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Milkwood Blog

How to Make a Wicking Bed

May 11, 2010 | Community Projects, Courses + Workshops, Gardening, Off-Farm goings on | 71 comments | Author:

wicking bed 1
A wicking bed is an excellent technique for growing things in environments where water is scarce. It’s got two main parts: the bottom half is a contained reservoir filled with gravel and water and the top half is filled with soil, mulch and plants. By periodic flooding of the deeper half of the bed, mature plant roots get a big drink. And because it’s contained, that water gets a chance to ‘wick’ upwards into the soil, hydrating the soil of the bed and the smaller roots within.

Pretty simple, really, but amazingly effective, very water efficient and ripe for endless variation.

Below is a photo essay outlining the process of creating a wicking bed using everyday tools and materials, which took 5 people about 4 leisurely hours to make. It features the efforts of our awesome PDC students in Alice Springs earlier this year, led by Nick Ritar who also designed this particular wicking bed system..

wicking bed 2
The first step is to create the reservoir which will hold the gravel and the water. This bed shape and size is based on the footprint of a watertank, a strip of which we’d found to use for the sides of the bed. Make the reservoir around 30cm deep, regardless of the size or shape of your bed.

wicking bed 3
To make a ‘closed wicking bed’ like this one, you want the reservoir to retain its water for as long as possible. We used builders plastic to line the reservoir.
wicking bed 4
Here is the water pipe that will deliver the water to the reservoir. The line of holes will be positioned facing the bottom, so that plant roots do not enter the pipe.
The water pipe sits on three chocks to create a space between the holes and the ground, so the water can get out of the pipe and fill the reservoir. A vertical section will be added to the water pipe via the elbow at bottom left. The pipe is closed at the other end.
wicking bed 5
The reservoir is now filled up with gravel, covering the water pipe’s horizontal section. The gravel in a wicking bed reservoir is there to provide a structure for the soil to sit on top of while coming into contact with the water below.
wicking bed 6
The next step is to put the walls for the raised part of the bed on top of the reservoir. Where the reservoir ends and the bed begins, it is crucial to have an overflow. This means that, if the reservoir over-fills, the water has an escape point before it waterlogs the soil of the bed (and kills all the plants within).
In our design we created a simple overflow by raising the iron for the bed surround on pieces of clay pipe, which created a gap of about 3cm between the plastic and the bed surround above. The gravel was then raked over this gap so that soil will not escape in the event of overflow.
Now, if the reservoir over-fills, the surplus water will seep out of the bed at this overflow point and into the surrounding garden, saving the plants in our wicking bed.
wicking bed 7
And now for some soil, to a depth of about 30cm. You can see the hose going into the vertical section of the waterpipe (with a paver on top of it), filling up the reservoir for the first time. The plastic surrounding the bed will be covered with gravel and provide a weed-free barrier around the bed which doubles as a path. And also won’t turn into a muddy swamp when the bed overflows.
wicking bed 8
And for a passive fertiliser system – an in-garden worm farm! The worm juice and castings from this small system will leach out into the bed through the holes in the bottom of this box, fertilising the plants. A small proportion of worm juice may make its way down to the reservoir and mix with the water, further enhancing the biological relationships that will keep this bed’s soil humming.
A small but important task to make this bed serviceable – making a top rim out of old hosepipe which fits over the sharp edge of the corrugated iron that the bed surround is made from. Otherwise planting and harvesting in this bed could be a painful business.
Topsoil all in, a heavy mulch of pea straw is applied to keep the moisture in the soil where we want it. The small square in the bed is the lid of the waterpipe, and the larger rectangle is the lid of the in-garden worm box.
The inlet of the waterpipe serves two functions – firstly, you can fill the reservoir of your wicking bed – by bucket, hose or other water source. Secondly, this inlet hole allows you to see the level of water in the reservoir below, and so to accurately gauge whether your wicking bed needs more water added. A lid is a good idea to prevent evaporation and to keep your waterpipe clear of leaves, mosquito larvae and any other visitors you might not want in your system.
And there you have it – one completed wicking bed (with in-garden wormfarm)! The bed is now ready for planting a bunch of water-loving vegies which would be otherwise hard to grow in the dry climate that is Alice Springs. The property owner has promised us photos in due course on how the wicking bed vegies go, so we shall report back. But isn’t it a brilliant system? We ‘re in love with its efficiency and simplicity. Thanks, team!

