pain.)

If you live in an apartment weeds are not essential but it is worth adding some dolomite (calcium) and manure (nitrogen).

 

hbWickiMix-r.jpgI then add WickiMix-R on top of the weeds or waste.

-R is extracted from the root zone of selected plants and is very fibrous so it is impossible to get a nice smooth layer.

You can see one of my friendly worms wondering what I am doing to his house.  Living worms are not that easy to transport but there is plenty of worm eggs in the -R so they will soon reappear.

 

hbparent.jpgIn a large sponge bed I will try and smooth the surface by backfilling with the parent soil.  Unfortunately my soil is a heavy clay so it gives a lumpy surface. But I do as best as I can then add the fine WickiMix-M.

In a small Wicking Bed I would simply use WickiMix-M to create the smooth surface for seeding.

 

hbseeding.jpgI now apply a layer of the fine WickiMix-M to the surface to germinate my seeds.

It is most important to either seed or put in seedlings or a mature plant.

Soil is created by the synergist relation between plant roots and soil biology. 

Essentially waste organic material is placed relatively deep in the soil.  This is covered with a layer of WickiMix-R where the biology will transform the waste organic material.

In a small wicking bed (where cost is not so much of an issue) this will be covered with a layer of WickiMix-M however on a larger area is it more economic to cover with a layer of parent soil or potting mix then cover with a layer of the fine WIckiMix-M for seed propagation.

This laminates structure is only the starting point.  The macro biology will move from layer to layer so you will end up with a beautifully mixed soil.  (particularly if you follow the recommended deep cycle irrigation.   

Getting started 2 small wicking beds

 

Overview

 
food waste Wicking beds are a very effective and inexpensive way of growing healthy food. There is minimal loss of water and nutrients.

But they need soil particles which have a high attraction for water and nutrients and give a high void content.

Any watertight container is filled to within about 50mm of the top with the organic waste.

This could be food waste as shown.
 

weedsOr it could be waste organic material like weeds. Many soils - like clays are too heavy to use in a wicking bed. However a heavy soil can easily grow plants like Comfrey, Senna Alata, Queensland Arrow Root etc. which have deep tap roots which are very efficient at extracting nutrients from the heavy soil.

They produce a lot of thick foliage which make an excellent raw material for making nutrient rich soil suitable for Wicking Beds.
 
wickimix-r It is then topped up with WickiMix-R which is an inoculant full of active biology particularly fungi - which decompose the organic material.

It is made by creating an eco-system of plants which are known to attract beneficial biology like mycorrhizal fungi. The root system is extracted with the living soil biology.

This is spread over the surface of the organic waste.
 
seed tray A seed tray with an open base is placed on top and filled with the much finer WickiMix-M

This also contains biology but with a bias to bacteria but contains minerals - particularly the secondary and trace minerals.

Seeds are sown into this rich soil in the normal way and top watered until a root system has developed.
 
wickimix-m As the soil is very water absorbent it can be used in sponge beds which are similar to wicking beds but do not have a water container but rely on the water holding capacity of the soil.

After the seeds germinate the roots will penetrate to the lower layer where they can extract further nutrients as the organic material decomposes.

Water can then be applied to the lower layer as in a conventional wicking bed.
 
root matAs the level drops from decomposition the tray is lifted and further organic material added.

The roots form a thick mat which lift with the tray.

This is an effective way of recycling food waste in an apartment where normal composting is not practical.

This section describes a system based on a typical tote box. However any waterproof container is perfectly satisfactory. Old fridges, bath tubs etc. are available for virtually zero cost and work fine. Another cheap method is to create some form of wooden or earth structure and line with plastic sheet.

There is no need to spend big money on expensive proprietary systems.

Sight tube

 
sightglass.jpgFirst decision is whether a sight tube is needed. A sight tube indicates the water level, can be twisted to any angle to regulate the water level and provides an easy way of filling from a hose.

Roots must not be left immersed in water for any length of time. Normally the seed tray sits on the soil above the top of the tote box rim so drainage is not strictly needed.

However in high rainfall areas where the tote box is outside additional drainage is beneficial. It is also useful to be able to view the water level and they make for easy filling.
 
overflow.jpgThey are made from components as shown which are readily available. The easiest way of making the hole is by heating a tube and pushing into the plastic. This is easier than drilling which can lead to the plastic cracking if not done carefully.
 

Filling the box


Having got your box the next step is to fill it with organic material such as food waste or weeds.

