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The Texas TransFarmer Builder Series How to Build a Wicking Bed with Optional Worm Motel
The Texas TransFarmer
Builder Series
How to Build a
Wicking Bed
with Optional Worm Motel
A publication of the Texas Aquaponic and TransFarming Center
How to Build A Wicking Bed Garden with Optional Worm Motel A wicking bed is

How to Build A

Wicking Bed Garden

with Optional Worm Motel

A wicking bed is a type of raised bed garden that waters plants from underneath the roots rather than on top. The water wicks up from an underground water reservoir resulting in improved production while minimizing water usage. During a typical Texas summer, a regular raised bed may need to be watered two or three times a day. With a wicking bed, watering is generally required only once every two or three weeks!

The following instructions outline how to build a 4 ft. x 8 ft. wicking bed garden. Any size can be built, just make cuts accordingly.

Materials

Tools

3

2x12x8 boards (cut one board in half)

Saw (to cut wood)

Carpet remnant to cover area (optional)

Level

 

12

ft – 2” diameter PVC pipe

Electric Drill

1

– 2” elbow to fit pipe

Drill bits (various sizes)

2

- caps to fit ends of pipe (or make)

1” hole saw cutter

1

- roll black plastic to cover area

Measuring tape

1

– 8’x4’ sized weed barrier/shade cloth

Staple gun

8

ft - 1 inch PVC pipe

Hammer

Wood/decking screws 1- 4x4x4 board (cut into four 12” pieces)

Shovel Wheel barrel

 

12

bags gravel/river pebbles (or enough for a

Scissors

layer 4 to 6 inches deep)

Utility knife

3

bags of (compost) (optional)

Hacksaw (to cut PVC pipe)

Mulch (enough for 4 to 6 inches deep) (optional) Hay to cover garden bed (optional) Soil (ideally from your organic garden) 1- 5 gallon bucket with lid for compost/worm bin (optional)

1- 5 gallon bucket with lid for compost/worm bin (optional) Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic
1- 5 gallon bucket with lid for compost/worm bin (optional) Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic

Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and TransFarming Center GrowCleanFood@CleanFoodSolutions.org

Garden Area Preparation 1. Determine a good location for your wicking bed garden and mark
Garden Area Preparation 1. Determine a good location for your wicking bed garden and mark
Garden Area Preparation 1. Determine a good location for your wicking bed garden and mark

Garden Area Preparation

1. Determine a good location for your wicking

bed garden and mark off the area. To ensure a good supporting base for the raised bed, dig down about 2 to 4 inches. This provides a good basin and also helps minimizes the weight of the gravel pushing on the wood frame.

2. Lay the carpet remnant over the marked off

area, measure, and cut to size. Allow a few inches on each side so that it will fold inside the frame.

inches on each side so that it will fold inside the frame. The carpet should be

The carpet should be top side down. This helps protect the plastic liner from punctures. Other suitable material can be used. Remember this material will not contact the soil.

be used. Remember this material will not contact the soil. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic
be used. Remember this material will not contact the soil. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic

Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and TransFarming Center GrowCleanFood@CleanFoodSolutions.org

Preparing the Irrigation Pipe 1. Drill a line of holes in one side of the
Preparing the Irrigation Pipe 1. Drill a line of holes in one side of the
Preparing the Irrigation Pipe 1. Drill a line of holes in one side of the
Preparing the Irrigation Pipe 1. Drill a line of holes in one side of the

Preparing the Irrigation Pipe

1. Drill a line of holes in one side of the 2” pipe

approximately every 6 inches (you may also cut slots instead of holes with a saw if you don’t have a drill bit). Note that any size pipe larger than 2 inches will suffice. Pictured is 3” pipe.

2. Attached the 90 degree elbow to one end of the pipe.

Measure and cut the pipe to the approximate length of the bed. For a more precise measurement, place the pipe with the elbow attached inside the wood frame before cutting. (Remember to accommodate an inch or two for the rug.)

3. If you purchased a cap, cap off the cut end of the pipe. In this example, we use left over foam insulation from our raft Aquaponic system. Cut the foam and fit it into the end of the pipe. Cover with an old t-shirt and zip tie the shirt over the end. A piece of plastic will work also.

The irrigation pipe merely delivers the water to the reservoir. Therefore the end does not need to be water tight.

