Category Archives: Wicking beds

Veggie refresh and experimental mulch

The lettuce and spinach crops that were planted in June have well and truly run their course, pretty much done before Christmas. With summer nearly over, it’s a good time to try to plant some more little darlings in wicking beds one and two.

In bed one we’ve got runner beans, snow peas, bok choy and some chard.

In bed two we’ve got lettuces, pak choy and a circle of capsicums in the middle.

This time we’re going to try shredded mountain ash bark for mulch. The new mulcher is able to slice up the bark, though it’s still pretty hard work. It comes out very fibrous and fluffy, and it looks like a good candidate for creating a moisture barrier.

Third wicking bed

We’ve been collecting pallets for wicking bed cladding for ages. It’s taken a while, because we were trying not to make special trips for pallets, just picking them up when we saw them.

Post-Christmas was a bit of a bonanza, so we got enough to do another wicking bed (there are around 70 pieces of wood in the cladding).

Tried to do the shou sugi ban for a whole four sides in one day, from having cut pieces of raw pallet wood to having cladding installed. Only got three sides done in the end, with the last one hammered together and installed the next day. Just one wicking bed to go!

This picture shows how the finish fades in six months. They will probably want regular re-oiling to stay in good condition.

Three sides in one day

It’s a new record. Wood from 8 dismantled pallets was piling up in the shed, so it was time for some shou sugi ban to use it up. It was a full day’s work to cut all the pieces to size, toast them, de-toast them, oil them and turn them into cladding. 44 pieces were done, which was enough for two short sides (13 pieces each) and one long side (17 pieces) with one left over.


This is actually wicking bed number 4, but numbers 2 and 3 haven’t been clad. I was going to do number two, then realised that the metal ring around the top just visible at lower right was interfering with the rail that sits at the top of the piece of cladding I’d made. I should have made it with a gap at the top to accommodate the ring. Oh, well, there’s always next time.

Update: had 3 pallets in the back of the ute, finished the fourth side in an afternoon.


First wicking bed veggies at 2 months

The lettuce and spinach were planted two months ago, so it’s time for a status update. Status: rocking!



By comparison, the ones in the ground nearby have still almost not moved.


Also finally got the leeks, shallots, onions and spring onions planted today, after sitting in their punnets for a couple of weeks waiting for me to get around to it.

Onions on the left, leeks on the right, 2 punnets each. The three in the middle are shallots.

It’s been raining a lot, but I noticed while planting that this dirt has just the perfect moisture content. I’m still amazed by how good these wicking beds are!

3rd and 4th beds plant-ready

Another great weather day lets us complete the third and fourth wicking beds (minus the cladding).

First the drainage pipe is thrown in and connected. We use an adapter on the inside of the tank outlet to size it up for the drainage pipe, and cut the pipe lengthwise at the end to get it over the adapter. A bit of duct tape keeps it in place. A stainless steel screw keeps the filling end of the pipe attached to the side of the IBC.


Then comes 150L of perlite in each one.


Then geotextile …


This was the end of the first 6m piece that we bought. Our initial cuts were a little off, so we ended up about 10cm short. We were able to cut a piece off the long side and drape it over to keep everything in place. Should do the trick.

Then it’s 3 wheelbarrows of dirt in each one, 50L of manure and 100L of vegetable mix to lighten up our clayey soil.


Ready for some little plants! We’ll put onions (spring, brown, leeks) in one and potatoes in the other.

We got all that done in another 4 hours, which included a trip of an hour and a half to get more geotextile, tung oil and vegetable mix/manure. This part of the project probably only needs another hour to fetch and spread some mulch and plant some plants, so it’s a 9 hour total build time and it could theoretically all be done in one day. If all the components were already on-site then two people could certainly make 4 beds in a day (sans cladding), and have some time afterwards for celebratory drinks.

Update: got some more mulch and finished off the ground. No more mud on the boots!


Faster, faster!

Someone local is selling some IBCs, so given that the earthworks for wicking beds 3 and 4 are done, it seemed like a good idea to go and get another IBC.

It’s a bit too exciting to just leave in the driveway, though, so it was chopped in half, plumbing holes drilled and tank outlets fitted, frameworks were built, and the IBC halves carried up to the vege patch.


For the first two beds, it took just under a month to go from receiving the IBC to having plants planted. This time we’re expecting it to take closer to 3 days, or about 12 hours in total. We spent 4 hours of that today, which included fetching both the IBC and the perlite. We had one hiccup, where the legs on one of the new frameworks were 3cm too long due to misremembering the measurement, but otherwise everything proceeded very smoothly. It’s much easier when you’ve done it once already!

Bed 1 last side

The fourth and final side of shou sugi ban cladding has gone onto wicking bed 1.

We had to put an extender on the stand pipe so that it was long enough to extend outside the cladding. This necessitated some of the water being emptied out. For the next beds, it will be better to make one side of cladding first before filling the bed so that all the water doesn’t leak out when the stand pipe is screwed back in.


With the last side of cladding on, the whole thing can be screwed together securely. There’s a screw going from each piece of cladding into each leg at the bottom. At the top, the two long sides are screwed into the ends of the two short sides making the whole thing as solid as a rock.


For this first bed all that is left to do is to put a shelf around the top to protect the end-grain of the cladding. While we’re there, we’ll also put another piece down the inside to cover the white geotextile a bit.

Fourth wicking bed footing

Two great weather days in a row means that a lot gets done! With the third wicking bed footing done it didn’t look like much was needed to get the fourth footing in, too.


It took all day, of course, but now all is in readiness to construct the next two wicking beds. We have the plumbing and some wood to make the stands; we just need to get another IBC and some more perlite.



Third wicking bed footing

It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, so work could continue on the vege patch, with the ground levelled and footing bricks positioned for the third wicking bed.

The dirt is being carted down to the driveway, as it’s the only place to put it for the minute. Most of it will go back into the beds once they’re in place.

I tend to dig back into the hill, and as I go I tend to go just a bit deeper than level, so the level at the back ends up lower than the level at the front. with the first two beds, this has ended up with a spot at the back that collects all the rain and it’s pretty much a constant puddle. I’ve tried to manage it a bit better this time, with a level check at the halfway point.

New brick footings, all lined up. The beds will all be exactly 90cm from one another, leaving enough room to move between them.

Some dirt went back in to make it nice and level.

The outside of the footings makes a 103x126cm rectangle

I’ve noticed that one of the bricks is slipping out from under the second wicking bed, perhaps because the ground underneath wasn’t perfectly level or properly compacted. Efforts were made to properly tamp down the ground under the bricks this time.

Also did a giant trip around the hardware stores trying to get an extension piece for the water level tubing, so that the little stand pipe will be outside the cladding – the last side of bed 1 can’t be clad until that’s sorted out. We had to change the elbow to double female and we found an 80mm, 20mm diameter riser that will do the trick.

Wicking bed success

When we planted the wicking beds back at the beginning of June, we popped a couple of leftover seedlings in the ground nearby, to see how the growth differed. 6 weeks on and the difference is marked. The ones in the ground have barely moved while the ones in the wicking beds are healthy and vigorous – about twice the height.

We lost three lettuces during transplanting, but that still leaves us with 32 good plants which I reckon we’ll be able to start harvesting come September.


We have three out of four sides of bed 1 clad, and we’ve started digging and levelling the earth for beds 3 and 4. Of course, the digging is going very slowly as the weather is totally crap and the ground is saturated.

The other benefit of the wicking beds is that when it’s really bucketing down the plants aren’t even getting wet feet. The water drains through and leaks out the overflow pipe, and the optimal level is always maintained without intervention.