Ask a Question forum→Should I build a wicking bed or practice hugelkultur

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Bozeman MT
Baquin
May 7, 2020 4:58 PM CST
Hi all....I'm fairly new to gardening and have been doing way too much research on what type of raised bed to build. For awhile there I was pretty convinced that I'd go in the direction of building a wicking bed, or sub irrigated bed. But then I was distracted by the possibility of building a hugelkulture bed. The bed that I build sits 24" high and I live in an arid climate - in Montana. Does anyone have any advice on which direction to go? I'd like to have some success in the first year of planting.
Name: sumire
Reno, Nevada (Zone 6a)
Image
sumire
May 7, 2020 10:30 PM CST
Welcome!

I had to look up hugelkulture... Wow! That looks pretty neat, but definitely a multiyear process. It will take a lot of bulk to get the moisture retention you are looking for and will always still need to be watered. I would watch the wind and sun directions when orienting the berms.

The problem with a wicking bed is that the gravel tends to get clogged with debris/roots over time. This reduces the ability of the water to flow and creates dry spots.

I would advise building your 24" bed and then laying in drip irrigation on top. With a dripper right up under each plant, there are fewer weeds and less evaporation. You can also mulch around the plants to reduce evaporation, but make sure you are mulching around the plants and not on their trunks. The one problem with mulch is that it sometimes leads to bug problems, so you might just go with drippers first and see how the plants do. I lived in southeast Idaho, and drip irrigation tended to work fine for my veggie garden.
www.sumiredesigns.com
Bozeman MT
Baquin
May 8, 2020 9:49 PM CST
I really appreciated your response and thank you for taking the time to respond!

I just tried to send a response and included a link, so I'm not sure if it made it to your email. So my apologies if you receive duplicate responses.

Yeah, the huglekulture technique seems really interesting, but I completely agree that it would take some time before I would see the benefits. Plus it would seem that the watering bill for the first year would be enormous!

I have read about some similar complaints regarding the gravel issues in wicking beds and also the fact that root rot can be an issue.

I am thinking that we'll be working with your suggestion of drip irrigation. We visited a friends garden today and they utilize the same system with fantastic results.

However, I have to admit that I'm still interested in learning more about the sub irrigation planter method. That system uses perforated drainage tubes in place of gravel. The pipes sit on pond liner, with weed fabric wrapped around each end so that no soil gets in. There is an overflow that allows for water to exit if the reservoir gets too full. The concern seems to be similar to wicking beds with the possibility of root rot, or the system leaking. But there sure are some really interesting articles and videos about it.

If you've a moment, take a look and let me know if you think it's worth exploring. I'm curious about the engineering of it all and the science behind it...though it seems to be more popular with urban gardening.

Thanks again for taking the time to respond. Please let me know if you've any additional thoughts about sub irrigation!
Name: sumire
Reno, Nevada (Zone 6a)
Image
sumire
May 8, 2020 11:00 PM CST
I agree that sub irrigation would have many of the same issues as the gravel system.

I use a system similar to sub irrigation in my aquaponics system. The water drains through the gravel grow beds and through mesh to go out tubes. About once a year I have to take the end caps off and rip out whole handfuls of roots because they have grown in and are interfering with the drainage. In a bed, as a watering source, tubes would at least be easier to access for maintenance than the gravel.

I would worry a bit about how easy (or hard) it would be to see if the plants are being watered correctly. With surface watering, you can always tell at a glance that it is watering. With under systems I suspect that it would take a little experimentation to tell if your plant was droopy because it needs water or if it is a case of root rot. That said, the idea of watering plants with underground reservoirs is common around the world. So it must work! The question is how effectively for what level of preparation and work.

Maybe build a smaller test plot to one side of the main bed?
www.sumiredesigns.com

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