• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Wicking Bed = Instant Deep/Rich Soil that stays perfectly moist... Always. Water wise too...  RSS feed

 
Marty Mitchell
Posts: 319
Location: Chesapeake, Virginia
8
bee dog fish forest garden fungi solar
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am starting a video series on YouTube on a Wicking Bed I have built. Mostly just so I can remember how I created it and duplicate it in the future.

You have an aerobic environment that is extremely rich in organic matter with deep and consistently moist soil. With a highly complex soil food web chocked full of fungal activity. My future beds will likely have a lot of wood down deep on top of the reservoir too.

Something like this would be great at creating an entry point to those in Urban and Suburban areas who want to learn how to garden organically. I could possibly build and sell these things if the market will bear it.

Comparing it to my current actual Hugelkultur beds...

1) I have to say that the growth rate of the plants is Immediate(instead of waiting a few years for things to break down).

2) The mice are going to have a much harder time moving in and making a home. Not that I mind... but many may.

3) Pest pressure from rabbits, pet dogs, etc. is not existent. If you have a taller animal... then just add legs and raise it even more. (Shoot... if you raise it up on legs... you might as well grow mushroom logs under it!)

4) Weeds like Bermuda grass and such cannot invade these. Bermuda grass laughs at having to penetrate 2 ft of soil.

5) Putting in the worm towers is giving me a place to dump kitchen scraps just outside the kitchen door.

6) I have a massive concrete pad for a back porch. So this enables me to use the space that is kind of useless otherwise.

7) I can put this on wheels and literally move it around to different locations depending on the season, guests coming over, or what I want to grow(I have dappled shade under the Mimosa tree that covers part of the pad). Mobile Farm anyone??

Let me know what you think. I still have a few update videos to upload to the album... and a season of growing to record.

YouTube Link...

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLmx2Go7kyfkvRAZz0x7HXuZUGvR64jPEy
 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
Posts: 9519
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
785
bee bike books duck forest garden greening the desert solar trees wofati
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for sharing. I've embedded the videos below.











 
Marty Mitchell
Posts: 319
Location: Chesapeake, Virginia
8
bee dog fish forest garden fungi solar
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for embedding those for me! Some times I can get them to embed and sometimes I cannot.

I popped open the worm towers today. I had STUFFED them both full of scraps, eggs shells, etc. a few weeks ago. As of today they have about 1/3 to 1/2 of a tube available for more stuffing of scraps! So they seem to be working.


Makes me wonder...

Since we all know compost gets HOT... and we all know that soil in raised beds tend to warm up a few weeks earlier in the growing season than the ground...

Aren't those composting worm bins being directly in the soil going to be like little heaters for the soil?!?!

This may play out to equal faster growing greens in the cool season. As well as soil life that never goes fully dormant on those warm Winters like we experienced in my region this year. I don't think I saw much frost till late December.



I want to run some crazy funny numbers here really quick. Bare with me...

The bed cost me a little over $150 to build.
Just the other day I saw some micro heads of lettuce for sale for $4 at a local farm.
I am currently growing out 12 Large heads of lettuce right now in the bed. (really several more since half of them were double plantings). So I will call each of them being worth $5 a head even though they are about 4 times the mass of those $4 heads I saw.
I have 4 tomato plants that can produce an average of 15lbs to a max to say 75lbs to tomatoes this year(I am not that good but I like to dream).
I will grow carrots under the tomatoes when the lettuce is gone. (maybe 10lbs of unknown value I will not count)
Then I can grow another crop of lettuce or two this Fall in the same beds again.


So for the lettuce lets be on the slim side and say I grew 24 heads at $5 value each every year. That would be about $120 worth of lettuce every year. (possibly much more)
I don't know the Summer prices but this Winter the conventional tomatoes were about $1 each at the store. So lets just pretend we grew just a dismal 15 large tomatoes on each of the 4 plants every year. That would equal out to $60 a year. (very easy to reach but would need a greenhouse for those Winter prices)
I am not going to count the carrots or cilantro or whatever I could grow there too.

I should be able to easily pump out $180 worth of produce a year in a 2'x8' space. So a less than 1yr return on investment!

Also, Since these can be put on wheels you can stack them so that there are No Rows between plantings. Just pull aside when you want to make a pass.

Here comes some funny math! Lol Hang on tight.

An acre of land is over 43,000sq/ft. You could put about 2,687.5 of these beds in a space that size(not really if you want it to function).
That would be about $483,750 worth of produce per acre per year. If you get organic certified it would drastically increase.


Just sayin

Just daydreaming a little too... But I bet one could make a decent living with this if they slowly worked up to it over the years. You have to be able to sell what you grow.