Therefore the end does not need to be water tight. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic
Therefore the end does not need to be water tight. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic

Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and TransFarming Center GrowCleanFood@CleanFoodSolutions.org

Wood Garden Frame 1. Cut one 2x12x8 into 2 - 4ft long pieces. 2. Cut
Wood Garden Frame 1. Cut one 2x12x8 into 2 - 4ft long pieces. 2. Cut
Wood Garden Frame 1. Cut one 2x12x8 into 2 - 4ft long pieces. 2. Cut
Wood Garden Frame 1. Cut one 2x12x8 into 2 - 4ft long pieces. 2. Cut

Wood Garden Frame

1. Cut one 2x12x8 into 2 - 4ft long pieces.

2. Cut the 4x4x4 into 4 - 1ft long pieces.

3. Screw 3 screws vertically toward the short edge of each 2x12.

4. Lay out the boards such that the two long

boards and two short boards are perpendicular to each other forming a rectangle. Place a 4x4 in each inside corner. Attach each 2x12 piece to the 4x4’s by screwing them together.

5. Once the frame is complete, place the

frame over the marked out area. Fold the carpet upwards so that it is inside the frame. Check to see that the PVC piece has a snug fit. This will ensure water is distributed the full length of the bed.

6. Use a level and check to make sure the

frame is sitting fairly level all the way

around.

Note: Any type or style of raised bed frame can be used. This one is described because it is easy and relatively inexpensive to build. Just ensure your wicking bed structure does not puncture the liner.

your wicking bed structure does not puncture the liner. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and
your wicking bed structure does not puncture the liner. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and

Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and TransFarming Center GrowCleanFood@CleanFoodSolutions.org

Adding the Layers

Adding the Layers 1. Cut plastic to size. Similar to the carpet, allow for extra on

1. Cut plastic to size. Similar to the carpet, allow for

extra on each side.

2. Lay the plastic over the carpet.

for extra on each side. 2. Lay the plastic over the carpet. 3. Tack the plastic

3. Tack the plastic to the frame with a staple gun or other suitable tack to hold the plastic in place. The plastic should be a couple of inches from the top of the board. It does need to be perfect.

4. Lay the large PVC pipe toward the center of the framed area. Check to see that it is fairly level or at a minimum leaning towards the capped end (you want to ensure the water flows the length of the bed). Also make sure the holes are facing toward the bottom.

bed). Also make sure the holes are facing toward the bottom. 5. Start laying down the

5. Start laying down the gravel/rock. The gravel should be about 4 to 6 inches deep, almost to the top of the pipe. In the wicking bed shown, we used decorative river pebble. Any non-reactive rock will do. Ensure the rock is not high in calcium as this will affect your pH.

the rock is not high in calcium as this will affect your pH. Copyright © 2012
the rock is not high in calcium as this will affect your pH. Copyright © 2012
the rock is not high in calcium as this will affect your pH. Copyright © 2012

Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and TransFarming Center GrowCleanFood@CleanFoodSolutions.org

Adding the Layers (Continued) 6. NOTE: Mulch is optional. Add a layer of mulch, about
Adding the Layers (Continued) 6. NOTE: Mulch is optional. Add a layer of mulch, about
Adding the Layers (Continued) 6. NOTE: Mulch is optional. Add a layer of mulch, about
Adding the Layers (Continued) 6. NOTE: Mulch is optional. Add a layer of mulch, about

Adding the Layers

(Continued)

6. NOTE: Mulch is optional. Add a layer of mulch, about 2-3

inches. Ensure the pipe is covered. This will break down over time and add additional nutrients to the garden. The irregular pieces will help hold more water.

Observe that the picture shown shows mulch being placed under the weed barrier. This is alright to do, but it is recommended that you put it above the weed barrier which will be described below.

Adding the Drain Pipe

NOTE: Although you can install two overflow pipes, as long as long as your bed is relatively level, only one is needed.

1. Drill the 1- inch PVC pipes with holes on one side, equal distant from the pipe ends. The diameter does not matter. Then, drill a hole (just large enough for the pipes to slide through) for each pipe in the long side of the frame. You need only drill on one side of the bed. These pipes are the overflow which will alert you when the reservoir is full of water. There is no need to cap these pipes.

2. Slide the pipes through the holes. One end should be flush

with the inside of the frame while the other sticks out a few inches. Make sure the holes face down.

3. Lay down the weed barrier/shade cloth on top of the drain

pipe, while cutting a space for the fill pipe. DO NOT use regular plastic as the barrier as water needs to be able to “wick” through to the roots of your plants.

and

underneath a five gallon bucket. Set the bucket on the barrier and proceed to Soil Preparation section below.

