SWC method for large container

tnkrerMay 9, 2012

I am building a large planter (4'x4'x2'3")using 2x8 untreated pine. I am using the design from Family Handyman April issue. It has 6 - 4" flexible drain pipes at the bottom that will be filled with water. (The bottom is covered with pond liner to keep the water there) The article suggests using potting mix. I found this forum couple of days ago, so I didnt have a chance to refine my design earlier. So I want to know, what is the recommended way to create a water reservoir in such container? (I assume that SWC - self watering container?) And what kind of mix I should use for water wicking and plant nutrition?

(I already bought some vermiculite because I was looking at square foot gardening and thought I would put mel's mix in there .. Looks like I have to return it or keep it for some future garden)

Thanks .. This is my first effort at gardening and I really want it to succeed so that I don't give up! and want to get the planter ready by mother's day to move the 5-6 plants that I have already bought (tomato and herbs)

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terrybull

can you show a picture of it or diagram?

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 5:36PM
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tnkrer

Family Handyman has not put it up on the web yet. Some discussion on their forums here
I will scan those pictures tonight and upload to photobucket

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 5:54PM
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tnkrer

Here is the picture of how the planter is made and how the Self watering feature would work ..

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 8:34PM
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howelbama(7 NJ)

tnkrer,

I believe I am the one that referred you over to this forum, my concern was not with the vermiculite in the Mel's mix, but the compost. So, I would not return that just yet as you will probably be able to incorporate that in to your mix.

I'm sure that the folks in this forum will chime in and give you good advice on how to proceed. Looks like it is going to be a beautiful planter once you have it done, so don't give up! I wouldn't worry too much about making your Mother's day deadline, the season is still young. Hold off for some advice from the guys that have experience with the SWCs, I'm sure they will chime in soon enough.

Just keep your transplants watered until it's ready for them.

Good luck, and post some follow ups once everything is complete!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 11:27PM
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terrybull

are you going to use 6 pipes like in thr drawing?
for my big swc's my potting mix is 3-3-2
3 parts fine bark, sometimes called soil prep
3 parts peat moss
2 parts perlite
and lime to adjust the ph
your gonna have to use the pond liner like in the drawing. also you are going to put a overflow hole at the height of the pipes. if you dont the whole thing will fill with water.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 9:41AM
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tnkrer

Thanks for the kind words and pointing me to the right forum howelbama! It's also a mother's day gift to my wife .. I will have the planter ready. Though no growing media .. (I am learning the new terms :) )

terrybull .. I will be using 7 or 8 pipes (mine is 4 ft wide, theirs is 3 ft wide). pond liner is ordered and is in transit. I will have an overflow hole at the right height. Can I use vermiculite instead of perlite? What is your SW mechanism? (I haven't yet bought the drain pipe, so I can change that part)
Also I remember reading somewhere that peat moss is compressed bale (3 cu ft) so for the purposes of mix, we should calculate the expanded volume, 6 cu ft. Is that correct? So I would need 6 cu ft of fine bark, 6 cu ft of peat moss and 4 cu ft of perlite/vermiculite
Do I keep adding fertilizer on a regular basis?
Can I follow rest of the earthtainer document by Raybo?

Thanks

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 10:31AM
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howelbama(7 NJ)

tnkrer,

I would think you can still use the vermiculite, it does hold more water than the perlite thought, so you may want to reduce the amount of peat in the mix to compensate.

Again though I don't use SWCs so hopefully terrybull or someone else can advise.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 11:46AM
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terrybull

when i do my mix i use 5 gal bucket, 3 buckets of this 3 buckets of that. but yes your mix measurements are right.
for the vermiculite i wouldnt use it because im not that familiar with it. plus it retains water. so maybe your sub out some peat for vermiculite? mine have a water resivoir so its really not the same system.
there using flex pipe with the weeping holes in it. right?they are using the pipe on 6 inch centers. you would need 8.so you have a pipe then a 2 inch gap then a pipe and so on.
does the discription show how the pipes are filled?
for the fert. i use fertilome tomato and veg food it has everything you need in it. and its put in like raybos or earthbox.

this is 100 gals. with a 30 gal resevoir.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 9:49AM
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terrybull

raybos imfo is a good thing to follow, but i think his mix is a 3-2-1.
after you put your plants in use a layer of the bark for mulch or landscape fabric like i used in the photo.
make sure its level and a caging system when your tomato plants are 5 plus feet tall :)

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 9:58AM
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tnkrer

tomato plants 5 ft tall is quite ways in future. :) But hoping to get there.

yes, I will have those flex pipes with weeping holes. 8 pipes total, 1 every 6 inches. The pipes will be filled by a vertical pvc pipe drilled into one of those drain pipes. The water will seep out of that pipe and enter remaining pipes and when it stars flowing out of the overflow pipe, the bottom is full of water .. (at least according to family handyman field editor)

I read about "production containers" in some posts, are those much bigger? I don't think I can do the water reservoir method here.

