Wendy Smyer Yu

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since Jul 03, 2014
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Recent posts by Wendy Smyer Yu

cross posted on aquaponicsnation.com (where my hyperlinks work: http://aquaponicsnation.com/forums/topic/9444-wicking-bedsub-irrigated-planter-resources-ideas-experiences), but I'd like to get a variety of opinions about people's experiences with Wicking Beds (or Sub-Irrigated Planters), so thought I'd post here, too:

Wicking beds might be a great choice for my site - (drylands, annual drought, already existing garden beds, etc.)

Sub-Irrigated Planters
I already have a few Ikea planters that utilize "self-watering" or sub-irrigating techniques for houseplants and I've come across DIY 5-gallon bucket designs (courtesy of Root Simple, but also found on global buckets) and nabbed three such creations off Freecycle last winter. A small stack of bakery-salvaged buckets who want to be sub-irrigated planters (SIPs) await me.

My experiences with the small scale versions of wicking beds:
the houseplants are much happier because of them. No more overwatering since the Ikea design has a small float indicator that tells when the water level is low. Very smart. A moisture meter (separate) confirms that the float is not lying - when it says there's water in the system, indeed, the soil is moist.
the 5 gallon ones are easier to misjudge, though the overflow port OVERFLOWS when there's too much water. I'm learning to ignore my urge to water from the top in our brutal summer, but I'm still not sure, though, why my plants don't look particularly pleased (an almost anemic-looking cherry tomato and a holding-steady (but not taking off) perennial African blue basil). Could be soil issues. Also, over time the plastic is degrading (unprotected) and I cut myself on a snapped edge as I was trying to move the heavy pot…
There are other "recipes" that utilize common storage totes. I have no personal experience with these.
Earthtainer - as conceived by Ray Newstead (pdf instructions)
Green tote version - by Bob Hyland
Some considerations: UV instability of plastic - unless they're underground or otherwise protected, they'll degrade. Heat detrimental to plant roots (Earthtainer design utilizes a double-wall to combat this)… and just… you know, plastic. It's not going to be here forever, what are our other options? If they only last max. 2-3 years due to UV degradation, this isn't "sustainable." Even if they last 10 years, it isn't… Also, I don't suppose it's a guarantee that nothing suspicious is leaching out of the plastic and into the reservoir/moist soil?

Ques: does burying them or coating them increase lifespan? Building a structure around them?

Here's a design using ceramic pots (though plastic is still required as a liner).

Wicking Beds

Here are some sources I came across for designing/planning such a system:
APN's own Gary Donaldson's page on Wicking Beds
How to Construct Garden Wicking Worm Beds
SIPs and Wicking Beds by Albopepper
APN (and permies) regular, velacreations, has a How To: Wicking Bed
and something similar to all of the above (the same?) from PermacultureNews

My questions for you:
What resources have you relied on to inform your successful WB/SIP design?
What has worked or not worked based on information you've come across?
Have you used a portable tote, a pond liner, or something else to make the reservoir?
Used sand, gravel (media) or perforated plastic-thingies (media-less) to create the conditions for capillary action?
Did any part of your design fail and if so, why do you think it did?
Do you import soil or create it on site? Do you have inputs from other systems on your site (ie. animal/fish waste, earthworms, beneficial bacteria)
What are elements that are critical to your system that you don't always find included in other designs?
I'll document what I end up doing on my site and will try to answer these questions when I actually have a system in place...
That's cool that it's working! Hopefully the start of autumn helps with all frustrations
6 years ago
Hi Michael!

I saw your Saturday event and am sorry that I have visiting family and related obligations this weekend. bummer!

Honestly, I'd love to come - winter veggies are my favorite and I need a kick in the pants to get things going. I'll use some of my beds for that this winter and for as long as I have the beds as this is a slow-going project here. Unfortunately the layout of the beds is awkward and un-aesthetic and space-hogging, leaving no room for anything else. But I'm taking things piecemeal so...

If indeed I do have pecans, the trees must not be producing hardly anything due to having been very very pruned back before I bought the house. Two pecans on the ground don't make two pecan trees and as far as I can tell (with binoculars because nothing is reachable from ground level), I have no other evidence. So, before we start planning pecan harvests, I'm going to need positive identification or else we'll blame the crows for dropping things in my yard!

Ultimately, I'd be delighted to host something - not sure what's suitable for my place yet… but if I can collect enough food-grade buckets from local stores we could at least do a self-watering-container workshop . Give me a few months for that one, though, I only have 3 buckets so far.

