Wicking: cloth vs. soil (in swc)

earthlark(3b)July 22, 2009

I've been reading quite a bit on this forum about swcs, soil mixtures, fertilization, etc., and it has been quite helpful, considering I knew very little about such topics about a week ago. So thanks everyone.

I am currently living in rural Japan on the second floor of an apartment with a shaded south facing balcony, and am trying to get a little something going. I am a temporary resident (though I've been here for two years) so I don't have a lot of tools. It's a little late in the season to be starting things, but I have some month old bell pepper plants and beans (and a bunch of herbs) that I'm repotting. Big buckets are fairly expensive here, but 10 L containers can be found in abundance at the 100 yen (dollar) store. Thus, I am putting a number of two 11 L (17 x 42 x 16 cm) rectangular containers together to hang from my balcony. (If I put the plants outside the railing, they get good sun.) I also want to make them into swcs by inserting a couple 2 L bottles in the bottom.

I'll be using a mixture of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite (70, 20, 10). Couple questions:

1) Would you recommend material or soil as the wicking agent? If I use material, it's easy to fit the bottles into a couple holes at the neck. If you use the soil mixture, I'll probably have to go further down the neck and use some sort of long pipe for the wicking chamber... which would make things a bit more complicated - a less easy fit and drilling holes... with a hammer and nail. :) If material will work, what would be best: an old shirt, nylon rope...?

2)Two pepper plants or one in each 5.8 gal of soil?

3) Where would you put the fertilizer strip? On the outside/s?

Thanks a bunch,


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I would recommend a soil wick rather than a fabric wick. The primary reason is that most of the SWC designs that people are familiar with use soil wicks.

If you want/need help using a soil wick based SWC you will find far more people with experience than with fabric wicks.

You may already be realizing this given how long your post sat without a response ;) It's not due to lack of folks wanting to help, it's due to lack of folks with the experience (with fabric wicks) to help.

I have been using SWC for many years and love them, but couldn't offer anything regarding the use of fabric based wicks as I don't use those.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2009 at 3:16PM
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Hi - I am using fabric-based wicks in my felt self-watering container. I am doing this on a small scale - herbs - 1 gallon containers. The wicks move the water to the soil effectively. I am going to try a larger fabric container to see if I get the same results. It sounds like you should try one of each to see what works best. My fabric-based wick is actually landscape fabric (weedblock). Best wishes - LC

    Bookmark   July 25, 2009 at 7:39PM
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I am using both wicking soil AND wicking cords. They seem to work OK until the beans, peppers and tomatoes get about 45cm tall.

When the the plants are bigger, I water from the top AND bottom. That would suggest that the 4 wicks/per container have a limited benefit toward drawing water to the middle and top of the container.

Maybe others can share a better technique.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2009 at 2:25PM
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Thanks Justaguy2. (I thought I'd made a terrible gardening faux pas in my first post and that's why people weren't responding. :) )

Perhaps I'll try one of each for the big containers as LC suggested and can then add to the knowledge base. For the small ones I'll probably use wicking material as it's fairly common.

VrKelley, what size are your containers (5 gal?) and what size are your cords? I wonder if the wicks would work better with something bigger than a cord, e.g., an old t-shirt.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2009 at 10:48PM
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