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#213710 - 12/27/10 08:48 PM Self-watering 5-gallon growing containers
Blast Offline
INTERCEPTOR
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 07/15/02
Posts: 3561
Loc: Spring, Texas
Reposted from my blog because I though some of you would like it.

A bold person can get an almost infinite supply of free 5-gallon buckets. Restaurants, bakeries, and fast food joints are particularly good places to ask for these. At worst they'll say no, at best you'll be needing a truck to get them all home. So what does Blast do with free buckets? He turns them into uber-productive (hopefully) container garden thingies aka Global Buckets.


FinishedBuckets by merriwether, on Flickr
Just finished these two hours ago. Meanwhile the rest of the world seems to be wrapped in blizzards. I love Houston!!

Global buckets are based on the self-watering Earth Boxes, but are made from easy to find scrap materials. I did have to buy some 1.5" diameter PVC pipe and the soil mixture for inside the buckets, but everything else was just laying around.


Global bucket by merriwether, on Flickr
1. inner bucket
2. outer bucket
3. fill tube made from 1.5" PVC tubing
4. cotton cloth to wick water from reservoir to soil
5. soil (mix of peat moss, topsoil, and vermiculite)
6. gap between two buckets which acts as the water reservoir
7. henweigh



BottomeOfInnerBucket by merriwether, on Flickr
This is the bottom of the inner bucket.
A hole approximately 1.5"-2" in diameter is cut in the center of the bottom, this is for the cotton wick. A second hole 1.73" in diameter is cut near the edge of the bottom, this is for the fill tube. A bunch of small holes (about 5/16" in diameter) are drilled randomly around the bottom of this buck to improve drainage and allow air to get to the plant roots. Sidenote: do you really think I drilled a 1.73" hole? I just cut until the tube fit.


FillPipe by merriwether, on Flickr
The bottom of the fill tube has a large notch cut in it to simplify the system.
A precise person could measure (twice) and cut (once) fill tubes to the exact length needed for perfection. Luckily, plants don't need a perfect system in which to grow, so just hack a chunk out of the bottom of the fill tube, stick it through the inner bucket, and whack it off somewhere around the top rim of the inner bucket.


MakingOverflowHole by merriwether, on Flickr
An overflow hole is drilled in the outer bucket.
To keep from flooding the buckets a drain hole is drilled in the outer bucket just below the bottom of the inner bucket. Hopefully you can see how I precisely measured the location for this hole.


LookingDownIntoBuckets by merriwether, on Flickr
Completed buckets before adding soil.
Now you can see all the drain holes, the fill tube and the cotton wick. The wick was made from this really hideous dust ruffle thing that I've always hated. Hopefully this hatred won't affect the plants.


FillingBuckets by merriwether, on Flickr
Getting ready to fill the buckets.
Being lazy, I didn't feel like holding up the wick while adding the soil so I tied it to a stick. This picture is slightly misleading as the wick does end 2"-4" below the top of the soil once the bucket is filled.


Ingredients by merriwether, on Flickr
Making soil.
My soil recipe is based on Square Foot Gardening and is composed of roughly 1/3 cheap topsoil, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 vermiculite (the stuff in the wheel barrow) mixed together thoroughly. The peat moss helps hold water, the vermiculite keeps the soil loose and aerated, the topsoil gives the plant roots a place to grow. Depending on what I grow, some fertilizer may be added to the particular bucket.


FinishedBuckets by merriwether, on Flickr
And here we are back at the beginning.
It took me about four hours total to make these eight buckets and they have all been planted with different wild edibles except for the one on the end which has chard I picked up on clearance.

This is a great way to set up a container garden in a small area, especially in hot, dry locations. Another benefit of these Global Buckets is that you can move them around to optimize their access to sun or to protect them from freezing.

Once the plants are growing I'll add either a thick layer of mulch or some secondary plant like nasturtiums to shade the soil which reduces evaporative water loss. Water is added to the system through the fill tube until water flows out the overflow hole. The plants will eventually grow their roots through the holes in the bottom of the bucket directly into the water reservoir. Until then the wick keeps the soil at the perfect level of moistness. I'll update you through the year on how well this system actually works.

-Blast
_________________________
Blogging the Borderlands
Wild Edibles Blog
I miss OBG.

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#213712 - 12/27/10 10:07 PM Re: Self-watering 5-gallon growing containers [Re: Blast]
Todd W Offline
Product Tester
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 11/14/04
Posts: 1928
Loc: Mountains of CA
Awesome idea.

I think we may do something like this next year.

We have 1 of the Earth Boxes we got as a gift and it is AWESOME but extremely expensive.

I`m liking what you did.

Have you done it w/out the wick? The earth boxes don't have those (at least ours didn't).

What about plastic / material on top?
_________________________
Self Sufficient Home - Our journey to self sufficiency.