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  • cathrine kingshott August 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Reply

    I am considering putting in a wicking bed system and am concerned about the plastic sheet leaching chemicals into the water.

    Is this an issue and are there any alternatives?


  • nicky warner August 28, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Reply

    hi catherine kingshott! its nicky warner here!!!
    we are making a wicking bed all the way in alice springs! its a lot of work! will tell you how it goes
    miss you !!!

  • Cris Frede October 7, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Reply

    I also am planning to put in some wicking beds and have the same concerm as Catherine, with the plastic leaching chemical from the plastic.
    I also am wondering what stops the soil from mixing with the gravel. Can one use shade cloth to separate the gravel and soil as I’ve seen elsewhere?

  • […] is basically the same idea as a worm tower (with holes in the bottom only), and was installed in a wicking bed we made in Alice […]

  • […] Would we use it again? Well, we’ve been trying very hard to figure out how to do a large wicking bed system for our Milkwood kitchen garden. We definitely want to use wicking beds, but we definitely want to […]

  • Russ Grayson February 6, 2011 at 9:05 am | Reply

    In rain gardens like this a geotextile fabric is usually used to stop the soil moving down into the gravel layer to stop clogging.

    Just wondering how you incorporate an overflow system for heavy rain events to stop water logging and root rot?


    1. milkwoodkirsten February 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Reply

      Hi Russ,

      Yep, the overflow is very important – look at the 7th image down and text above image: “In our design we created a simple overflow by raising the iron for the bed surround on pieces of clay pipe, which created a gap of about 3cm between the plastic and the bed surround above. The gravel was then raked over this gap so that soil will not escape in the event of overflow. Now, if the reservoir over-fills, the surplus water will seep out of the bed at this overflow point and into the surrounding garden, saving the plants in our wicking bed.” Best, kirsten.

  • Russ Grayson February 6, 2011 at 9:57 am | Reply

    … I missed the first time reading. You put the raised bed above the gravel bed for overflow.

  • Lucas March 13, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Reply

    …to pick up russ’ other question – in this design no geotextile to stop the soil clogging up the gravel?

    any reason for that?
    brilliant tutorial kirsten!


    1. milkwoodkirsten March 13, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Reply

      Hey Luca – um, no real reason – we didn’t think about it at the time… it might be well worth the addition?

  • Lucas March 13, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Reply


    i’m talking to my mum in perth about converting her backyard concrete fishpond (1m wide by 3.5 metres long by 80cm deep) into a wicking bed for vegies. we were debating the “geotextile or not” thing.

    in terms of her getting fully behind it, it’d be great to be able to show her some clear explanation of how “wicking” (the capillary action thing) actually occurs.

    in the absence of finding something really conclusive on the web so far, she’s agreed to try a mini-experiment of the whole process in a 10 litre bucket before committing her fishpond…

    1. milkwoodkirsten March 13, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Reply

      oh wow – have you considered an aquaponics system instead? if you’ve already got the pond…and there are multiple good aquaponics crews in perth… sorry to complicate things…

  • Lucas March 14, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Reply

    i think aquaponics is a step too far for mum. she seemed pretty pleased to get rid of the pond, its koi carp and the pumps. vegie patch first!

  • Shawn Tisdell March 31, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Reply

    What a great article. I have seen in other sites the use of pea gravel for the water storage area, but it appears the poorly sorted gravel you use would be better at wicking water up to the soil. Would it make sense to have ridges and valleys in the gravel, cover with landscape fabric, then apply the soil so that parts of the soil in the valleys are saturated, allowing for better wicking effect? Especially if the rocks in the water storage area do not wick water well.

  • […] wicking box functions the same way as a wicking bed (see how to make a wicking bed for the full […]

  • Bee Winfield June 19, 2011 at 1:24 am | Reply

    Hi, Thanks for the article. The issue with the plastic has been solved by some people by using bentonite clay for lining the reservoir.A natural volcanic clay, many kitty litters are 100% bentonite clay.It contains beneficial minerals in fact. You mix it into the top few inches of soil of your reservoir pit. Its got to be damp soil . Then you pound it to create a sealing layer. Have heard it is working for some. I did a several miniature pits but couldnt make them hold water for long. In one experimental pit I used clay from the back yard. It worked better than the bentonite. has a few good articles on wicking beds. Mine is there with photos of the FANTASTIC results we got.