Marty

 
Kyle Neath
Posts: 47
Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
10
dog hugelkultur trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Just wanted to pipe in and say I enjoyed your videos! I'm going to be moving into a rental here soon and I've been looking into some portable garden beds I can build up this winter. I was real excited that you were using those HDX bins as I've been loving using them for moving stuff in my truck bed. I also really like the idea of something sturdy and tear-resistant so it's easier to put in rocks and not have to worry about ripping stuff with a garden trowel. But then I wondered: are these gonna leach weird chemicals into my food? I was looking at the reviews on homedepot.com and found this unfortunate answer: http://www.homedepot.com/p/HDX-27-Gal-Storage-Tote-in-Black-HDX27GONLINE-5/205978361

I called the manufacturer today and spoke to a rep. This container is not made of virgin polypropylene. It is from recycled polypropylene. This does mean it is not food safe. It is for storage use only and completely safe for that purpose. The reycle code does not indicate which source of the material was used. Generally white or bronze plastics are more likely to be virgin sourced since recycled resins are darker in color. Evenso, unless it says its food safe you can't be sure. Call the manufacturer. Just as an example of what I mean; When reusable recycled shopping bags from major retailers was tested recently, many were found to have lead content above what is considered safe for food. Yet many people have promoted using them as growbags on the internet.


In any case, I still really like your overall design and I'm planning on riffing off it a bit with some different materials. I've been wanting to try out some kind of self-wicking bed for a long time. I think there's a ton of potential for them here in CA given our long drought season. I keep dreaming of being able to store a bunch of water in rain barrels during the winter, hooking them up to self-wicking beds via a float valve (like your toilet), and never having to worry about irrigating my kitchen garden again. Everything would be gravity powered and require no electricity, timers, or rainfall adjustments.
 
Marty Mitchell
Posts: 319
Location: Chesapeake, Virginia
8
bee dog fish forest garden fungi solar
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
@ Kyle Neath

Thank you for the compliment! I do hope you find something like this working well in your favor. This is truly a great system. My only complaints so far are the army of pill bugs that love it too... and the mosquitoes that like the puddle of water in the bottom. Though the mosquitoes can be taken care of by placing a cover on the down pipe.

If you were to permanently hook up irrigation to it as you mentioned... then the reservoir would be consistent in height. Which means you could acquire some mosquito fish to eat the mosquitoes. Essentially forming a mosquito trap... that adds some nutrients at the same time. (very little) 

As for food safe plastic goes. I am sure you will find something that works. I did not bother looking at the food safe plastic thing because I thought it referred to actually storing food in them. Like fermenting a vat of pickles, storing potatoes, or rice, etc.

I am now going to dig around on the internet to see if the plants will pull up nutrients they don't need (aka lead/etc. ) and then store those bad things in their fruit/offspring. I hope not. I will have to find out!

Thank you for the heads up!


Marty
 
Marty Mitchell
Posts: 319
Location: Chesapeake, Virginia
8
bee dog fish forest garden fungi solar
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
@ Kyle again...

I just thought of something that could help you out. Buy a food grade IBC liner. you can cut one of those in half and make two beds out of it. Just be sure not to go too deep as the wicking is only efficient to a certain height I hear. Then just frame it in with wood/wheels and it will be highly portable.

Actually, I just had a brain storm!

If you set up a network of them to the same height... you could plum them together!

Why? Well you could use a single float valve to water them all. Less expense/hassle. Less points of potential failure = more reliability/less maintenance.
 
Eric Bee
Posts: 107
5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm not going to rain on your parade because I think it's a bad idea or anything -- wicking beds are dandy 'tho not without their challenges.

But your math could be a bit more realistic (aka less fun). I mean, if it costs $150 to build a 2'x8' bed that produces $180 worth of produce, then as a production farm you are already hosed, so to speak. You didn't account for labor costs at any stage, among the many other expenses that arise not the least of which is sales and marketing. It always costs more to sell produce than to grow it.

So the challenge would be to build those wicking beds for close to $0. Your gross cost of production needs to be way way way lower -- as in a tiny fraction of your overall expenses. I think it could be done and done well but you need to start with a more realistic view of the costs.

You will not be pulling out $483k of produce out of any acre using any method, certified organic or no. Sorry. But you also don't need nearly that to be profitable. If you could get net income of $40-50k per acre that's very good.

Good luck and happy day dreaming. It makes the world go 'round.
 
