Saturday, July 17, 2010

Restarting the blog... and self-watering containers!

I haven't updated this blog basically since Lawson and I started dating nearly 3 years ago... I have had all kinds of crafty and cooking adventures in the meantime, including our wedding in May! I want to get back into blogging and hope to share many of the projects that I do moving forward. I will also try to post some of the highlights from the past couple years.

With that in mind, here is a crafty garden project that I did in 2008 when we moved into our house - making self-watering plant containers. The basic idea is that you plant plants in dirt in the top half, with wicking material going from the top to the water reservoir below, allowing the plan to "self-water" for stretches at a time. Since our entire patio garden is in containers, this helps lighten the watering load (and in fact often enough rainwater gathers in the reservoir that I don't have to water at all!).

For each container, I bought two plastic bins from Ikea - one shallow one and one deep one (11 gallon and 22 gallon sizes, I believe). They shallow one fits snugly inside the deep one, leaving half the space of the big one as a water reservoir. I also bought wicking material from Gardener's supply company - but if you don't want to buy this, you could probably also use flannel fabric or any other material that would be wicking. I also used a small square of flat rubber (about 5" x 8") for each container, which I got at a local hardware store, and some epoxy to attach it.

Tools needed: power drill and bits, jigsaw or sturdy knife.

Putting the smaller bin inside the large one, drill large holes evenly spaced throughout; these holes allow water to go though the dirt and enter the reservoir below. In order to insert the wicking material, you need to have a few slots in the bin, so I also drilled a line of large holes in the plastic. After drilling the holes you will have some bits of shredded plastic around that you will want to clean up, and you can use a knife to cut off any hanging bits.

Then I used a jigsaw to saw those slots open, and threaded a piece of wicking material through each slot. I cut the pieces in half width-wise so that they would still be long enough to reach into the reservoir below, but not as wide. I left about half to a third of the wicking material in the top part of the container, so that it could be wrapped around the soil when I filled up the container, allowing good wicking action!

Then, I drilled a few holes in the side of the larger container, just below the level which the top container goes to when it is inserted into the larger one. The idea is that you want a drain on the side so that the container does not fill up with water past the reservoir and into the top container - which would water-log the plants and kill them. Then I glued the rubber patch on over the drainage holes, applying glue along the top edge and side edges but not the bottom, and scoring the side of the container a bit to make it stick better (I let the glue dry with the containers on their sides to make sure the patches stayed on). The patches are so that mosquitoes can't use the drainage holes to access the water reservoir - it creates a seal, but allows water to drain out when the container fills up.

After the glue had dried, I assembled the containers with the top part inside the larger container, then filled each one with dirt and planted some seedlings. You can water them using a hose to add water through the dirt, and they will also do a good job collecting rain water when it rains.  You can actually see a tube in the photos that I included for watering when I first made these, but I have found it not to be necessary and didn't include it in these directions.  I have found my plants to be very happy in these for the past two seasons - I have grown lots of greens, herbs, peppers and even small tomato plants in these pots with great success!

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