    1. milkwoodkirsten June 20, 2011 at 8:49 am | Reply

      Cheers Bee – great tips. BTW we have a new favourite Wicking Beds article, by Rob Avis. Have a look at it here:

  • […] Permaculture has pioneered an in-ground wicking bed using builder’s plastic and a round galvanized culvert ring. We have also seen people use stock watering […]

  • Darrell July 1, 2011 at 12:58 am | Reply

    If the pipe is large enough – put a ping pong ball in it for easy visual reference of the water level. :-)

    1. milkwoodkirsten July 1, 2011 at 6:55 am | Reply

      nice one…

  • Mogovôr' August 9, 2011 at 9:55 am | Reply

    Very helpful article, thanks. I also want to construct circular wicking beds and this is the only website I’ve found demonstrating that. I’ve been wondering about the pipes in the reservoir. I thought it might be necessary to construct an x-shape (with 3 ends blocked off) to make sure it’s evenly distributed around the bed. But perhaps that would be overkill. I’d like to know if the owner of this wicking bed has any feedback about the success of the design? Do plants situated on the outer sections of the bed do as well as plants closer to the distribution pipe?

    I’m also really interested to discover if there’s a more natural alternative to the black plastic. I might experiement with the bentonite suggestion, but I feel like there’s room for some more innovation with this aspect of the construction. I suspect a natural alternative may not last as long as the plastic, but I’m keen to investigate.

    Thanks again for publishing such great information on your website.

    1. milkwoodkirsten August 10, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Reply

      Hi Kate, no we didn’t find that there was much difference in moisture distribution when using gravel… if you were using a finer medium that wouldn’t necessarily distribute the water so well this might be the case though?

    2. Andrew September 5, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Reply

      I think I have found a viable alternative to PVC: EPDM.

      Ethylene propylene diene (EPDM) type rubber is recommended by the Danish Environmental Protection Authority as an alternative to PVC.

      EPDM is reusable, recyclable, and has better environmental impact profile than PVC. It is available in custom cut sizes as pond liner for water gardens at many garden centres and is available online at most pond supply places.

      Here is an example of an online retailer selling EPDM lining:


      1. milkwoodkirsten September 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Reply

        Interesting info, Andrew! Thanks!

  • Darrell August 10, 2011 at 5:35 am | Reply

    Pond liner is more durable and since ponds support plants and fish may be more eco conscious.

    1. milkwoodkirsten August 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Reply

      Good point, Darrell – should look into that one…

  • Elena deCastro October 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Reply

    Thanks for showing your design. I’ve learned that placing used carpet beneath the EPDM liner (also repurposed from a pond deconstruction) serves to protect the liner from punctures that occur with wear and tear over time. Having an impervious liner last a long time is essential to avoid having to start over.

    I’m in the process of designing a seasonal creek bed and bog using the wicking system and incorporating a flow system that can be diverted to runoff during our infrequent rains in Austin. We’ll plant veggies and ornamentals along both sides of the ”creek” to take advantage of the trough. We hope to achieve a very natural appearance in the front of the house. I’ll be taking photos along the way.

  • Jamo November 3, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Reply

    Regarding the soil mixing with the gravel without some form of barrier question, it’s not a problem. Once the soil is sitting on top of the gravel it doesn’t mix for reasons I don’t fully understand. But, I’ve dug up plenty of old aggie drains (up to 100 years old), and the gravel is still sitting there beneath/surrounding the pipe with the soil sitting on top. One of nature’s counter-intuitive surprises. I suspect it could be a density thing…I dig the soil in my garden beds twice a year, and without fail the heavier clay is back down the bottom regardless of whether I left it on the top when I dug it over.

