All I want for Christmas is a . . . wicking bed

It seems idealistic to wish for a significant rain event when weather is at best enigmatic and at worst the collateral damage of global warming and climate change.

“Permaculture’s whole principle of having to work with nature, rather than fight against it, is not just an ethical restraint. It’s also about realizing you’re not the one in control. Nature is not only a nurturer but also a great destroyer.” ~ David Holmgren

According to the meteorologists there’s a possibility of some rain somewhere here on the Mid North Coast around Christmas… hmmm, we’ll see. Of late we’ve had a couple of fleeting storms and a welcome but inconsequential drop of rain in the gauge, tanks and on the garden. But we need more. Much more.

The 4 rainwater tanks on our small residential block hold approximately 36000 litres/8000 gallons collected from the house, verandah and shed roofs, although in a water emergency we have infrastructure to pump from the adjacent river via a neighbour’s line. It’s sufficient, but in drought conditions doesn’t enable us to splash water around.

The garden is surviving but struggling… except for the wicking beds, the latest a joint project I designed and the G.O. executed for my Permaculture assignment: Install a Structure. A wicking bed is simply a self-contained raised garden bed with a built-in reservoir that supplies water from the bottom up.

Wicking bed with zucchini plants
LHS: Black Jack zucchini plants in the new wicking bed made from pallets, and RHS: chamomile in the smaller kit form yellow metal wicking bed given to us a couple of years ago.

I chose a wicking bed structure as it is a water and space efficient solution for which we could use materials at hand because… #refusereuserecycle #frugalandfabulous #livesimplehomemadelocalcreativebetter.

I thought I’d share the how-to… a festive season gift.

Find inspiration and ideas online:

Draw up a plan to suit the materials you want to use.
Draw up a plan to suit the materials you want to use.

The design had to meet permaculture principles in regard to structures and the built environment.

Catch and store energy: The wicking bed enables water to be captured in the base of the structure, stored and taken up by the plant roots rather than the usual method where water is applied to the plants and top of the soil, drains through then out of the container or garden bed and is lost.

Use and value renewable resources and services: Most of the construction required recycled materials we had scavenged such as heat-treated hardwood pallets for the structure, black plastic liner for waterproofing the base and sides, Geotextile (Geotex) fabric for the membrane between ag pipe and soil, and components for lasagne-no dig garden to fill the bed. For the most part hand tools were used rather than powered, saving electricity use.

Make lists:
Quantity and quality of all materials needed.

Wicking bed structure:

  • 9 recycled heat-treated hardwood pallets, used but good quality
  • 140 recycled nails from recycled hardwood pallets, used but good quality
  • 30 new nails
  • 4 sqm recycled black plastic liner, not new but good quality
  • 2 sqm Geotex fabric, not new but good quality
  • 3.5 metres ag pipe, new, good quality
  • 1.6 m metal stripping
  • 760 mm poly pipe
  • 1 x poly pipe joiner
  • 20 ml silicone sealant
  • 150 mm rubber hose
  • 1 x rubber stopper
  • 300 mm duct tape
  • Recycled black plastic tub

Materials except ag pipe were recycled or from our existing supply. Ag pipe was purchased locally from our closest hardware store.

Lasagne-no dig garden:

  • Sugarcane mulch
  • Soil from site excavation
  • Aged cow manure from local farm
  • Dinofert
  • Green garden clippings
  • Newspaper
  • Water

Tools and equipment:

  • PPE including gloves, ear and eye protection
  • Hammer
  • Hand saw
  • Saw horses
  • Jimmy/pinch bar
  • Square mouth shovel
  • Long handle shovel
  • Spirit levels – long and short
  • Axe
  • Bucket
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Marking paint
  • Tape measure
  • Battery powered drill
  • Sealant gun
  • Tin snips
  • Stanley knife
  • Scissors
  • Marker pen/pencil
  • Mattock
  • Garden hose

Before beginning work:

  • Identify WH&S hazards, assess risks, and implement controls.
  • Assemble materials and tools.
  • Check tools for serviceability.
  • If you need to dig down to level the ground where you’re positioning the wicking bed consider if there might be underground services which may include power, gas, water, stormwater, sewerage or septic connections, phone and optical cables. Remember to Dial Before You Dig. Proximity to nearby structures was also considered, and the structure was placed so it would not impair access.
  • Consider any environmental implications of installing the wicking bed.

