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Revising Our Self-Watering Garden System

UPDATE, JUNE 2019: Wow, rain gutter growing system, other self-watering garden systems…I was really grasping at straws four years ago, wasn’t I? It all boiled down to that I wasn’t being smart about getting the water from the rain barrels and rain tanks to the garden, so watering my crops was a much more miserable experience than it needed to be!

I ended up realizing that Larry Hall’s idea wastes a HUGE amount of water, but if you really, really want a hands-off watering system – and don’t care about wasting water – go on and keep reading this post.

A better idea…follow my gardening journey either at The Homesteading Vegan blog, or check out my gardening and homesteading videos from the past couple of years on my YouTube channel.

In a recent post, I revealed that starting next year, we were going to use the rain gutter growing system, which would save me hours every summer on watering by hand. It would ultimately save water, too, as it is going to go directly into the roots of plants in Smart Pots, instead of percolating down ten feet after a few minutes and/or running away from the plants.

However, after watching some more of Larry Hall’s (the guy who developed the self-watering system using rain gutters) videos, I found out that he now favors another kind of self-watering system. It is not totally original with him – years ago I read about watering the saucers underneath pots and letting the water soak up, rather than top-watering – and there are plenty of videos on wicking gardens, which is based on the same principles.

I watched several of those videos on raised wicking beds, but concluded that they were too complicated. Also, although it is possible to turn it into a self-watering system, I think that would make the method even more complicated.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I like simple.

Larry Hall’s adaptation is simple. The cheapest and easiest way to carry out what he calls the “hybrid kiddie pool growing system” (I think) is to buy several plastic kiddie pools, set fabric bags or fabric pots with potting mix and your plants inside the pools, and keep the pool filled with an inch to an inch and a half with water. This can be done automatically by putting a float valve in a plastic food storage container at the bottom of the pool and hooking the valve onto the hose or tubing connected to the hose.

Those plastic pools won’t last very long, and if I’m going to set up a system like that, I want to set it up once. So I’ve decided to spend around $250 in concrete blocks (the kind with two holes in them) to use as the bed borders, and line them with EPDM (non-toxic rubber) pond liners. The concrete blocks will last forever as long as no one takes an axe to them, and the pond liners can last for decades.

Why not the rain gutter system? The main reason is that I don’t really want to put holes in the bottom of my Smart Pots in order to insert net cups through them. Another reason is that to use twenty gallon and larger sized pots, I would probably have to put more than one net cup in each one to make sure the potting mix within got evenly watered. Setting up a bottom-watering system, the most basic of all wicking watering methods, is simply…simpler.

My winter greens garden will still be in the ground, though in a raised bed filled with composted goat manure. Since it rains a lot in the fall, winter and early spring here, doing supplemental watering by hand as needed isn’t a big deal. And the days that the temperature is freezing or below, I don’t have to water at all.

I am actually looking forward to gardening next summer, and will keep you updated as I create what I hereby dub “the self-watering Smart Pot gardening system.”

Following is Larry’s video on the subject. You need to get 2:44 into the video before he starts talking about building the “trough beds.” Ciao!

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