  • […] How to make a Wicking Bed Share this:MoreEmailDiggPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was written by milkwoodkirsten, posted on November 9, 2011 at 9:59 am, filed under farm and tagged food. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. « P-culture. Ya dig? […]

  • Melanie February 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Reply

    We are looking at building 2 wicking beds for vegies and herbs in above ground iron tanks. There are 2 things that we need some suggestions for…

    The first issue, the tanks are 90cm high and so we need some way to fill up the bottom 30-40cm underneath the water reservoir and not sure of the best way to do this…

    The other question, we have a heap of yellow brickie’s sand left over from the paving and were wondering if this is ok to use as a medium for the water reservoir or is the ‘yellowness’ a dye that would not be good if it gets into the vegies…

    Any ideas/suggestions would be much appreciated!!! Thanks

    1. milkwoodkirsten February 29, 2012 at 10:18 am | Reply

      Hi Melanie, yes you’ll have to waterproof the reservoir layer… with plastic or similar. Re the sand, that yellow color would likely be an oxide of some sort, so not too big a deal I don’t think (but ring the supplier and check if you can?) – good luck!

    2. Cath June 8, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Reply

      Queries about using a cloth over the stones and pipe to prevent soil mixing in, i just used old polyester curtains, the ones that have a very tight and very fine weave and they’ll need to be a man made fibre (polyester) so they dont biodegrade :D i think the material is a chiffon or something similar…..
      I also use this material on my seedlings….it keeps out vermon,snails, possums and lets in the rain and sun! You can gets heaps of it at the Op shop!

  • […] Permaculture has pioneered an in-ground wicking bed using builder’s plastic and a round galvanized culvert ring. We have also seen people use stock watering […]

  • Shannon May 18, 2012 at 7:23 am | Reply

    What is the ideal size of gravel for a wicking bed? Can one use 3/8″ gravel or is this too fine?

  • […] this workshop, Monique will be hard at it in the coming weeks installing the innards of her bathtub wicking beds, and planting up her garden! She’ll also need to render the outside of the bags to protect […]

  • narf77 May 20, 2012 at 8:41 am | Reply

    Cheers guys…this is a really great series of instructions that will enable me to plot all of this in AutoCad and share it with my lecturer :)

  • Christine June 7, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Reply

    I have made six different wicking was in ground as in the above article.and the rest above ground.instead of gravel I have used compost and in two beds biochar and rock dust was added to the compost. This was to a depth of 150mm above this I added good garden soil to a depth of 300mm I. did use the compost worms for 1 yr but they got hungry, so I moved them to a farm closer to the house.They did very well in 2 milk containers with multiple holes and the top cut and hinged to act like a lid.2 of the beds are now 3 years old and work very water consumption is 1/10 of that in conventional vegetable beds and trials of corn and tomatoes showed vastly improved yields .it also keeps the rabbits out of the veggies.I use builders plastic ,agricultural pipe covered in weed mat,shade cloth or geotextile (in 3 different beds) and all worked well, I prefer geocloth .
    For large rings(using 5 m diameter rain water tanks) I have made intersecting crossed ag pipe as I was concerned of the distance the water had to move across the compost.
    I also used old carpet and 10 layers of newspaper to stop stones perforating the plastic.I line the tanks to a depth of 15 cm with double layers of plastic. Put in the ag pipe covered in geocloth and then fill with water to 15 cm depth I then cut off the plastic at that height before filling with compost.I have good overflow ,and know I have no holes that way.
    When away I have worked out the time it takes to fill to 15 cm and have a automatic timer set to water once a week.
    For large cut off tanks I lay boards across the rim for planting and weeding .
    For smaller tanks I put in 2 logs in end up with soft cushioning on the base. I can step on them to get to the centre of the rings without compacting the soil or risking perforating the plastic.
    I think the wicking beds are a great idea

  • Judi July 17, 2012 at 12:00 am | Reply

    Wonderful Ideas from across the globe. I have a slanted yard (in more directions than one). We are putting in a tiered garden next year and I thought it would be useful to incorporate a system like this into it. We will be using landscape boards to build up from the ground with minimal digging. I think it’s possible to then line each section of the garden with plastic and place the watering pipe in each bed. Thanks for the ideas!

  • Christine August 1, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Reply

    I have made a few self watering vegetable planters from polystyrene boxes, and I have had some success, mostly with salad greens. I used potting mix and supplemented with organic fertilizer pellets. I now want to make more permanent wicking beds like yours, and I wondered if you could update us as to what changes you would make, and whether you have had any problems with the soil getting too compacted? Thanks heaps.

