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Custom Wicking Beds Explained

We did a design for Ken and Jenny in Rosanna a few years back now (view larger version of design here):

 

As you can see a core theme of this design is serious fruit, vegetable and egg production.  Here is a photo shortly after we finished installing the VEG Beds. As an aside, underneath these vegie beds is a large swimming pool that forms part of the summer cooling system for the house. Interesting stuff and a great way to make use of a swimming pool ;-).

Anyways, getting to the point of this article, of the seven raised beds we put in (all about 4m long by 1.4m wide by 40cm high), one was wicking.  A few weeks back Ken and Jenny got in touch letting us know that the production and the reduced work of the wicking bed was so substantial that they wanted to not only have us convert the six non-wicking beds to wicking, but they wanted a further five wicking beds installed.  They said that the wicking bed has effectively not required any watering except in the hottest weather when it needed a weekly top-up.  Healthy veggies with weekly water during the extremes of a Melbourne summer is a not bad gig!

There is a lot of interest in wicking beds lately, and so we thought we'd talk through the technical details of what we did in this case.  Think of this as more as a guide to some of the things you need to think about as opposed to a rigid template to copy.  We actually usually do wicking beds slightly differently, but in this case we decided this was the best solution.

Here we are getting started on retrofitting the existing six non-wicking beds to be wicking...

 

And getting into it...

From left Matt, Michael and Will

 

Here is the plumbing assembly we used in this case.

 

Moving in closer let's go through what's happening here.  So the pipe sticking up in the air is both the water inlet pipe you use to top up the bed when the reservoir of water beneath the soil runs low, and you can use to visually inspect the water level.  Now let's go through what happens when you stick a hose into the end of the pipe sticking up and turn it on.  The water flows straight down the (55mm diameter) pipe, around the 90 degree bend and straight into 50mm diameter slotted aggy pipe. Slotted as in full of holes, designed to leak like a sieve.  This aggy pipe will sit above the rubber pond liner we put in next.  The pond liner in turn will sit above the white pipe running along the base of the bed.  

This pipe is an overflow, designed to take excess water from this, and two other beds, to the fruit trees in the adjoining orchard (with water our philosophy is waste not want not!). We can do this with gravity, as the beds are slightly higher than the orchard. As the water continues to flow, however, the pond liner, and the basalt fines (little rocks) about to be within it, will start to fill up (as per the next photo).

When the water level reaches the height of the tee-piece you can see, the reservoir is full, and any further water (including surplus rain) then exits via the tee-piece overflow pipe, and on to the fruit trees. This means it is impossible to overfill the bed (and drown any veggies in it)...

 

Here you can see the rubber liner, the basalt fines, and the water level just before it starts overflowing. Ideally you want to be between this point...

 

And this point, when the water starts overflowing....

 

In this next photo, with the wicking reservoir installed, we've simply rolled out a layer of geotextile landscaping fabric and then started refilling the bed with soil.

Within 24 hours the water (and the minerals in the basalt dust amongst the fines) had started wicking up into the soil and the beds were lovely and moist, ready for planting.  In this case we had a water/basalt layer of about 15cm and a soil layer of about 35cm.

In case any of that wasn't clear, for your interest here are some old plans of a slightly different past method we have used, with a drainage option which is a bonus if you can swing it (over time the water can get a little over-nutrified so good to be able to dump it then start again):

And a link to some older blog posts on fixing a damaged wicking bed, a community wicking bed install we did (see part two here), a permablitz where two VEG wicking beds were installed, and one of our first-ever wicking beds back in 2010...

Also if you want some guidance or a hand to build wicking beds, then you need only ask.  We have seen many cases of people putting a lot of effort into wicking beds only to find they turn out to be leaking beds, so we really recommend getting your head around the critical considerations first, and if you are making more than one, try it out for a bit before making the others.  That said, have fun and good luck on your wicking adventures!

VEG PDC visit to Dehesa Felix

On April 14 2013 the current VEG PDC group spent the day with Darren J Doherty of Heenan Doherty at his family's Dehesa Felix property near Bendigo.  Here are a few photos from our visit...

We arrived on the evening of April 13th just in time to set up tents before grabbing a bite (thanks Carey & Jayney!)...


And enjoying the campfire...


In the morning we starting with some physical movement with Peaceful Warrior and support team member Lex...


Before a bit of brekky...


Introductions, then an introduction to the property and the day's topic of water from Darren, including the statement "if you invite water into your property, you want it to be a controlled guest."...


Before some strolling, scratching, and sniffing...



Around the property, which is about two years into development...


Checking out tree establishment strategies (for more info see this youtube)...


Humanure treatment system...


Young tree systems (with portable shade until the trees get bigger!)


And beautiful house dam...


Leaving under a double rainbow after a wonderful day of learning from one of the best in the game...


VEG PDC visit to Melliodora

On Saturday April 13 2013 the most-excellent group taking VEG's first-ever PDC spent a memorable day with David Holmgren, Su Dennet & their son Oliver Holmgren at Melliodora, one of the world's best-known and best-documented permaculture demonstration sites, and the base of Holmgren Design Services.  Here are a few photos from the day, the focus of which was trees...

