Archive for July, 2014


Earthbox Self Watering Containers

I need to ask your forgiveness. I followed some very bad advice in my container garden this year, and worse, I passed on the information before I tested it. I trusted the source and just ran with the idea. What a mess I made. For once, I hope you ignored my advice. If you listened, I hope the things I’ve learned will help you fix any problems you might be having.

Regular readers know I love wicking beds and self-watering containers. I use them almost exclusively now. They are easy to build and are extremely water efficient. Last year, I even learned that if you have good wicking action, you can top water and don’t need to worry about the fill tube.

Over the winter, the same source who found that top watering was ok, also posted that you don’t need to have rocks or other ‘reservoir’ in the bottom as long as you have good drainage. I got very excited about that and built all my 2014 self-watering containers that way. And…I taught the method in a Gardening 101 workshop this past spring. Who does that? Who passes on a gardening tip that he hasn’t tested? Well, I did.

The results have been disastrous. All the containers I built this way have had poor results: stunted and dying plants. I am getting terrible anaerobic activity in the bottoms of the buckets and containers. It’s a mess. I’m in the process of fixing it now. Fortunately, I only have about 20 containers built this way, mostly buckets, to deal with, so it isn’t too labor intensive.

First, I want to apologize to everyone who listened to me and implemented this. I was WRONG. I should not have recommended something I had not proven out. Please forgive me.

Now for the good news: It’s an easy fix unless you built a huge wicking bed this way. If you stuck to containers like I did, there are two ways to correct it mid growing season. One is to simply pick up the bucket and drill holes in the bottom, or if the plant is too big, drill a hole as close to the bottom as possible. The excess water will drain out and the anaerobic activity will slowly cease.

SAMSUNGAlternatively, you can do what I did. I started over. I emptied the buckets into a wheelbarrow (what a stink. Anaerobic soil is foul.). I added fresh soil conditioner and planting mix to it to freshen it. While it rested and drained for a few minutes, I filled the buckets up to the drain hole with lava rock that I got from a Big Box Store. I put a layer of landscape fabric over the rocks and refilled the bucket with planting mix. Simple.

As a control, I emptied two buckets that had been built the right way (as described in the paragraph above). They needed to be replanted because the pigs had eaten the tomatoes out of them. When I emptied them, there was no bad smell, drainage was good and

landscape fabric as wicking material

landscape fabric as wicking material

the plants had strong root growth.

Lesson learned.

I love to hear from you and so do other readers. Please feel free to respond with your own garden mistakes and how you dealt with them.


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