    1. Merri Bee August 1, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Reply

      Hi Christine, our wicking bed is 18 months old and going really well. Its a level pit lined with plastic , filled with wood chunks and gravel with slotted fill pipe buried in the aggregate. All this is covered with shade cloth, and a sleeper box placed over top and filled with damp soil and compost. Would and are about to do it again exactly the same.You can see how it was done in photos on . More info is in Bees Blog on home page.Good luck.

      1. Christine August 2, 2012 at 9:24 am | Reply

        Thanks for that reply. I had a look at your site and the wicking beds look a treat. I wish I was closer so I could come for a look. What have you found that you can’t grow in them? Do some vegetables need more depth for their roots?

        1. Merri Bee August 2, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Reply

          No, everything we ‘ve tried has gone well. It is pretty deep soil …..about 400 mm, and I grew a parsnip in there that was as long as that and perfect. As I say, only trouble with them is you have to water so infrequently that you might forget to.

          1. Christine August 3, 2012 at 1:44 pm |

            Very impressed about the parsnips. I have heard that they are not the easiest thing to grow. One last question. Did you import soil for the beds or use local stuff and feed it up?

          2. Merri Bee August 7, 2012 at 10:56 am |

            I make my own compost Christine and just mixed it with the topsoil removed from the pit.

  • Urban Edge Garden August 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Reply

    Hi Milkwood crew, we’ve recently taken the idea of the wicking bed and made it mobile based on Nick’s ideas at last October’s Mudgee PDC of using an IBC container. The only difference is that we’ve built them purely for native plants as we are a conservation not-for-profit. It means that we can build the gardens in one location with one group of people and deliver it to another group of people… a great way to connect people with money and time to those in need of gardens like schools with no grassed area!

    The first one was close to 300kg so too heavy to be practical but for the second one we used waste polystyrene instead of the gravel. Seems to work well and easily halves the weight so 4 people can lift it on and off the back of a ute.

    We recently built one that will end up in a Sydney school with the staff of one of our corporate partners – it was a great way to make it quick and easy for busy people to get their hands dirty. There are some photos here if you’re interested…

    1. milkwoodkirsten August 24, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply

      Well done! Awesome! You could consider vermiculite for the veggie versions also (if you go that way)?

  • […] constructing your own raised bed and would like to know about this kind of system then I found this tutorial particularly useful. I will bring you more on this as it progresses but for now I eagerly await […]

  • […] by Erin B on October 2, 2012 As the weather warms up that inescapable itch to get out into my garden has well and truly set in. With glorious weather in Adelaide over the long weekend we got to work on the bed I have been planning for the front garden that will be home to this years tomato crop. As outlined in my previous spring gardening post, I am keen to experiment with the construction of a wicking bed to make watering less of a hassle. A wicking bed is effectively a big self-watering pot, with a reservoir built-in underneath the bed that delivers water to the root zone via absorption or  ‘wicking’: A wicking bed is an excellent technique for growing things in environments where water is scarce. It has got two main parts: the bottom half is a contained reservoir filled with gravel and water and the top half is filled with soil, mulch and plants. By periodic flooding of the deeper half of the bed, mature plant roots get a big drink. And because it’s contained, that water gets a chance to ‘wick’ upwards into the soil, hydrating the soil of the bed and the smaller roots within. – Milkwood Permaculture […]

  • Heather Carey October 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Reply

    you may want to put neem oil in the watering to stop mosquitos – or are they not a problem …. I’m wondering does neem oil kill earth worms and other insects and microbes ?

  • […] […]

  • DIY Wicking Beds November 1, 2012 at 10:54 am | Reply

    […] Permaculture has pioneered an in-ground wicking bed using builder’s plastic and a round galvanized culvert ring. We have also seen people use stock watering […]

  • Christine November 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Reply

    Loving this idea. Did you use any particular soil mix? Our soil does not look as good as yours. Should we mix it with anything to loosen it up?

  • […] Milkwood Farm on how to make a wicking bed; […]

  • […] Permaculture has pioneered an in-ground wicking bed using builder’s plastic and a round galvanized culvert ring. We have also seen people use stock watering […]

  • First Wicking Bed « 122Trees March 6, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Reply

    […] […]

  • Doug April 7, 2013 at 12:13 am | Reply

    Thanks for a great article, we’ve been using a smaller bought version which works well. This is how we can build a much larger one.

  • Tom Wootton April 20, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Reply

    Fantastic tutorial. I’d like to know how this bed’s working out a few years on, particularly the worm bin. Do you have any recent photos?

