“Self-watering” containers represent a relatively new gardening concept. Instead of drainage holes in the bottom, these containers have an overflow hole on one side. The growing medium sits on a perforated platform directly above a water reservoir. Plant roots grow through the medium and into the water. In most cases, water is wicked up from the reservoir into the medium. These containers can be seen as a hybrid between hydroponic gardening (plant roots growing in nutrient-enriched water) and conventional container gardening. Self-watering containers help conserve water and nutrients and make it possible to ignore your containers for a few days.
The simplest application is to place a saucer under a pot. The excess water is wicked up into the media or pulled up by roots that reach the saucer. A number of commercial models are available or you can make your own.
Converting a 5-Gallon Bucket into a Mini-Garden
The ubiquitous five-gallon plastic bucket is considered by some to be the most useful tool on earth, particularly in poor countries. Thousands are buried in landfills or burned each day in the U.S. Thrifty gardeners rescue them from local businesses and use them to harvest, store, and protect crops, carry water and tools, spread compost, and make compost tea. University of Maryland researchers have designed a new use: a mini-garden for vegetables and herbs that recycles water and nutrients and uses only compost as the growing medium.
Saber saw, drill, 5/16 inch and 3/4 inch drill bits, utility knife, hacksaw
How to Use the “Self-Watering” Bucket Garden
Now that you’ve constructed your mini-garden it’s time to get growing! You’ll be impressed by how easy it is to recycle water and nutrients. Fill your bucket with about 4 gallons of moistened medium, plant your seeds or plants, and add 2-3 gallons of water. The reservoir will fill with water and the excess will travel through the tubing into the milk jug. If it doesn’t rain, your bucket will need to be watered regularly— every day in July and August if it’s in full sun each day. It will take 1-2 quarts of water each day to fill the reservoir. Before adding new water, simply pour back the water that collects in the milk jug. Using this technique no water or nutrients are wasted.