Self-watering pots (Google / Eraly Retirement Extreme)

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Container gardening using DIY self-watering pots

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One of my resolutions for 2011 has been to grow a substantial part of our food ourselves. I don’t think we’ll quite reach “substantial” amounts this year, but gardening has opened my eyes to just how much effort it takes to put food on the plate. It is easy to forget this when you can just walk down to the supermarket and pay $2 for a head of lettuce and expecting that lettuce will come out of nowhere as long as you’re able to produce money from your wallet—dangerous thinking! It is quite another thing to sow a lettuce seed, water it carefully for a week and watch a little seedling comes up; then continue watering it for several weeks while it attains the size required to be edible. There’s no instant gratification there. Unlike credit, you can’t produce food out of thin air.

I used to think I had a black thumb: That putting any plant in my care, save a cactus, would mean its eventual demise. However, gardening is like taking care of a pet. It needs to be fed regularly but not enough to drown it, the plant that is.

Our big challenge living in an RV park is that we’re not allowed to mulch over our evil lawn. Thus we’d had to resort to container gardening. In the past years, we’ve been using simple pots only to “forget” to water them on some random day pretty much resulting in the loss of the crop as the plants withered away.

So this year I made self-watering containers out of 5 gallon buckets.

You can get the general idea by looking at them. It’s one bucket inside the other. The outer bucket acts as a reservoir. In the inner bucket I installed a PVC pipe that goes through a hole in the inner bucket to fill the reservoir. To draw water up, I cut a large hole in the inner bucket and fitted a small plastic container like those that deli/lunch meat are bought in. I drill this full of holes. I also drill some drainage holes in the inner bucket. This solution will keep the plants hydrated despite temperatures going into the 100Fs. If you overwater the plants, the water will go down to the reservoir and exit through the overflow hole in the outer bucket.




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Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.