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#213713 - 12/27/10 10:14 PM Re: Self-watering 5-gallon growing containers [Re: Blast]
Art_in_FL Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 09/01/07
Posts: 2432
Along with duct tape, foil tape, and duct-seal putty the five gallon bucket is one of the staples of hillbilly engineering. You pretty much can't have too many.

Don't forget that lots of building supplies come in five gallon buckets. Paints, sealants, drywall mud, wallpaper glue, concrete additives, etcetera, etcetera. Some of those you don't want in close contact with food but one of the benefits of the shift to low/no-VOC compounds is the general trend is that these materials are becoming far less toxic.

On a large job site a few years ago I was picking up twenty or more buckets a week. And there were plenty more.

Large institutions may have shifted toward large drums, typically 40 or 55 gallon drums, another fine resource, but many have stuck with five gallon units for their cleaning and floor maintenance supplies because they are easier to handle and dispense.

Nice design on the self-watering pot. The one addition I would make would be to line the bottom half of the upper pail with landscape fabric to limit the growth of roots into the lower compartment.

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#213714 - 12/27/10 10:15 PM Re: Self-watering 5-gallon growing containers [Re: Blast]
Bill_Mead Offline
Newbie

Registered: 10/19/07
Posts: 36
Loc: Tarpon Springs,Florida
Very nice job, I have been looking to do something like this also but have had difficulty finding vermiculite locally. I will have to get back on task for spring.

Thanks for sharing.

BTW I have a nice batch of canna lilies I have grown from seeds thanks to another one of your posts.

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#213718 - 12/28/10 12:42 AM Re: Self-watering 5-gallon growing containers [Re: Blast]
dweste Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 02/16/08
Posts: 2463
Loc: Central California
Nice.

Is there a layer of material for the bottom of the inner bucket to allow root access to water while reducing soil loss into the outer bucket?

Are these strictly for annuals and intended to be refurbished each season / year?

Wouldn't Houston's humidity and heat allow water harvest in summer by solar still to feed into the system?

Overflow water capture system?

Thanks.

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#213722 - 12/28/10 02:00 AM Re: Self-watering 5-gallon growing containers [Re: Blast]
Susan Offline
Geezer

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 5163
Loc: W. WA

Very nice tutorial, Blast!

I had heard of the Earthboxes but didn't know how they worked.

These buckets look like the ideal way to grow herbs that tend to spread excessively via root runners, like the mints.

They would also be great for growing greens and herbs on a sunny deck or patio near the kitchen door for quick and easy access: lettuces, basil, borage, fenugreek, chervil, chives, cilantro, coriander, dill, fennel, ginger, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lovage, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, summer and winter savories, tarragon and thyme. Carefully chosen, two or three could be planted in each bucket.

Sue

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#213740 - 12/28/10 02:21 PM Re: Self-watering 5-gallon growing containers [Re: Blast]
Jesselp Offline
What's Next?
Enthusiast

Registered: 07/19/07
Posts: 263
Loc: New York
Very cool project, Blast.

Do you need to use food grade buckets? Would toxins from non-food-grade buckets, or buckets that previously held chemicals leach into whatever foodstuffs you were growing?
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http://spligovia.blogspot.com
A blog about adventure
in and around New York

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#213747 - 12/28/10 04:21 PM Re: Self-watering 5-gallon growing containers [Re: Blast]
PSM Offline
Journeyman

Registered: 05/26/06
Posts: 77
Loc: Cochise Co., AZ
Do you use a small, medium, or large henweigh?

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#213759 - 12/28/10 06:55 PM Re: Self-watering 5-gallon growing containers [Re: Todd W]
Blast Offline
INTERCEPTOR
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 07/15/02
Posts: 3561
Loc: Spring, Texas
Originally Posted By: Todd W

What about plastic / material on top?


Background info on Todd's Question: Traditional Earth Boxes/Global Buckets do have a layer of black plastic sheeting over the top of the soil to restrict evaporative loss of water from the soil. Holes are cut in this plastic for planting seedlings of whatever you will be growing.

I currently do not have plastic over the soil as I'm growing stuff straight from seeds which doesn't work well with a black plastic sheet over the top. I may put clear plastic covers over the tops to get a greenhouse effect if the weather stays cool. I'm growing wild edible plants (aka weeds) in these buckets and and they don't need quite the level of babying as regular plants.

-Blast
_________________________
Blogging the Borderlands
Wild Edibles Blog
I miss OBG.

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#213760 - 12/28/10 06:56 PM Re: Self-watering 5-gallon growing containers [Re: Art_in_FL]
Blast Offline
INTERCEPTOR
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 07/15/02
Posts: 3561
Loc: Spring, Texas
Originally Posted By: Art_in_FL
The one addition I would make would be to line the bottom half of the upper pail with landscape fabric to limit the growth of roots into the lower compartment.


It is my understanding that having the roots grow into the water is a good thing. Time will tell.

-Blast
_________________________
Blogging the Borderlands
Wild Edibles Blog
I miss OBG.

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