  • How to: Wicking beds | AgriTapestry September 2, 2013 at 10:28 am | Reply

    […] Milkwood Farm build a wicking bed in Alice Springs […]

  • Meegan September 5, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Reply

    We are in Alice Springs but we don’t have rainwater – will these beds work with normal Alice tap water??

  • Brett Pritchard October 4, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Reply

    Has anyone else used socked agi pipe, and done away with the gravel layer? I have had success with wicking beds using socked 65mm Agi-pipe and with good sandy loam all the way down. I pour bokashi down the inlets when I first add water and have had no problems with ‘sour’ soil.The sock around the 65mm drainage pipe stops soil from infiltrating, allowing you to do away with the gravel and geotextile layer. Instead of drilling drain holes I hole-saw a single 65mm drain hole centred about 160mm minimum above ground level and run unslotted pipe through and connect it to the socked slotted pipe. I have connected a number of beds in series like this, with one inlet and one drain for half a dozen beds. The water fills the slotted pipe and saturates the lower 130mm of soil in one bed before reaching the drain level and then overflowing and filling the next one. I haven’t managed to find any references to anyone else using socked pipe and was wondering if anyone else has tried this method to compare notes with.

    1. Rob.. October 5, 2013 at 10:41 pm | Reply

      Hi Brett..
      I use the socked ag pip in a few different styles of wicking beds… Works great in the wicking barrels & have also used it in a wicking IBC bed.. The next large bed I build will have a spiraled length of it in the base.. Haver posted a few clips on our YT channel if interested..

      1. Brett Pritchard January 24, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Reply

        Have you tried leaving out the gravel layer all together and just using soil all the way down? I make mine this way and then innoculate with heaps of bokashi. This replaces the methane producing bacteria with bacteria that anaerobically ferments the biological material in the soil while also pulling nitrogen from the air and turns it into liquid plant food. This turns what is normally a problem (anaerobic soil going sour) into a solution. I have been trialing these socked agi pipe/soil only/bokashi wicking beds for a year now and the growth rates are better than standard wicking beds. They are also a lot quicker and easier to build, and in addition to keeping the bacteria healthy the bokashi provides all necessary nutrients for plant growth. The bokashi can be made in a sealed bucket in the kitchen, or even incorporated into the bed itself alongside a worm farm to further break down the left over bokashi solids. Has anyone else had success with soil-only wicking beds, or does everyone else use an inert sand or gravel etc. layer?

    2. Wicking Witch of the West August 16, 2014 at 9:36 pm | Reply

      Hi Brett, I have been experimenting with wicking beds, boxes, pots and so on for several years. I started using gravel, and then found that many of my plant roots went straight through the geotextile and ended up in the gravel reservoir anyway – something I’d been told the geotextile would prevent. Anyway, I figured if the roots grew well in the reservoir (I had been using 7 to 10 mm gravel, so the water would wick up through the reservoir as the water levels dropped) then as long as I used decent, friable soil, then wouldn’t the plants appreciate the extra nutrients that more soil would bring… So we put in a 3m x 1.5m bed, about 40 cm high, with some ag pipe as an inflow and laid on the bottom (wrapped in several old pairs of my nylon stockings to avoid the cost of the much pricier socked pipe!). Then some straw or some prunings, and a decent friabble soil mix over that. We grew eggplants, capsicum, chillies, pumpkin and they all did well. Tried potatoes, and surprisingly the didn’t grow well, though I suspect diseased tubers were the issue there. Never used bokashi, but did try worms in them – generally things have been pretty good, especially given how much I forget to water things! Pleased to see there are some others trying out the no-gravel option – the gravel/geotextile thing seems a bit like over-engineering to me, especially if you can ensure the in and outflow system doesn’t block in connected beds even without gravel.