The wicking bed structure is designed to provide a water efficient garden bed, positioned with a north-east aspect to get morning sun and protection to the west from afternoon sun. The structure has a long-life expectancy and is constructed mostly from recycled and recyclable materials. It throws a small amount of shade on a retaining wall and across a mowed grass area that will have no impact on either.

  • Consider if there will be an impact through soil disturbance and the alteration to water flow where you plan to position the wicking bed.

Minimal soil disturbance was created by slight levelling of the site of the wicking bed structure, with no resultant alteration to water flow during construction or after completion.

Set out the site for the structure:

Mark out the position of the structure according to design drawings and specifications.

Measured with tape measure, and marked out site for wicking bed with marker paint.
Measured with tape measure, and marked out site for wicking bed with marker paint.

Excavate and prepare footings according to the type of structure:

Grass stripped from marked out site.
Grass stripped from marked out site.
Site excavated and levelled.
Site excavated and levelled.

Prepare and cut materials:

Lay out materials ready for assembly to the requirements contained in the design drawings and specifications.

Ready to begin - hardwood pallets under shade of tree adjacent to shed and site.
Ready to begin – hardwood pallets under shade of tree adjacent to shed and site.
Preparing hardwood pallets, keeping existing dimensions to minimise work and wastage.
Preparing hardwood pallets, keeping existing dimensions to minimise work and wastage.
Hardwood pallets in place, black plastic liner and ag line ready for next stage.
Hardwood pallets in place, black plastic liner and ag line ready for next stage.

Mark out the length of materials and the positions of joins according to specifications in design drawings.

Checking measurements and positioning.
Checking measurements and positioning.
Recycled nails, hardwood pallets require only hand tools for assembly saving use of power tools.
Recycled nails, hardwood pallets require only hand tools for assembly saving use of power tools.

Cut and join materials in preparation for assembly:

Spare pallets broken down and use to fill gaps in frame.
Spare pallets broken down and use to fill gaps in frame.

Assemble materials into position and fix into place according to design drawings and specifications.

Sides attached, ready to attach to base.
Sides attached, ready to attach to base.
As well as nailing the timber, metal stripping used for joins for extra strength.
As well as nailing the timber, metal stripping used for joins for extra strength.
Base fascia filled in with strips of hardwood pallets to deter snakes.
Base fascia filled in with strips of hardwood pallets to deter snakes.
Black plastic liner loosely fitted so it won’t tear when filled, and secured by edging boards made from hardwood pallet strips.Trim off excess plastic around edges for neat finish.
Black plastic liner loosely fitted so it won’t tear when filled, and secured by edging boards made from hardwood pallet strips. Trim off excess plastic around edges for neat finish.

Install and fix remaining materials into position according to design drawings and specifications.

Filler pipe made from poly pipe fitted with overflow hose and joiner using silicone sealant.
Filler pipe made from poly pipe fitted with overflow hose and joiner using silicone sealant.
Overflow hole measured, positioned and drilled through timber structure and black plastic liner.
Overflow hole measured, positioned and drilled through timber structure and black plastic liner.
Poly pipe filler fitted to ag pipe using duct tape.
Poly pipe filler fitted to ag pipe using duct tape.

Finish off structure to ensure all materials are secure and complete.