The yolo wool mill is having an event on October 25th (http://yolowoolmill.com/events.html) - We could do something in conjunction with that date, conceivably, except at this point I'm still unpacking boxes and painting walls, etc - not particularly permie oriented, so maybe let's hold off for a bit

I'm happy to make local connections - back when I lived here (2000-2011) there wasn't a lot of permie stuff going on until right around the time I was leaving.

6 years ago
Michael, I just joined your meetup. I'm not sure how often I'll be able to come from Woodland to Sac, but I like your idea of sharing assistance on each other's yards and passing abilities around. Your property sounds amazing. I'm just starting and so far the only "productive" thing I've got is a budleia that blooms through summer, regardless of drought. I also have a young volunteer fig coming up under some very drought-stressed birches and after 6 weeks being unable to identify two massive trees in my backyard I stepped on a pecan the other day and thought the idea was preposterous (there are no other obvious nuts on the trees and I didn't think they do well in the valley) until I found another under a paver and saw your post… So, maybe I have pecan trees… Other than that, I have a huge garden space with raised beds (which will be removed in favor of a sunken bed approach) and tons of roses and the ubiquitous stretch of (now turning brown) lawn.
6 years ago
Charles, by any chance were you dealing with bermuda or crab grass?
6 years ago
bump, in case anyone has other info on defeating bermuda grass… has ANYONE had success?

I'm seeing several methods (manual effort, solarization, long-term sheet mulch …)

Edit: meanwhile, I'll add something I found on another thread that seems downright brilliant (https://permies.com/t/18951/organic/destroying-bermuda-crab-grass)

Wendy Blackwell wrote:the real question to ask is "why does the crab grass grow?" the following link reveals some clues. http://www.sierra-worm-compost.com/soil-fertility.html

weeds are pioneers of disturbed land. Indicators of soil quality, deficiencies, and excesses. crab grass grows in dry, compacted, low fertility, low calcium soil. fix those problems, and your cg problem will lessen.

I have a 1/4 acre in Sonoma County. 1/8th of my plot is a weed patch. wild carrot, wild radish, daikon I introduced, prickly sow thistle, bind weed, frog fruit, crab grass...more nameless weeds than I can identify. I mow my weed patch once a month, starting in spring and by now, late july, its still green and growing, yet I do not water my weed patch. Everywhere else the ground is dry, cracked, dusty and sad. My thought is to return the nutrients that the weeds are pulling from the earth, back into the soil, and let them do the hard dirty work of breaking up the clay. I've turned my weeds into a living mulch and tiller. In the winter I run the chickens in the weed yard, so I can sow the orchard (where they spend their summers) with ryes, legumes, and chicken forage and let them decimate Weedlandia, and in the spring, before the last rains I seed the weed yard with whatever I want. its usually a mix of green manures, soil busters, legumes, beneficial incest blends, wild flowers, and any extra seeds I might have lying around. This is my second summer of this plan, and the soil is already improving, and some of my seeded plants are taking root.

in permaculture we don't see problems, we see solutions. Turn your weed "problem" into a solution, and remember, slow and steady wins the race.

also, if you must have a garden to tend while you remediate your soil, lasagna garden a small space intensively, that way if you have to weed, or pile on more and more mulch/manure/cardboard/mulchmanurecardboard, at least its on a small space, while you work on the bigger projects slower.

I know my reply wasn't about destroying crab grass, but maybe destroying it isn't the answer.

6 years ago
Check your email, I tried again!
6 years ago
Jennifer! You caught me on my first post on permies! Did you ever get my email some months ago (back when I signed up for your email list)? I love reading about the stuff you're up to, and the updates on the Watershed Management Group activities.

Matt, I'm not currently in anybody's network (been in Europe the last 3 years), but when I get back to the US I hope to change that. Not that it's really close enough to you, but I think the Davis group meets periodically at the Davis Food Co-op… maybe that's a place to start?
6 years ago
…i'm heading to Yolo County in the next two months. I know there's a small group in Davis (with Derek Downey). In the last days I've come across posts here by people in Sacramento (James Colbert and Doug Hack).

Also, along the lines of more organized/actively designing/PDC-offering locales, there are a few folks up in Chico (Brian and Stephanie Ladwig-Cooper of Gaia Creations). Then of course, Occidental Arts & Ecology in Sebastopol, like Regenerative Design Institute, must have a wider network as should the folks in Petaluma (Permaculture Skills Center)...
6 years ago