Dave started by talking us through the whole-site tree design...


Before leading us to the gully, at a nice, leisurely pace, thanks to an unfortunate recent foot injury...


Outdoor classrooms don't get better than this, especially when the teacher has over 20 years intimate connection with this landscape....


Melliodora's magnificent Zone Two orchard...


Amongst the blackwoods with the bunya-pine backdrop...


Through the hazelnuts...


Past the Acacia floribunda support species...


Past potatoes in front of citrus in front of currants in front of olives in front of feijoas - the ultimate edible firebreak!


Up the comfrey-lined garden path...



Past the house kitchen gardens...


Back to the house, where Dave gave some reflections on the tendency permaculturalists can have to go hard growing fruit and veggies where for most people in our culture fruit and veggies are garnishes with most of the food our culture actually eats being carbs (currently from annual grain agriculture), animal protein and dairy.  He harked back to J. Russel Smiths 1929 warnings about the future of annual grain agriculture (due to soil erosion) and the need for multi-generational research on refining cultivars of trees like chestnut and oak for future carb supplies...


Oh what a pretty bunch! Thanks again Su & Dave for sharing your time, your passion and your wonderful property including all the produce we ate!

Thanks also to Guenther Andraschko (below Adam on the right there) for taking and sharing some of these photos.

Extreme poultry-powered backyard soil production

Yesterday we made an excuse to pop in and visit one of our favorite backyards and most exciting design and implementation projects in Melbourne.  Aside from generally enjoying the productive lushness, Dan poked into the soil in the middle of the fully-enclosed orchard and the amount of amazing rich moist, compost & life filled soil being produced thanks to the power of duck and chook totally blew his mind.  Here's a short clip...

And some photos...

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..and big thanks to Ange for sharing a beautiful batch of duck eggs with us! How cool is that, set up someone else's garden then take home food from it whenever you visit!

A visit to Angelo's Legendary Edible Forest Garden

On Sunday April 7 2013 VEG's Dan visited Angelo of Deep Green Permaculture's inspiring demonstration edible forest garden in Preston, Melbourne with a group of permaculture design course participants.  This beautiful garden produces the equivalent of over 15 tonnes per hectare per year which is four times what Australian agriculture is capable of, and Angelo achieves this organically with minimal inputs.  We recorded a snippet of angelo talking about the production and pest situation (or rather lack thereof) in his garden.  Bravo, Angelo!  We highly recommend Angelo's website which you can visit here.


VEG Warehouse is Go Go Go

VEG Warehouse is where the hardware magic happens: cypress pine stock-pile, cutting and building VEG beds and chook houses, tools and irrigation what-nots. We're now ready to sell cypress timber direct-to-public and to freight our VEG kit set beds nation-wide, should you wish to share the joy. Plus we're fitting out a nice kitchen and display room so you can drop in and have a cup of tea, whilst perusing our installations portfolio, demo beds and chook houses. 

Entering the VEG bat-cave...

Last April the old Maidstone warehouse ownership changed, and we were lucky to find an old gem in a former Brunswick tannery - on the cards for medium density development, but we're good for a few years yet. Did someone say medium density development? Yes, and for us that means LOTS of neighbours, very close by. What better time to build a fully enclosed sound-proof work-room! No prizes for guessing the timber used for this modest post & beam structure; walled with straw-bales, roofed with straw-panels with just enough room for our timber truck to roll in.

Fully loaded and ready to rock and roll!

So if you're building a straw-bale home, contact Ian Miller aka The Straw King at Smeaton via Ballarat, and tell him we sent you. Or, the compressed straw-panels are from Bendigo at Durra Panels. If you've got a drummer-rock-guitarist-child or just want to see how we made it, drop Carey a line via our contacts page and come say g'day - onwards and upwards from here!

Nothing like a gleaming saw bench in the morning!

String-Powered VEG Chook House Door Opening & Closing System

Check out how the system works to open the chook house door in the morning...



And close it at night...



Yet another way of using those last zucchinis

Just when you thought you couldn't possibly figure out anything else to do with your zucchini onslaught take some mashed potato, cheese, herbs then...

Hey...


Presto!...


Cabbage White Butterfly - at large

Make sure you stay on top of these blighters this time of year.  Here is a picture of a cabbage white butterfly laying an egg 30 minutes after we planted our cabbage seedlings...


and a close up of the cargo it left behind, soon to turn into a leaf-munching little green caterpillar...



The Good Life

A certain VEG director's two-year-old has got a sweet new sand pit from which she can pet baby chicks and pick ripe peaches. It has to be asked - does life get better than this?


Dave Jacke changes VEG's game

Well it's been a few weeks since Dave Jacke ran his weekend workshop and in some ways we are still reeling.  Dave has done more on articulating the design process than anyone we know and we have taken much on board after spending time with him.  So thanks Dave for the work that you do - VEG will never be the same again!


Adam, Dan, Dave and Emily (yes Dan tried to impress Dave by wearing his nettle shirt ;-))


Adam acting as the client whilst Dave takes notes.