Filler pipe and ag pipe fitted into bed and attached with pipe cover bracket made from recycled plastic tub.
Filler pipe and ag pipe fitted into bed and attached with pipe cover bracket made from recycled plastic tub.
Filler pipe cover and bracket made from recycled plastic tub.
Filler pipe cover and bracket made from recycled plastic tub.
Ag pipe membrane tied off at end to form water-permeable seal.
Ag pipe membrane tied off at end to form water-permeable seal.
Protective permeable layer of Geotex fabric laid over ag pipe.
Protective permeable layer of Geotex fabric laid over ag pipe.
Materials assembled, preparing to form lasagne-no dig garden in wicking bed.
Materials assembled, preparing to form lasagne-no dig garden in wicking bed.
First layer of recycled soil over Geotex membrane to weigh ag pipe flat.
First layer of recycled soil over Geotex membrane to weigh ag pipe flat.
Lasagne-no dig garden: layers of recycled soil from excavation, green garden clippings, sugarcane mulch, Dinofert, aged cow manure, newspaper - watered at each layer.
Lasagne-no dig garden: layers of recycled soil from excavation, green garden clippings, sugarcane mulch, Dinofert, aged cow manure, newspaper – watered at each layer.
Filling reservoir from rainwater tank.
Filling reservoir from rainwater tank.
Reservoir full.
Reservoir full.
After filling reservoir cover is placed over fill pipe, and rubber stopper on overflow outlet. Finished.
After filling reservoir cover is placed over fill pipe, and rubber stopper on overflow outlet. Finished.

Check quality of work and clean-up site:

Inspect finished works to ensure the standard of the finished structure is in accordance with design drawings and specifications.

The completed work answers the design and specifications of the structure plan, and fulfils its functional requirements. Its dimensions and weathered material also aesthetically complement the space. Designing around and using recycled and materials to hand kept costs to a minimum. Total spend for new materials was A$64.99 for ag pipe, not all of which was used for this structure. The remainder will be used in the future to construct another wicking bed with other recycled and existing materials. The structure will give many years of productive service fully repaying the modest financial outlay… “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

Recycle, re-use:

Leftover materials were sorted and assessed for reusability. The remaining ag pipe, Geotex fabric, black plastic, unused heat-treated hardwood pallets pieces, recycled nails from the pallets were saved and will be used to construct another wicking bed.

Broken pieces of heat-treated hardwood pallets were cut up for kindling and will be burned in our woodfire next winter.

♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡

Wishing you love and light and happy for the festive season, and always.

“The light teaches you to convert life into a festive promenade.”
~ Dejan Stojanovic, The Sun Watches the Sun

Your thoughts? Comments welcome.

Between now and July 2020 I’m studying Certificate IV Permaculture via Tafe NSW Digital. Studying online, I discovered, involves a lot of writing. This year of study, I think, might lend itself to some blog posts… follow along if you are interested in learning what I learn during my permaculture journey.

In my garden
When in doubt add mulch… #inmygarden 6 December 2019

8 thoughts on “All I want for Christmas is a . . . wicking bed

  1. I wish I could bring you a tankful of water when I see you in February/March… I shall content myself with inspecting your no doubt flourishing wicking beds. Glad to see Diesh is contributing to the creative process, unlike the Mouse, who is spending his days snoozing comfortably in the air conditioning. I have placed my tub of herbs under the sewing room aircon outlet to catch the water. The mint and basil are particularly enjoying it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deez has been spending a bit more daytime indoors than usual out of the smoke and in the cool, as have I. A brilliant idea to use the aircon water… our aircon is situated near a climbing rose that appreciates the extra moisture. I hope the fires/smoke are sorted by Feb/March and we get decent rain by then… although not during your holiday ☺

      Like

      1. In our climate, I can generate a couple of buckets of aircon water a day because it’s so humid. When we’ve had some rain and I’ve been able to get some vegies in, that’s where the water will go. For the pretty stuff, I’m strongly tempted to divert some of the laundry water; it will need me to change the detergent, as I can’t use the eco-friendly stuff to clean the Husband’s work clothes, it just doesn’t get the diesel and coal dust out of them. But for sheets, towels and my clothes, it would be fine. I’d just have to extend the waste-water hose so it’d go out the back door 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great instructions and images to show construction. I hope you get all of the rain that you need… we’re dry here too, but not like your neck of the woods. Usually, we get some nice spring rains starting in February so I’m looking forward to that!

    Your garden areas are just fantastic! I love that you use what you have and repurpose materials.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, the post was simply the assignment I submitted rendered into blog format. It was too good to leave filed away. Utilising what we have is how we manage to do what we do, and it is very satisfying to calculate how much we save vs actual full spend cost, as well as reducing the amount of new things in circulation… and eventually landfill. We’re hoping for good February rain to; off the northern monsoons, which are late this year.

      Liked by 1 person

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