Thursday, June 11, 2015

Building a Rain Gutter Grow System

I was digging around in the archives of YouTube when I stumbled across Larry Hall's creative and clever twist on wicking beds.  Wicking beds are a relatively creative method of having a self watering plot.  Usually they are a barrel that has some kind of medium in the bottom that allows for water space, and the natural capillary action wicks the water up to the roots of the crop.  There's a way to deliver the water to the storage area.

The only problem with the wicking beds is that you need to guess how much water is in the bottom, and make sure you deliver enough water to keep the plants alive without drowning out the entire barrel.  Also, I can see problems if you live in a rainy area, you will find that too much water makes it's way into the beds without a way to adequately drain the soil.

Larry addressed this problem by changing water delivery method.  By installing a rain gutter, a flow valve, and a way to deliver the moisture to the bottom of the bucket, you can build a self watering wicking bed that doesn't flood out.

Using this method, I built a 2x4 frame and installed the rain gutter.  Then I installed a simple float valve that hooks to the house water supply.  It's the exact same principle as what my swamp cooler uses.

The frame only took a few hours to install, and I used about 18 2x4s in the process.  Having an air nailer really sped up the process, and I'd strongly suggest that anyone who wishes to build something like this may want to beg/borrow/steal an air nailer from someone, or just buy one.

This worked very well for me, so next up, I added a bunch of cedar fencing along the outside for decoration.  I didn't want a weird looking 2x4 structure sitting on my back porch.  The cedar fencing came from my front yard when I built the fence.  I had selected a height I wanted, and cut the fence down to that height.  That left me with about a thousand of those stupid cedar planks.  I use them all around the place in odd projects.

Next step was to add the buckets with potting soil.  Each bucket has a three inch hole cut out of it, and I used about ten dollars worth of cups from here.

I packed each cup with potting soil and placed the buckets in the gutters.  Oddly enough, the buckets are one of the most expensive parts of this entire operation.  I imagine if I were to really ramp up the size, I'd have to spend a lot more on bags of potting soil, but I wasn't stressed about that.

The last step was to add a bit of green stuff to the beds.  I planted a wide variety of things in the buckets, which is really fun!  I planted Anaheim peppers, green peppers, basal, sage, strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, edemame, bush beans and bush snap peas.

Some of these things I used already sprouted plants, and other plants I did by seed.  I'm proud to say that every bucket I planted something in has green stuff growing out of it.  I spaced the plants according to the packages of seeds directions.  This was something I picked up from Square Foot Gardening.  Whatever didn't sprout, I've just planted another seed.  That's one way to ensure a longer span of crops.  when the bush beans stop producing, I'll have another plant producing within a few days.  If you really are ambitious, you can follow the planting guidelines and just keep planting more and more seeds as the season progresses to ensure a really great long harvesting season.

I built the in the beginning of May, and it's now the middle of June.  The greenery is nice, and I've replaced a few plants that couldn't handle the hail we received.  One of the great benefits of this gardening system was that when I was concerned about freeze at night, I just moved the buckets that would be harmed into my garage.  When I could prepare for the hail, I either covered the crops, or moved them inside.  It really doesn't take any more effort that that.

I can dink with the plants whenever I want since it's on my back porch.  I step outside, and I'm in the middle of my garden.  I'm looking forward to posting updates on the garden.  I'm expecting to harvest my first strawberry tomorrow!