Will your wicking bed turn putrid and smelly?


When I first started with wicking beds the ‘experts’ said it would never work because the roots must have air to breath, and cannot live in saturated soil..

The experts are right; - plants will not grow properly in saturated soil.  Roots need air and they also emit gasses like ethylene which are growth inhibitors.

A significant part of my development has been in trying to stop the soil getting too wet.

I get questions from people, via my web, who have tried using competitors wicking beds and found they have not worked because the soil becomes too wet. It seems funny they should come to me rather than the manufactures but I guess that’s life. There are a number of techniques which I use and promote.

Firstly there is a drain hole so water can escape and water is applied by the pipes to the very base of the bed so that fresh water comes in from below and displaces the ‘old’ water above and which can then be forced out of the drain, - ‘first in first’ out approach rather than the ‘first in last out’ approach which would automatically happen if water was applied from the top and is then taken out from the top by the plants.

The second technique is to use what I call a deep cycle approach, the water reservoir is filled which displaces old stale air then as the water is used by the plants it sucks must suck in fresh air around the root system.  This is very clearly spelt out in the attached document wicking_worm_beds.pdf.

The third technique is to use soil biology, specifically worms and fungi which both bore through the soil to create tunnels for air and water to move through the soil.

The forth technique, is burying compost into the soil, sometimes this is simply done by having a holey compost bin which automatically aerates the soil, or even better to simply dig and bury fresh compost.  These holes are ‘local’ so the bulk of the soil is not disturbed so the soil biology specifically the worms and fungi which are easily killed by extensive digging can rebuild.

The fifth technique is to avoid having any form of barrier so the roots can travel over the entire area and remove stagnant water.  If I am growing a shallow rooted plants I even use a combination of plants, selecting a deep rooting plant like the Senna Alata I use in my BioPack to deliberately suck the water out from the base of the bed.

The sixth technique used in emergencies is to push a fork into the soil and slightly tilt to crack the soil forming air channels into the soil.