Wicking Bed Update and an In Bed Worm Tower

Tomato seedling | she cooks, she gardens

Business in the wicking bed is churning along mighty nicely at the moment, the tomato plants are at that stage where they appear to be shooting up every other day and the zucchini at the end of the row is laden with fruit and flowers. Watering has been an absolute dream this year and I can’t quite believe it has taken me this long to give this wicking system a shot. I am filling up the reservoir, on average, once a fortnight. Every second fortnight I will add some seaweed solution to the water which doesn’t seem to bother the current set up and helps maintain good plant growth. There have been a couple of super hot days, right around the time the tomato seedlings were finding their feet and I’m pleased to report that there was not a droopy leaf in sight, this is looking promising! Of course, tomatoes being the heartbreakers that they are, I will hold off calling anything a ‘success’ until the current season is well behind me. Until then lets just say I’m quietly pleased with how everything is churning along, so much so that I’ve constructed a couple of extra containers off to the side. They are smaller scale wicking containers that will house one more tomato (I couldn’t resist!) and some cucumbers. They are in the very early stages at the moment but I will keep you posted.

wicking beds | she cooks, she gardens

Such a difference in only a matter of weeks.

In researching the wicking bed I noticed that a lot of gardeners were going all out on the self-contained system by adding an in bed worm tower. Rather than having a separate worm farm, this system allows you to house the worms in the garden bed where they are free to move around and deposit their all important waste products directly into the bed. Worms are an important part of the composting process and their waste product is like liquid gold for plants, it’s also a great way to recycle food scraps that might otherwise go in the bin. I’ve been adding scraps to the tower every Saturday for the last few weeks now and they are making their way through them nicely. The scraps are broken down and turned into the all important fertiliser which should keep the bed chugging along nicely. Again, time will be the great decider in this experiment but so far, so good.

Wicking bed | she cooks, she gardens

Wicking container, just after planting.

Like the wicking bed, this system is dead easy to construct yourself at home. In fact I put this together in about 20 minutes one night after work. All you’ll need is some PVC pipe, a bit of cow poo, some straw, an old newspaper and worms. All of these things can be purchased at your local hardware store (including the worms!) with the most expensive outlay being the worms themselves (about $20). They will breed in your tower (eeeeew) so once you’ve got them going they should take care of themselves provided you feed them regularly with scraps from the kitchen.

How to make a worm tower.

What you’ll need:

  • PVC Pipe – I used 90mm pipe, I just bought a short length from the hardware store.
  • A drill.
  • Some pea straw.
  • A newspaper, preferably without too much colour print.
  • Some cow manure.
  • Composting worms.
  • A small bucket, ice cream container or an old terracotta flower-pot (to act as a lid)

Instructions:

First decide where you’ll be putting the tower. I’ve placed mine in the centre of the bed but I’ve also seen them off to one side of the bed. Place it somewhere that is easy to access.

Work out how much pipe you’ll need, you’ll want the tower to go down about two-thirds of the way into the bed with at least 10 centimetres above soil level.

Cut your pipe to size if need be.

Before you start drilling break up the newspaper and soak it in a bucket of water.

Grab your drill and get busy drilling some holes all over the pipe, this allows for the all important worm juice and casings to spill out into the surrounding soil. It will also allow your worms to leave the tower but I am told they rarely do that.

Dig down into the bed and place the pipe as deeply as possible. Back fill with soil.

Begin filling the tower using layers:

First add some cow manure, followed by a thick layer of pea straw.

Add a thick layer of wet newspaper and then your worms (this might be a bit gross, just be gentle with them).

Add another layer of wet newspaper over the top of your worms and pop the lid on.

Allow your new garden buddies to settle for a few days before you start adding scraps.

Feeding your worms:

Start small and monitor their consumption, I try to get a mix of fruit and veg and cut it up into small pieces to move the whole process along a bit, I also add crushed egg shells once a fortnight. There are some things that you shouldn’t put in your worm tower, these include citrus and meat. For a full list of what you can and can’t feed your worms, check out this handy post from compost mania.