Worm Motel:

Drill

1”

holes

around

the

bottom

below. Worm Motel: Drill 1” holes around the bottom Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and
below. Worm Motel: Drill 1” holes around the bottom Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and

Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and TransFarming Center GrowCleanFood@CleanFoodSolutions.org

Soil Preparation 1. Ideally, take soil from an existing organic garden. Remove any rocks and
Soil Preparation 1. Ideally, take soil from an existing organic garden. Remove any rocks and
Soil Preparation 1. Ideally, take soil from an existing organic garden. Remove any rocks and
Soil Preparation 1. Ideally, take soil from an existing organic garden. Remove any rocks and

Soil Preparation

1. Ideally, take soil from an existing organic garden.

Remove any rocks and break up any clods. A wire mesh or screen works well for this.

2. To amend your soil, lay down a piece of plastic. This

is to help keep your soil free of debris, grass, weed,

etc. and provide an easy surface to mix everything together.

3. Dump a full wheel barrel of soil on the plastic and

add the amendments. This step is optional, but the better your soil, the better your outcome.

4. Mix the two a bit at a time for a better, more equal

distribution. Dump the blended soil into the prepped bed on top of the weed barrier material. Fill to about 1 inch from the top.

Worm Motel Note: The soil should completely cover the holes in your Worm Motel. This will allow your worms to come and go as they please. Upon completion of the garden and testing, place food scraps and shredded newspaper in the Worm Motel and dampen everything with water. Do not soak. Cover with lid and add scraps regularly.

water. Do not soak. Cover with lid and add scraps regularly. Copyright © 2012 The Texas
water. Do not soak. Cover with lid and add scraps regularly. Copyright © 2012 The Texas

Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and TransFarming Center GrowCleanFood@CleanFoodSolutions.org

Adding the Layers

(Continued)

Adding the Layers (Continued) 7. Take the hay and cover the surface of the bed. If
Adding the Layers (Continued) 7. Take the hay and cover the surface of the bed. If
Adding the Layers (Continued) 7. Take the hay and cover the surface of the bed. If

7. Take the hay and cover the surface of the bed. If you don’t have hay, you may use mulch or other type material.

NOTE: Adding hay or mulch is optional. While it will help keep the weeds down, it also retards direct sunlight from hitting the soil surface which will pull water upward. In conventional gardens, mulch is often used to retain moisture in the soil. This is not an issue with a Wicking Bed.

NOW YOUR BED IS COMPLETE AND READY FOR PLANTING!

Bed. NOW YOUR BED IS COMPLETE AND READY FOR PLANTING! TEST YOUR SYSTEM! Fill the reservoir.

TEST YOUR SYSTEM!

Fill the reservoir. Wait until you see water coming out the pipes on the side. This initial filling will take the longest. Because the soil is dry, you will need to do a touch-up fill as the water gets absorbed into the soil,

after about ten or fifteen minutes. After the initial setup, check your system weekly to determine how often to add water. This is done by “topping off” the system and seeing long it takes to fill. Also, to protect your plants, you may want to make a shade structure over the new bed using PVC and shade cloth.

shade structure over the new bed using PVC and shade cloth. Copyright © 2012 The Texas
shade structure over the new bed using PVC and shade cloth. Copyright © 2012 The Texas

Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and TransFarming Center GrowCleanFood@CleanFoodSolutions.org

Builder Series Supplement

Water Conservation with TransFarming and Aquaponics

Here in Texas we face myriad obstacles to growing food in a “sustainable” fashion. What does sustainable mean? Well, it has a lot to do with producing food in a manner that is not interrupted by “outside influences”. One of the major outside influences here in Texas is the weather – long seasons of heat, extended periods of cold, rapid changes between those two conditions, and no rain in between.

The entire premise of TransFarming was started on the realization the weather here in Texas can be brutal and a different approach must be taken to combat the elements in light of our modern challenges.

At the core of all this is water. Without water, nothing prospers. TransFarming is about “re-thinking” traditional gardening methods to address regional environmental challenges like droughts and water restrictions, while keeping in mind techniques for prosperous food production. These approaches involve growing food in ways that conserve water.

approaches involve growing food in ways that conserve water. Weather wise, not much has changed from
approaches involve growing food in ways that conserve water. Weather wise, not much has changed from
approaches involve growing food in ways that conserve water. Weather wise, not much has changed from

Weather wise, not much has changed from the days of our ancestors, but they used vastly different approaches to dealing with the climate than we do today. Following are a few techniques used to conserve water on a TransFarm.