Everyone has food waste which is actually quite full of nutrients and makes an excellent starting point. Green wastes such as weeds help the food waste decompose and add a different range of nutrients. You may find this changes your attitude to weeds.

If you have a garden it is easy to simply collect the waste in a bin or pile until you have enough material. However if you live in an apartment then the bin can get a bit smelly while you accumulate enough material as it may take several weeks to get enough material.

This can easily be solved by buying bags of potting mix and lime. As you clear your kitchen waste simply cover with a layer of potting mix and lime until the box is nearly full.

Adding WickiMix-R


WickiMix-R is a fibrous mass. Simply tear of bits and spread over the surface of the organic material. This will leave a lumpy surface and you really need a smooth surface for the seed tray to rest on so there is good contact.

Adding WickiMix-M


Technically the best way is to progressively fill the seed tray with WickiMix-M and shake the tray so it falls through the mesh and makes good contact.

However WickiMix is a concentrate of a complex mix of minerals to get the preferred physical characterises of void space and water and nutrient attraction to make wicking beds work properly. However it is relatively expensive – this is great if you can afford it. But you can save some money by mixing either a good loam or potting mix with the WickiMix-M.

Making a cheaper mix


When making up your mixture you do not want to use a base with an extreme particle size, clay is really too fine (but will aggregate when the biology get to work on it) and sand is generally too coarse.

If you have a naturally good loam soil you are lucky and this will also add an extra ration of local biology. There are an unbelievable number of different species of soil biology and it is always good to use local material if available. Generally local soils have a high concentration of bacterial biology but are low in fungi.

We breed WickiMix-R to have a bias toward fungi so you will still end up with a good balance.

Generally commercial potting mixes have better physical properties than local soils but are generally sterile with little or no biology.

The aim of WickiMix is to provide the biology and minerals and concentrates and let you use cheaper local material to provide the bulk of material for your bed.

It must be remembered that a closed wicking box is separated from the natural soil so you have to manage the biology yourself.

Propagation


Fill the tray to within about 5mm from the surface with whatever you have selected as your bulk medium.

You can then seed your tray and then cover with neat WickiMix-M which makes an excellent germinating medium.

Germination is generally the most difficult stage in growing plants.

I am promoting a system where experience gardeners can supply trays with seedling already germinated.

What you grow is up to you but there are a number of factors to think about. Do you want to grow plants to maturity or so you want baby greens?

Baby greens give you food much quicker and if you use the cut and come again system will give you a continuous supply of greens for a long period of time. You will however need to apply the seed densely which will completely cover the surface of the bed. (Which helps keep weeds at bay).

If you want to grow plant to maturity then you need to allow plenty of room for the roots to grow.

When choosing the plants to grow I promote using a variety of plants in one box to create a synergistic effect. This is particularly important in wicking boxes where space can be critical.

I usually put a few radish seeds in which germinate quickly and can be harvested while other crops are maturing.

Water


People have different views on the best method of watering - what matters is does your system work for you and your plant types.

My method which works for me is not to fill the water reservoir first but to mist the soil until the seeds have germinated and have developed a root system.

Using a heavy spray is not good as it washes out all the fines and you end up with a very dense soil at the bottom of the bed.

It is very easy to overwater seeds when they will rot and not germinate.

Once the roots have reached the bottom of the seed tray I will fill the entire lower container or reservoir with water. It is very bad to have the soil saturated for any length of time. However once the roots system has developed the water level will drop relatively quickly. This avoids stagnation and sucks in fresh air into the lower container.

When the container is refilled it will flush out any stale air from the soil.

I strongly promote the flood and drain system of deep cycle rather than continuously topping up with water (shallow cycle).

To aid this flood and drain cycle it is beneficial to incorporate some deep rooted plants into you mix. Tomatoes and KangKong are great for this as they put down deep roots which will such the water out of the reservoir giving this desirable deep cycle.

I appreciate that many people like the shallow cycle which maintains a constant water level - this is a method which is very suitable for drip irrigation where any excess water can drain away but is not necessary or suitable for a wicking bed where there is always water available for the plants.

Special needs


The system I have described is suitable for most green vegetables which are generally pretty tolerant.

However some plants need special management methods. Some plant require either an acidic or alkaline soil while others prefer a high humidity with continuous water supply while this may cause fungal deceases in other plants.

Further information


This is a basic system focusing on the practical aspect. There is a mass of information on this web so I have put together a reading schedule which hopefully enables readers to study some of the theoretical aspects. See HowItWorks

To contact me email me at colinaustin@bigpond.com