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Wicking Bed Garden

Gene Logsdon, that great and sorely-missed farming sage, would have laughed at us, had we consulted him before building this style garden bed.

And he would have been right.

I cannot remember what got us started down the path of this labor-intensive, unproductive and expensive form of gardening (can you tell I loved this and would recommend it to friends??) 

It sounded good—wicking beds operate on the principle of creating a reservoir of rocks that fills with water and provides a continuous supply of moisture from the roots up for plants in dry climates (we were in South Texas USDA Zone 8b at the time and were on city water restrictions.) 

Hubby did most of the work, from designing to building to filling the beds with dirt and finished organic compost atop a layer of stones and an intricate root-watering reservoir system (see photo gallery below, it’s easier to show than tell.)

Then we planted and waited, expectantly.

The plants kind of dinked along for awhile, and while our tomato plants grew tall and green, very few actual tomatoes materialized.  The basil did well, but then basil always does well so that didn’t tell us much.  The bed didn’t need any surface watering, but it didn’t grow much either.

We were puzzled.  A couple things contributed to the failure of this project, probably most notably that we used limestone rocks in the base of the bed, which raised the pH of our already very alkaline soil to levels that made nutrients in the soil unavailable to the plants.  We tried amending it the other direction by watering with a mix of distilled vinegar and water which helped a little but not enough. 

Did I mention we built this in the backyard of our rental?

Upon preparing to move out, our landlady did not want or need said garden bed and wanted it gone.  Taking it apart was almost as much work as building it…just not as much fun.  The rocks in the reservoir were soggy and had provided a haven for a couple of scorpions, an assortment of poisonous-looking spiders, etc. 

Then we had to put down sod, another expensive and labor-intensive project.

I simply cannot recommend this style of bed, but particularly not if you ever plan to move out of your home.  And gardening in a rental home?  That’s another story for another day...but the long and the short of it is: don't, just don't. Let us serve as a terrible warning to other tenants.  My sincere belief is that there's zero point to improving the landscaping in a rental, and many rental contracts actually prohibit it entirely. 

Here's a fairly detailed gallery, with my notes, if you own your own home (and feel like torturing yourself!) You've been warned.