Here is my container .. (still need to finish the bottom, staple pond liner and add pipes and growing medium .. probably another week)

We have lots of rabits, chipmunks, squirrels, vols (and probably moles). I am hoping that with 30" that I have, I wont have to worry about critters eating my plants. All my in-ground vegetable plants in prior years were eaten completely! They don't let plants grow more than a foot around here.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 5:02PM
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aliceinvirginia

I would not try using vermiculite instead of perlite. Also, with making your own mix, I would overdo adding lime or other calcium additive. I've had bad luck with Blossom end rot in SWC.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 3:32PM
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joeworm

Terry,

Do you have any pictures showing how the inside of your 100gl SWC is put together? If not, could you explain how you made it? I'm wondering how the platform is set up to hold the weight of 70gl of planting mix and allow for the wick system. How many wicks are used? Is this set up like an Eart Box or some other way? I'd like to make a large SWC. I had a thread months ago wondering if anyone had xtra large SWCs and you did respond to that thread but I didn't ask how you had made yours and at the time I wasn't in a position to make one anyway. I'd like to try it out now.
Thanks for the help

    Bookmark   May 19, 2012 at 10:16PM
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terrybull

i going to be setting one up today and i'll take some pics.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 9:50AM
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joeworm

Thanks Terry. Look forward to seeing those.

Joe

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 2:37PM
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tnkrer

Here is my large container water reservoir .. (I was supposed to finish pond liner today .. but I am always slower than my plan :( )

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 7:19PM
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howelbama(7 NJ)

Looks great, I'm assuming the liner goes in under the pipes right? Also, do you have an overflow drain on the side not pictured?

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 9:24PM
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terrybull

looks good! i thought you had to have this done for mothersday. you better get with the program or there wont be no fathersday for you. ;)

joe i didnt have time yesterday but i will get it done this week.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 9:30AM
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joeworm

Thanks Terry. Whenever it's convenient for you.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 2:12PM
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tnkrer

:), yes.. but I did get points for the efforts. (This was my first project that needed some woodworking.. I am tired but feel good) And all is well that ends well

howelbama .. That shiny spec is the overflow tube. The PVC on the right will have level indicator using cork float

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 8:49PM
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tnkrer

Finished the planter and planted one tomato plant in there. Will see how that does for a week before filling the planter up! Thanks for all the support and ideas :)

    Bookmark   May 26, 2012 at 8:38PM
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tnkrer

That roma tomato thrived (too much I am afraid), few herbs went in (sweet basil, rosemary, thyme and mint) and a cherry tomato (that has one tomato on it :) ) The back arch of the pvc pipe will support the tomato cages. Also 3-4 other plants will go in the empty area

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 12:04PM
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terrybull

joe worm,









any questions let me know.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 12:03PM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

Hello,

Please explain the green tubes which sit in the PVC. What is it and how does it function? I note there are not lots of holes in your separator/aeration 'screen' - why? Do those green tubes in some way provide the air gap function? Also note the PVC has only few holes - when using the pond basket in EarthTainer the grow medium is exposed to much more water. Please explain. DH is looking at stock tank setup and your design looks like the way to go.

How many years do you leave the growing medium in the 100 gal SWC ?

Thanks for posting those photos.

Cheers,
DL

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 3:56PM
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Athenian(USDA 10B/Sunset 22)

@terrybull: what did you use for the support table in your tank and where did you get it?

@DL: Raybo cautions against using the drainpipe segments because he says the large holes result in wicking medium loss. I like the drainpipe for strength though. I've been thinking of using pond baskets or perhaps some sort of fine plastic net inside the drain pipes.

I imagine one could drill holes in the platform to provide more aeration.

FWIW: Mr. Whisenant, one of the Earthbox's inventors, apparently just reuses the soil forever -- he leaves all the roots of the old planting in and adds more medium as needed. He doesn't believe in wasting anything.

Athena

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 4:54PM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

Athena,
Thanks! I use heavy duty pond baskets in my EarthTainers and they are much stronger than the plain baskets I found at local Lowe's/Home Depot stores.

The EB founder must have better luck than I did with the potting mix recommended by the EB folks. I found the peat based mixes break down and compact. I had to switch to bark fines and perlite and permatill and all sorts of stuff that will last and not compact. Wish I had known about GardenWeb when I first purchased all those EBs -- I could have made up a potting medium with more staying power.

I wish I knew what those green pipes were so DH could go get some.

Thanks again Athena

DL

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 2:19AM
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terrybull

the green things are black. and they are used for connecting 4" flexible drain pipe. that one gets some aeration holes but didnt get it done yet. the support table thing is 1/4 inch poly from farm tek. i buy it 4x8 sheets. for the soil i empty it out and refresh it and good to go. each one of those white tubes are packed with soil for the wicks.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 9:57AM
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Athenian(USDA 10B/Sunset 22)

DL,

My pond baskets came from a hydroponics store and are pretty sturdy too. I'm thinking though, that if I ever manage to get a 6 foot galvanized trough set up, I do not want to ever have to take it apart just to get to a collapsed/broken pond basket. I guess that using a lot of drainpipes without wicking medium might provide enough support to avoid collapsing.

I'm not sure about spacing the wicking chambers. Terry has more than I would have expected for that amount of surface (52" X 31"). I was thinking of maximum of 8 for a 72" X 24" trough. Nevertheless, Terry's plants are looking good so it's hard to argue with success.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 12:01PM
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joeworm

Thanks for posting the pics Terry.

How deep is the water reservoir? (height of the white PVC wicks)

How many inches of plant medium is in the top section?

Have you tried using fewer wicks? I would think half that number would wick the water......maybe more are needed to hold the weight of the soil???

Thanks

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 4:54PM
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terrybull

the white pipes are 8 inches.
16 to 17 inches of soil.
for how many wicks it depends on the soil. im doing a 3-3-2.
if you look a the insides, i did a 3/16 pop rivet with a nylon spacer for support around the edges.

whatever the amount of wicks and soil your gonna need the supports.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 7:30PM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

terrybull,
Thanks for the specs.

Athena,
I agree - do not want any collapsed pond baskets - will go with the pipes.

DL

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 3:52AM
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