Tim ordered the barrels not long after we first came up with the idea for the garden. It took a while for them to arrive and as soon as they did, he had some trollies made for them so they could be moved about easily. We got some nice “word of mouth” for the project because the barrels sat outside the shop for a few hours. Many people stopped to ask if they were for sale or why were they there. Tim simply said: “No, they’re going upstairs for the herb garden for the wine bar.”
As the barrels were a bit of a first for me, I researched some options and decided that wicking beds or S.I.P.’s (Self Irrigating Planter) as they are called in the U.S. were probably going to be the best way forward due to the garden being located in (Permaculture terms) zone 3 and for being able to make use of waste items like polystyrene and plastic, PET and milk bottles. I don’t know if there will be adequate care given to the planters at this stage so something low maintenance is the best way forward.
As it’s a bit of trial and error approach, I have decided to mix up the planter styles, their reservoir contents, growth media and wicking vs ‘no dig’, to see which performs the best in these conditions. Each barrel is labelled and I am tracking what is planted and when in a Google doc spread sheet so I can update from my phone when on the job. The plan is to learn from year one and roll out changes in year two based on findings.
As each barrel has different plantings, it will of course be difficult to get empirical data but hey, I’m no scientist. Wicking beds are a great concept – especially in a climate like Australia with hot hot sun and dry conditions for much of the year. As the name implies, the plants wick or draw moisture up from their reservoir. As herbs are deep rooting, they are especially suited to this style of planter but so too are veggies. The added bonus is you loose very little water to evaporation compared to top down watering. Evaporation from the top can damage plants and leads to a loss of nutrients. I like the Milkwood idea of incorporating worm farms (or worm towers) into the wicking beds too as it will supplement the existing worm farms and help process more organic waste.