Wicking Beds

Wicking beds have proven to be a viable solution to the Texas heat and water conservation. These simple structures, based on a raised bed garden, incorporate a reservoir underneath the bed to store water. The garden is watered through an exposed pipe which then wicks water upward through the soil to the roots where water is needed the most. There is minimal evaporation.

water is needed the most. There is minimal evaporation. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and
water is needed the most. There is minimal evaporation. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and
water is needed the most. There is minimal evaporation. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and
water is needed the most. There is minimal evaporation. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and
water is needed the most. There is minimal evaporation. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and

Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and TransFarming Center GrowCleanFood@CleanFoodSolutions.org

Traditional Raised Bed Gardens

Traditional raised bed gardening involves selecting the correct structure and materials for a specific outcome base on environmental factors such as shading, sun path, wind direction and desired crop. Additionally, soil composition will play a very large part in crop success and water conservation. A simple small hoop house may be desirable to protect from direct sun and winter cold.

may be desirable to protect from direct sun and winter cold. Aquaponics Aquaponics is the combination

Aquaponics

to protect from direct sun and winter cold. Aquaponics Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (fish
to protect from direct sun and winter cold. Aquaponics Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (fish

Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soilless plant production). With Aquaponics, the nutrient-rich water that results from raising fish provides a source of natural fertilizer for the growing plants. As the plants consume the nutrients, they help to purify the water in which the fish live. A natural microbial process keeps both the fish and plants healthy, and helps sustain an environment where all can thrive. Both the plants and fish are harvested.

all can thrive. Both the plants and fish are harvested. HugelKulture A HugelKulture is a type

HugelKulture

thrive. Both the plants and fish are harvested. HugelKulture A HugelKulture is a type of raised
thrive. Both the plants and fish are harvested. HugelKulture A HugelKulture is a type of raised

A

HugelKulture is a type of raised bed garden that allows one to use organic materials that are too big

to

go in the compost. Over time, that is 3- 5 years, the materials in the bed decompose, and provide a

slow release of nutrients for garden plants.

Because of its three-dimensionality, a HugelKulture raised bed garden combines the multiple functions of rainwater harvesting, catchment, and irrigation using no cistern, pumps, or pvc pipes. Done properly, there may be no need to water all summer!

Done properly, there may be no need to water all summer! Copyright © 2012 The Texas
Done properly, there may be no need to water all summer! Copyright © 2012 The Texas

Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and TransFarming Center GrowCleanFood@CleanFoodSolutions.org

Keyhole Gardens A keyhole garden uses the same principle as a HugelKulture in that decomposing

Keyhole Gardens

Keyhole Gardens A keyhole garden uses the same principle as a HugelKulture in that decomposing matter
Keyhole Gardens A keyhole garden uses the same principle as a HugelKulture in that decomposing matter

A keyhole garden uses the same principle as a HugelKulture in that decomposing matter is used to

absorb and retain water in the soil. Large amounts of “rotting” wood and kitchen scraps are used in the soil which is stacked within layers of cardboard and paper. Kitchen scraps are also added to the bed via a foot-wide tube which nourishes the entire system. A wedge is cut in the circular bed to access the tube, which makes the garden look like a keyhole when viewed from above.

makes the garden look like a keyhole when viewed from above. Hoop House/Monkey Huts One of

Hoop House/Monkey Huts

a keyhole when viewed from above. Hoop House/Monkey Huts One of the major concerns with growing
a keyhole when viewed from above. Hoop House/Monkey Huts One of the major concerns with growing

One of the major concerns with growing food (and fish) in the winter is the cold. The wind does not help much either. Greenhouses are expensive, and any constructed structures tend to be somewhat permanent.

Enter the simple Monkey Hut. These structures are by their very nature flexible, and designed to withstand strong wind and rain (dust too). Built correctly, they are easily dis-assembled in the Spring,

or used to support a shade cloth in the Summer.

the Spring, or used to support a shade cloth in the Summer. Copyright © 2012 The
the Spring, or used to support a shade cloth in the Summer. Copyright © 2012 The
the Spring, or used to support a shade cloth in the Summer. Copyright © 2012 The
the Spring, or used to support a shade cloth in the Summer. Copyright © 2012 The
the Spring, or used to support a shade cloth in the Summer. Copyright © 2012 The

Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and TransFarming Center GrowCleanFood@CleanFoodSolutions.org

Vermiculture and Constructing a Worm Bin

Worm Composting is an excellent way to create organic matter for gardens and Aquaponic systems. They can be added directly to gardens and Aquaponic media systems, and also used to feed fish and chickens. Worms are important in the garden because they aerate the soil which helps lock in moisture. Worm farming includes choosing a worm and bin type, setting up the worm composting bin, maintaining the system, harvesting compost and worms, making and using worm tea, and such activities.

and worms, making and using worm tea, and such activities. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic
and worms, making and using worm tea, and such activities. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic
and worms, making and using worm tea, and such activities. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic
and worms, making and using worm tea, and such activities. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic
and worms, making and using worm tea, and such activities. Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic

Copyright © 2012 The Texas Aquaponic and TransFarming Center GrowCleanFood@CleanFoodSolutions.org