Sunday, May 1, 2011

Self-Watering Containers = Happy Plants

I heard it snowed in Minnesota last weekend and it's still chilly in Boston. But technically, it's spring, and it is finally planting season.

This year, I took the advice of R.J. Ruppenthal in his book, Fresh Food from Small Spaces. I made two self-watering containers, which are as awesome as they sound.

In nature, plants want to get at the water table for a reliable source of water. A self-watering container mimics nature because it has a water reservoir in the bottom, with a "soil foot" that soaks up water into the soil level of the container. Plant roots reach deep into the container and get only the amount of water they need. Result? Happy plants! And happy plants are productive plants.

Serving size: 1 self-watering container

The Ingredients**
  • Large container
  • Container lid
  • Wood blocks
  • Plant basket or strainer
  • Plastic or metal pipe
  • Burlap
  • Screws
  • Power drill, jigsaw, and/or nice hardware store staff
  • Challenge: Save money by repurposing old materials for all of the above ingredients. It can be done.
**For better customer service than the large chains, shop at a local hardware store. If you are in the Boston area, I recommend Tags Hardware.

The Recipe
Get the book for the complete recipe. Then come back here for some additional tips.

I cut six blocks of wood to support the lid under the weight of the soil - one for each corner and one on either side of the strainer.

Avoid my mistake and cut the lid before you screw the wood supports in place.

I used a jigsaw to cut the lid down to size, to fit inside the container. I also cut a hole for the strainer to sit inside the lid, and removed a corner to fit the watering tube.

See the duct tape? I'm not too handy with the jigsaw. I cut the lid down to size by eye, rather than measuring first. I did measure the hole for the strainer, but the saw slipped.

Voila! Ready for planting.
I watered from the top while the seeds were germinating, than began to water through the tube once a week.

Caveat: I used PVC pipes, because I am not growing a significant portion of my diet in these containers. But if you want to stay away from PVC, hardware stores sell metal plumbing pipes. They are narrower and more expensive but will work just fine.

How do you deal with lead in your soil, or limited garden space? Leave a comment and let me know.

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