Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Wicking bed

Finally I have a worm wicking vegetable garden bed. I first learned of this idea from a blog i follow regularly and one that has inspired me in the garden in many ways. Thanks to Scarecrows Garden

A brief description

A worm wicking bed is one which is able to wick water up from a water reservoir below. The plants are always watered at the correct rate and can never be over or under watered as long as there is water in the reservoir. This is great for worms as well as plants and with the worms right in with the plants, well that’s got to be good for them. Now I must say at this point this is all new to me too and we just finished and planted the bed out a few days ago. So for me this is all untested, but i am confident this is gonna be great. Scarecrow has had hers going for a few years now and she lives in a very hot and arid part of South Australia.

So here’s how we did it.

With the help of hubby Andrew who i must admit did most of the heavy work. We used treated sleepers to construct the frame 2.7m x 1m then we placed the frame at our chosen location taking into consideration sun and land slope etc. We excavated the soil with in the frame to about 10cm and tried to make the bottom as level as possible. A layer of medium course sand helped fill in the low spots.

We used a thick quality pond liner to line the bottom 20cm as this will retain the water. We used Agg pipe which came with a sock like cover to prevent the sand entering and clogging up the pipe.

The pipe is flexible so no elbows were necessary. I held the pipe in place with piece of old bike tube from my last puncture stapled into position. A drainage hole was drilled 15cm from the bottom and piece of irrigation pipe fitted through the hole to allow the water to drain out at that level. This hole is very important and can never be allowed to become blocked or you will risk flooding and drowning the roots. Filling up with water at this stage allowed us to test for leaks and also helped us get the sand level to the drain hole.

here comes the water trickling out.

We used an old pot held in place with rocks to retain the sand away from the drain.

Now this is the best thing. I couldn’t stand the thought of not knowing how the water level was going so i decided to install a dip stick using pvc pipe and a tomato stake. We drilled holes in the pipe and then covered with a frost cloth to allow water in and keep sand out. This basically just sits on the bottom and is only held in place by the sand and soil around it. I have since marked the stick to show full and half full levels. Now I will know when it’s time to water and can measure in time how quickly the reservoir empties.

On top of the Sand and water reservoir we put old hessian bags which have great wicking properties.

By far the longest task was mixing up the soil. I wanted to utilise the soil that came from the excavation which looked like it had a quite nice crumbly texture anyway.

The formula we used was:

4 x spadefuls of ground soil
3 x worm pure worm castings
1 x Brunnings coco fibre
1 x cheap potting mix ($2 special at Coles) no fertiliser added
1 x medium course sand (left over from the stuff we used on the bottom)

We mixed this up in the barrow with the spade. When we got to within 3-4 cm of full we just toped the rest up with the rest of the worm cast so this will more concentrated at the top.

So there...The finished product. Planted out with, butter head lettuce in the foreground also some chives, Silverbeet, Celery, seeds of Parsley and Spring onion and some Basil, Sage and Rocket to start. Yesterday i added about 500g of worms via 2 x feeding stations (described previous post). I will add another 500g worms next week. Stay tuned for updates.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Introducing Red Composting Worms to the Garden

Can it be done? A few weeks ago i decided to try introducing worms to the garden, after reading of the sucsess of others who have tried this method.
 I was worried about the full sun as worms are always supposed to keep cool and also being able to maintain moisture.  I had a nice composty location in mind left over from last years failed potatoes which died through lack of water and heat stress. My fault...I was really surprised when i started to turn the bed over with the fork that in fact there were already a few worms in there. Huh.. These of course must have come from the cocoons in the vermicast i used on the potatoes. The bed literally has been sitting for six months with no water and nothing in it. I figured the cocoons would have laid dormant until it started raining in a about feburary then the bed was nutritious enough to support their growth. It was pretty dry in there now though and they did look a bit scrawny.
Here is how i did it. I took a basket bought from the fish pond section of Bunnings. This is the actual feeding station. This is the where you put the worm food, home made compost or manure. Heaps of holes allow the worms to move freely between the soil and the food source. Dig a hole where you want your feeding station to be.

I wanted the worms to be as well insulated as possible. Most other feeding stations i have come across on the net are made from pvc pipe with holes drilled in the lower section. This probably works just as well as mine. Directly over the basket and worms is a wet hessian cut out from an old potatoe bag, then on top of that i put an upsidedown pot, then on top of that a hessian witches hat cut from the corner of the bag.
I planted lettuce in a circle around the worms and also put in a circle of weeper hose connected to a small water tank. Now this watering system has suprised me. I never expected to be able to have the inline tap on 24/7 i thought it would drain the tank too quick and make it too wet. but it seems to almost wick the water out of the hose when needed. At first i thought it was'nt weeping any water, as the water level in the tank doesnt seem to go down much. But the soil around the hose always seem nice and moist. The small seedlings did struggle for the first few days as it was very hot and i had to rig up a temperary shade for them and i did end up loosing a couple. After about 1 week i could tell they were getting stonger.

This system was set up on the 14/03/10 so its been about 1 month now. During this time i have only topped up the compost once and gave extra water with the hose in the first few days. I have been keeping an eye on the temperature with a propergation thermometer and on accasions i have measured the temperature to be just under 30deg C and not a worm in sight. This is a bit hot for them so i guess they got out of there and went a bit deeper. Now its a bit cooler and I'm happy to see they are back. Today i emptied the contence of the basket, worms and all around the plants and filled it up with fresh compost.
I think it's doing pretty well and we have even been picking a few leaves for our sandwich.