William Bronson
Posts: 1289
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
13
forest garden trees urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Great thread!
The guys at backyard aquaponics have a lot of good info and experience with wicking beds.
Pool liner,vinyl signs,builder's plastic have all been used as low cost or free linings.
Food grade 55 gallon drums as well as IBC's are also used.
Structure can be wood, IBC cages, cinder blocks, or even just a lined hole in the ground.
My designs use $2.00 food grade barrels and free 5 gallon buckets.
Two buckets with slits cut in them with a sawzall are the reservoir.
One is upside down with no lid,the other right side up with a lid.
Horizontal slits in the barrel just below the tops of the buckets are the overflow.
Fill tube is optional,but may double as a worm tower or be filled with gravel.
Fill the barrel with compost and peat.

I want to switch to horse dung and carbon as my growth medium.

Water is not scarce here,just erratic.
Barrels are to be my raised beds,watering aid and pest control.
 
Marty Mitchell
Posts: 319
Location: Chesapeake, Virginia
8
bee dog fish forest garden fungi solar
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
That is true. My 55gal food grade barrels I used to make rain barrels cost me $10 locally. Each of those could become 2 grow beds when cut in half... at about $5 each.

The entry cost would be high for the beds in my video. However, that is a one time cost. After that the only costs would be labor, fertilizer... and seed... if using rain water. Yes I was just playing with numbers.

Curtis Stone up in Canada is attempting to pull in over $100,000 this year on his 1/3 acre farm! That is some good business. He is highly efficient with everthing though.... and very experienced.
 
Eric Bee
Posts: 107
5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Does Curt's revenue include the revenue from the book sales? And I've wondered the same about Jean-Martin Fortier, who seems to spend more time on the public speaking circuit than at his farm. The "you too can get rich quick from farming" model is a good one and maybe someday I'll go that route too.

But it does no good when thinking of how one might make a living from farming to cite revenue. Curtis may have revenue of $75k, but what are his expenses? With Fortier we know some numbers: $140k revenue, $65k profit which is a net of $43k per acre. Don't forget that's Canadian, so around US$32,000 per acre.  It works out to a 45% margin, which is very good. But I can all but guarantee that it doesn't amortize startup costs ($40k, but likely more) nor is he including paying him and his wife in his expenses. It's easy to forget that "one time costs" are still costs that need to be paid back in the accounting. How about the 10% interest payments on his government loan? I could easily be wrong about his accounting, but I doubt it. I operate at around the same margin so to be honest I don't find it that impressive. I do think he's clever at marketing, not unlike many who peddle such things.

So you see these headlines about "making" $140k a year on 1.5 acres. He's not making that. He and his wife are probably earning less than $25k each per year from the farm. For working 60-70 hours a week. Why do you think he wrote a book about it?

Innovation is critical to the survival of our food system and I would never discourage anyone from trying even the wildest ideas. On a home or community scale this just makes sense and the more testing of ideas the better. But unrealistic expectations do no one any good, and in fact do me personally a disservice (really!) by perpetuating the myths that farming is easy, makes a lot of money, is just a matter of technology or any of those romantic notions that float around like meat bees. I get that a lot at markets and it literally takes money out of my pocket because people decide the produce is too expensive based on erroneous ideas of what it cost me to produce.

I strongly encourage you to try all this and I sincerely hope you succeed. But google how to determine costs of production in farming and you will find that you are missing quite a few expenses.
 
Marty Mitchell
Posts: 319
Location: Chesapeake, Virginia
8
bee dog fish forest garden fungi solar
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
@ Eric Bee

Those are most certainly some great points to put into everyone's mind. Farming is a business and is a VERY complicated thing and is very limited to many dozens of factors.

When actually attempting to run a business it is very imperitive to the success of that business to take a conservative approach and account for a great number of variables. Adding diversification in crops and customers for resiliency, etc. I agree totally.


I have honestly not followed Jean-Martin at all. I have watched one or two of his public speeches on YouTube where he was comparing his overhead costs and profit ratios to conventional farming... which made his model look incredible. I have a horrible memory but I believe he said his profits after all overhead expenditures was $74k a year(Canadian I assume).

I have been listening to Diego Footers(Permaculture Voices Podcast) interviews/podcasts following Curtis Stone over the last 2 years. Through the say 60 or so hour long podcasts they delve deep into how he got to where he is today.

Anything from...
His initial startup costs of $7,500 he had saved up. Working over 100 hour work weeks and even getting into the fetal position here and there and having a good cry from frustration and exhaustion. To only bringing in only $14k dollars the first year. How he lived with his parents to reduce bills so he could survive on the low wage as he learned and grew. How his income about doubled every year after that. How he realized through thorough notes that he was earning 80% of his income a few years into it on only 20% of his crop... so he shaved off 80% of his crops and started only growing what was more profitable. How he cut his labor hours in half by no longer having to weed through new practices. How he did time measurements on all aspects of harvesting and packaging product to become more efficient in time savings & selling product more quickly. How he diversified his customer base to the Farmer's Market, Restaurants, and is now moving into actual grocery stores since he has built his branding to where it is today. At one point he increased his farm up to about 2 acres I believe... but realized his actual income was the exact same but with much more hassle having to deal with a lot of employees. So he shrank back down to 1/3 of an acre. Oh, and he negated having to buy land/major overhead cost by farming on other peoples property since land around where he lives can be $1million an acre. He also gets into how he does his integral crop rotations to grow more in the same space. You should see some of the things he has made on the cheap too. Like his hoop houses, washing machine salad spinner/dryer, etc. He delivers most products by bike to reduce costs. There is much more...

