As this design is within eyesight of many neighbours and visited by some of the building’s residents, my client Tim has opted for wine barrels – eleven of them.
Having decided on the style of planter (a wicking bed or Sub-Irrigated Planter) the hard part starts. I have to construct 11 wine barrel planters, so on a beautifully clear July morning I got to work.
Step 1: Scrub out all of the wine residues in the barrels with a heavy brush.
Step 2: Prepare the watering pipe by cutting PVC downpipe (any diameter from 15-50mm) the same height as rim of barrel (so it will be a little higher than the level of the mulch), drilling a few holes in it at the bottom then wrapping it with a sock to prevent it getting clogged up with organic matter.
Step 3: Next, the reservoir: Before filling the reservoir with material, you want to determine the depth of the reservoir and drill a hole for drainage slightly under that level (say a 1-1.5 cm).
Step 4: Place the watering tube in its desired location. (I put mine on the edge so it’s easy to see and fill.) This will allow you to determine whether the planter needs water as you can look and see or if it’s a narrow tube, just get yourself some doweling and use it as a dipstick.
Step 5: Fill the reservoir with your chosen media. The first barrel I used crushed gravel (grey metal), some seed raising trays and a few bits of polystyrene. The function of these materials is to create space for water to collect and hold the soil above the water. Over the course of stage one I used a variety of materials including takeaway containers and PET bottles all with many holes drilled into them to allow the water to seep in and evaporate up. There is some debate as to whether sand or gravel or containers is best here. I have really mixed it up over the course of this job so it will be interesting to track it.
Step 6: Once you have the volume of material required, level it off and cover it with a layer of shade cloth. (Again, some recommend hessian or sacking, some don’t bother with anything, especially if using sand as the reservoir media.) You can lay this over the top of the container and mark the cloth with a marker pen (remembering to mark a place for the water spout too.) I allow for a ‘bleed’ or extra margin around the edges so as to not get soil in the reservoir. Cut to shape and lay over the reservoir and watering spout.
Step 7: Cover the shade cloth with a layer of potting mix to seal the reservoir in.
Step 8: Time for growing media. Over the course of this job I have opted for a variety of different layers and media. I have tried straight potting mix with some excellent compost mixed in (teeming with worms thanks to Gavin Smith at The Addison Road Centre), layered with shredded newspaper, cardboard and also a no-dig recipe too.
As I have mentioned I am trying to incorporate as many waste items from my client’s businesses as I can in my builds so instead of straw and lucerne in the layering I mostly used shredded newspaper and cardboard. This will break down nicely and retain moisture in the soil plus food for the worms. You can use cardboard and newspaper as mulch too (but I knew this wouldn’t be aesthetically pleasing to the neighbours.)
Step 9: Add the worm tower. You can add this around half way through adding the growth media. You will need a short length of PVC tube at least wide enough the get your hand in but preferably wider (this is so you can clear the tube without disturbing it once it’s in.) It’s up to you how wide you make the tube, just remember it will be taking up valuable surface area. Make it about 30cm long. You will need to drill some holes to allow worms to wriggle in and out of the tower. I made the holes my initial tower a little too low, so make sure you have holes close to the surface as well as down deeper. You want the little tackers to come in and out freely to do their job of fertilising the planter.
As an aside, an idea mentioned by Milkwood Permaculture intern, Adam Kennedy (and wicking bed guru) is to use a portable tray with holes at the bottom like a worm farm and move that around your beds as a ‘worm tractor’. If you have a garden bed that needs aeration and reinvigorating, you can move a tray of a worm farm around your garden beds much like you move a chicken tractor around fresh pastures.
For the first barrel I planted a range of Italian herbs that I had sprouted mostly from seed and cuttings.
A month later the growth was very encouraging.
Timbah’s head chef, Daphne has really taken to the project. More on that later…