When feeding your worms, the best bet is to pull up the newspaper and deposit the scraps directly on the worms, then top it with a little pea straw and pop the newspaper back on. This seems to help keep any smells at bay. Remember to keep the top layer of newspaper moist, a glass of water here and there seems to help keep things chugging along nicely.

So what do you think? Will you be adding a worm tower to your beds this season?

17 Comments

  • gosh, quite impressed by this. impressed bytthe wickign system itself – only needing to water once a fortnight is astounding. it’s incredibly dry down here in hobart, especially the area i live in; in the summertime, daily watering of the vegie patch, even with mulch, can be essential). i love that you can put your seaweed solution thru as well. you have given me lots of think about for my garden.

    • Erin B says:

      Hey E, yes it is well worth investigating – a bit more labour intensive than a traditional set-up but it means you can up your water efficiency by an absolute truckload. We still havent had those horrid 40 degrees days here yet, they will be the real test, but I expect that even if extra watering is needed on those days the plants will be much hardier than my previous crops. Just being able to water once a fortnight and forget about it is definitely my style of gardening though.

  • Miss Piggy says:

    I have envy over your backyard, your worms & your raised garden beds (and your caterpillar-less/blossom end rot-less tomatoes). It all looks so wonderful.

    • Erin B says:

      Hehe, thanks Mel! The only way to keep the caterpillars at bay is to inspect daily and flick the buggers off. I’m going to investigate a method for keeping the moths at bay but expect I will still have to be on bug patrol daily. Good luck with your tomatoes, you should seriously investigate the wicking container – I was thinking of you when I was writing this, I reckon it would be a great solution for your watering issues.

  • Wow what a clever little system! I’ve only got very small vege gardens at my place so I’m not sure it would be worth it but if I ever get a bigger planter I’d love this. Also love that you can use up your kitchen scraps. Whenever I see a worm crawling around after a big rain I grab it and throw it in the vege pots (is that mean?).
    It’s amazing how much everything grows in a few weeks isn’t it?!

    • Erin B says:

      Not mean at all! I reckon Mr Worm would be most appreciative.

      The small wicking containers I’ve just put in would be worth looking into for your garden if you’re interested, especially if you are using containers anyway. I will put up some info about how to construct them in a few weeks (once I’ve had a chance to test their effectiveness), worm towers probably wouldn’t work in a bed that size but no reason you couldn’t have a stand alone worm farm. 🙂

  • Grant Nowell says:

    You worm tower is quite magnificent, we made one a bit different to yours but I think you one if much better! I just showed my partner Wendy your tower and she was very impressed NAND just loved the terra cotta pot as a lid- very stylish! Wendy who loves to eat and works in the horticulture industry loved looking at your blog and is going to subscribe ASAP

  • Geoff says:

    Has anyone tried using polystyrene beads instead of gravel or scoria for the base of the whicking beds.
    We have a few old bean bags and it would save buying something. Would it work ?

  • Judy says:

    Just revisiting this post as I built my first wicking bed yesterday. Did Geoff end up using those polystyrene beads, I wonder?
    We got a trailer-load of soil/mushroom compost and 200kg of river stones from Hawthorn Landscaping Supplies on Belair Rd. There’s enough of everything to do 2 small raised beds, and probably some soil/compost left over which I’ll use in my ‘ordinary’ garden.
    I’m hesitant to plant out seedlings with a couple of 40+ degree days, but I think I’ll give it a go and see how/if everything survives.
    A very Happy New Year, Erin and readers.

  • I love this idea way more than a farm farm. This way there’s no messy, collecting castings or juice. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Airlie says:

    Hi Erin

    Hows the wicking bed going? i am interested in whether you had anything in over the winter? do you find you have to top the bed up with much soil between seasons?

    airlie

    • Erin B says:

      Hey Airlie, things are going well in wicking world, thanks. I’ve had carrots, beets, garlic and herbs in over the winter and am starting to pull most up now to make way for summer crops. At the change of season I dug through a couple of bags of cow manure and compost to reinvigorate the soil and will do so again in a week or two.

  • Kate says:

    WHERE can I purchase those lovely galvanized planter bed containers?

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