So I suggest to anyone reading this thread to take a look at those episodes. The first year was my favorite.

I believe Curtis Stones book and teaching classes are the main things that are putting him over the $100k dollar a year mark now. He says he only works about 20 hours a week on the farm now with 1 employee that works about 60. However, Curtis says he still works 80hours a week between making videos for his YouTube channel... teaching classes... and writing another book. He only takes in about half of his profits since he is paying his 1 employee a great wage for their great work. He is heavily invested in them and wants them to stay.

Curtis Stone has now bought one of his properties that he has farmed on many years. Since he owns the property he has begun to invest in permanent infrastructure like a large greenhouse(on the cheap) so he can greatly extend his growing season on both ends(only a 7 month growing season in Canada). Receiving maximum dollar for farm fresh produce being grown out of season from his competitors. He is actually just now starting to build his first raised beds since they were not good for is particular environment/situation before.


Now back to the wicking beds....


Marty
 
Eric Bee
Posts: 107
5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Well that's basically my point: To get to a good income he had to all but stop farming. Believe me, that's a running joke among the farmers I know and runs along the lines of the old adage: "Those who can, do. Those who can't write about it"

But let's be clear: Curtis Stone is not a farmer foremost. He is a businessman who uses farming to make money. It's a great model to follow if you want to be a businessman. It might even be a great model if you want to be a farmer as long as you understand your reasons for doing it. Alas, most people don't get into small-scale organic farming because they want to run a business. This is a critical point. There is a reason most new farms fold after 2-3 years.

Very few farmers are business savvy enough to be realistic and honest with themselves when doing the accounting and if that's the value Curtis offers, great! What he is selling boils down to what is really obvious to any farmer with even a little experience:

1. Track your income and expenses. All of them, for all crops. Track your time. Understand what truly makes money and what doesn't.
2. Do everything you can to decrease both the costs of production and the costs of selling, starting with the big ticket items like land, expensive infrastructure and your labor.
3. Do everything you can to grow your market.

So: if you want to be a successful farmer he and Fortier offer much good advice but let's face it, they make money from that advice and there is an inherent conflict of interest that forces them to tout that advice as being the best and the answer to all your problems. Inherently they exploit the romantic notions of farming and the desire of people like you and me to work toward a sustainable future. In other words something that is a mission and a calling has been turned into a product.
Substitute widgets or time shares or hair growth treatments and it's not that different.

In the context of your own efforts Curtis' videos no doubt inspire you and hopefully you gain some good knowledge from them. I hope I have offered a perspective that helps to temper that and that if you pursue this as a business you will be cautious, conservative, and highly successful.

 
Roy Hinkley
Posts: 242
Location: S. Ontario Canada
7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I found an easy way to make wicking beds from a plastic 55 gal drum. This is about the largest you can move by hand. I did use proper wicking cloth(from a Lee Valley seed starting kit) that would add a few bucks above the cost of the barrel and a few feet of pipe.
I've used this particular one for at least 5 years now, bringing it indoors to keep the Bay Laurel alive over the winter.

This link should be to a separate gallery. Please post if the link doesn't work.
http://s828.photobucket.com/user/Indyyeti/library/wicking%20bed?sort=2&page=1
 
Marty Mitchell
Posts: 319
Location: Chesapeake, Virginia
8
bee dog fish forest garden fungi solar
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Roy Hinkley wrote:I found an easy way to make wicking beds from a plastic 55 gal drum. This is about the largest you can move by hand. I did use proper wicking cloth(from a Lee Valley seed starting kit) that would add a few bucks above the cost of the barrel and a few feet of pipe.
I've used this particular one for at least 5 years now, bringing it indoors to keep the Bay Laurel alive over the winter.

This link should be to a separate gallery. Please post if the link doesn't work.
http://s828.photobucket.com/user/Indyyeti/library/wicking%20bed?sort=2&page=1



What a neat design. Thanks for sharing!
 
a fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool - shakespeare. foolish tiny ad:
learn permaculture through a little hard work and get an acre of land
https://permies.com/t/59706/permaculture-bootcamp-boots-roots
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!