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Sat, Dec. 07

Grow it in a self-watering bucket

Winter is over and it's time to start growing. This time you do not have the excuses of no space or no time. And everyone enjoys the luscious flavor of a fresh ripe tomato or the crisp snap of a cucumber when you bite into it.

I am solving your problem of no space and no time by using a five-gallon, self-watering bucket. Everyone has room on their porch or patio for a five-gallon bucket, and since it is self-watering, all you have to do is check the water level every couple of days. How simple is that?


• Container: Five-gallon bucket (light colors work best)

• Base: Five gallon bucket lid or a piece of an old tote that you can make a 10-1/2-inch circle with.

• Supports: Three cottage cheese containers or 3-inch PVC pipe cut 3 inches tall.

• Fill Tube: One 16-inch piece of 1-inch PVC pipe

• Aeration Tube: One 14-inch piece of 1-inch PVC pipe

• Attach With: Six zip-ties (one-quarter-inch by 6 inches approximately)


Using a quarter-inch drill bit, measure up from the bottom of the bucket 2-1/2 inches and drill a hole. Repeat again on the opposite side of the bucket. This is your water overflow, so you cannot over-fill the bucket with water.

About 1-1/2 inches to the right of the overflow hole, measure up from the bottom of the bucket 4-1/2 inches and mark the bucket. Using a 1-1/2-inch hole saw, drill a hole for the aeration tube. Repeat again on the opposite side of the bucket.

Using the bucket lid or any heavy-duty plastic, cut a circle 10-1/2 inches in diameter. This circle will fit inside the bucket. This is the base. Using a 2-1/2 inch hole saw, cut one hole in the base about a one-half inch from the edge. This is your wicker hole. On the opposite side of the circle, using a 1-1/2-inch hole saw, cut a hole approximately one-quarter-inch from the edge of the circle. This hole is for your water fill tube. Using a one-quarter-inch drill bit, drill approximately 14 holes randomly in the remainder of the 10-1/2-inch circle.

Take one of the cottage cheese containers or 3-inch PVC pipe supports and drill a total of 7 or 8 one-quarter-inch holes around the outside and in the bottom. This is your wicking device. On all three cottage cheese containers or PVC supports, drill a quarter-inch hole near the top, on opposite sides, so they can be secured with the zip-ties. Secure the containers to the lid with the zip-ties, making sure the support with the 7 or 8 extra holes is below the 1-1/2-inch wicking hole.

Take the 14-inch piece of 1-inch PVC and drill one-quarter-inch holes, spaced approximately two inches apart the length of the PVC. Drill completely through, making two holes each time. Turn the PVC one-quarter turn and repeat. Now you have your aeration tube with 28 holes in it.

Take the piece of 16-inch PVC pipe and cut a 45-degree angle at one end to allow the water to flow out. Now you have your water fill tube

Place the 10-1/2-inch circle base with the three supports attached in the bottom of the bucket. Insert the PVC aeration tube and the water fill tube. Fill with prepared and moistened growing medium. Be sure to completely fill the open wicking hole with soil, so moisture can be drawn up from the bottom of the bucket.

Time to plant

OK, plant! Suggestions: plant one bush type tomato, four bush type cucumber seeds or two pepper plants. Actually you can plant anything. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Always cover any exposed soil with mulch, shredded newspaper, straw, coffee filters, dried leaves - anything to cover the soil from the sun. For the first week to 10 days check the soil moisture. Just stick your finger in the soil. After that the plant roots will grow towards the moisture. When you are planting in any container, try and pick varieties that say on the label or package: bush, dwarf, patio or good for containers.

And remember, container growing requires a little more fertilizer, but use it half-strength per application. Feed the soil, not the plant.

Set your bucket where it will receive about six hours of sunlight. Morning sun is best. When temperatures reach above 90 degrees, set anything loosely around or in front of the bucket, to shade it from the sun. The roots of most vegetables are not able to absorb moisture or nutrients if the soil temperature is above 90 degrees.

Water level

For an easy check of the water level, use a piece of dowel or a small stick that can be inserted into the water fill tube. Mark the dowel at one end at 2-1/2-inches with a black marker. Use this as a dip stick to check water level. Do not leave the dowel in the water fill tube.

After the end of your growing season, empty the bucket, compost the soil and wash it thoroughly. Winter vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower also do well in this bucket.

Now you know how to assemble your bucket.

Thank you to all the people who showed an interest in this growing method at the Home and Garden show. Actually your response was overwhelming. This method can also be used with a plastic tote. But that is a different story! Happy growing and enjoy!

(Design adapted from an article, "Making a Self Watering Container" by Josh Mandel.

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