      1. Brett Pritchard August 26, 2014 at 9:31 am | Reply

        Hi fellow soil-only wicker. My lowest soil-only beds were also 400mm high, built from sleepers. This is a good height to put another sleeper on horizontally as a seat, which takes it to 450mm high. My deepest soil-only wicking bed is 800mm deep and has a thriving full sized avocado in it. For bananas, papaya and citrus about 600mm seems deep enough and they do better here in the dry tropics than in a banana circle. You should consider getting some of the MAZE liquid bokashi from Bunnings (it is the VRM stuff just relabelled), and get some of those beneficial microbes into your anaerobic layer. In addition to supressing the methane producing bacteria the modified bokashi from VRM also contains bacteria that pull nitrogen and carbon from the air, feeding your plants and improving your soil. It also improves the cation exchange capacity of the soil, boosting water further up the soil profile through attraction and repulsion of the water molecules. A byproduct of some of the bokashi bacterial action is water, which also helps keep the entire soil profile moist. This allows you to build wicking beds nearly three times deeper than is generally accepted (300mm of sand or gravel then 300mm of soil) and so can plant trees and deeper rooted plants. By building bottomless boxes and inserting them into your bed you can have a diversity of root depths and then grow a mixture of fruit trees, herbs and veggies all in the one wicking bed. I’m currently making these biowicked ‘garden in a box’ wicking beds for two community groups and will be teaching another six community groups how to build their own, with funding coming from the Townsville City Council. The biowicked beds work fantastically in the dry tropics, but would also work well in other urban areas. Currently there is interest in developing them as far away as Scotland and Malaysia. A big ‘selling point’ is that they are part of the food-waste-food cycle rather than just a stand alone growing method, and that the cycle is carbon negative with more carbon locked up in the soils each cycle. People can recycle their green waste, produce health oganic food with zero food miles, and help fight climate change by sequestrating carbon in their veggie garden.

    3. Bits Out the Back.. August 26, 2014 at 9:46 am | Reply

      Hey Brett..
      I missed your response to my post above sorry mate.. Am very interested in trying some sand less barrels out to see how they go.. Do you have a post somewhere explaining amounts & how the soil interacts with the VRM?
      Starting to get the warm weather garden sorted & would really like to have a crack in a few barrels & do a comparison between the 2..
      Cheers mate..

      1. Brett Pritchard August 26, 2014 at 10:13 am | Reply

        I just cut up my first blue barrel last week and started experimenting. I’m doing one with heaps of compost and organic matter in the lower layer instead of soil to see what happens when it interacts with the bokashi ‘tea’. Half a barrel is 47cm which is perfect for veggies, so you can get two from one barrel if it has the screw in lids. Ones without lids could have the top 24cm or so cut off and be used for bananas and fruit trees. After cutting the drum exactly in half I put the drain about 10cm up the side and siliconed a 65mm agi-pipe joiner in the hole (hole cut with a 68mm holesaw). I then just connected 1.8m of socked slotted 65mm agi pipe and curled it around the bottom, and connected the other end to a short length of unslotted agi pipe which I cable tied in place as the inlet. It was just so cheap and fast to make that I’m running a workshop on how to do it at a community centre and everyone will go home with their own converted 1/2 barrel. I can send you some photos and results with my soil-only wicking bed trials if you email me your email. You can contact me at

  • […] • John Ditchburn’s explanatory site • Permaculture News • Milkwood […]

  • […] How to Make a Wicking Bed […]

  • […] is basically the same idea as a worm tower (with holes in the bottom only), and was installed in a wicking bed we made in Alice […]

  • Calvin February 3, 2015 at 10:42 pm | Reply

    I have just finished building 6 wicking beds made from 3 ibc bulk containers cut in half. It has worked a treat! I used some silastic to seal up the taps and the lids etc on the containers and then put my pipe in followed by the gravel and some broken bricks etc. I got some second hand carpet (courtesy council pick up) and used that for the wicking layer. I also used a few bits of hessian bag for the ‘gaps’. The top growing bed was filled with some good quality mix from the local nursery. Mostly organic stuff, pretty dark and seems to be quiet good quality. I was conscious of what I put in the top layer as, being a completely sealed system its important to take care what you put in as it STAYS in there. This is important when considering ferterlizer in the future. I also used some more pipe and made a worm garden feeding tube for each bed. It’s just a bit of pipe that only goes down to the carpet and has many holes drilled throughout. You drop green food scraps down the tube and the worms can come in and feed from it. I have a cap on it to stop mozzies, the same goes for the filler tube.. So far so good! Can’t wait for a few months to start a harvest!

  • […] Permaculture has pioneered an in-ground wicking bed using builder’s plastic and a round galvanized culvert ring. We have also seen people use stock watering […]


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