A. M. Watters

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since Aug 28, 2013
Central Texas, Edwards Plateau
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Recent posts by A. M. Watters

Hi there, very belated update for you! I expanded the bed to 4 x 8 feet and used clay on the expansion as well. The terra cotta pot "ollas" filled with ants, so I ditched those and switched to regular drip irrigation. The clay works well keeping tree roots from growing into the bed and holding water. I just built another 4 x 8 bed lined with clay today, doubling my growing space

I also found that kitty litter is often just bentonite clay - way cheaper and easier to find than the powdered stuff I used for the first bed.
2 years ago
I haven't watered this bed since April 9th. Here's what it is looking like today. We have had a nice and rainy spring for once, but I think the clay is making the water last longer.

It's all pretty much traditional kitchen garden plants - tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, carrots, basil, melons, cilantro, and purslane. July will be the true test of this system, but I am happy with it so far.
4 years ago

I made some fun printable cards for my blog
4 years ago
I actually do. I'm in the Edwards Plateau region of Texas, which means we have a few inches of contractor grade fill dirt over limestone rock. I don't know anyone around here that grows directly in the ground, at least not for kitchen-garden type vegetables (which is what will be this bed). The wood wicking may very well be an issue. I went back and forth about painting the clay onto the sides as well but decided against it because then I would have to drill overflow holes into the boards. Since this is an experiment, I wanted to keep the box in a traditional raised bed condition so I could convert it back to normal is the clay liner seemed to be a problem.
4 years ago
So I finally got my clay lined bed built! It's 4'x4'x16" deep, made of cedar boards. I used a 50/50 bentonite clay and topsoil mixture 2" deep for the bottom. There are two homemade terra cotta ollas a foot from each side with holes drilled in the bottom (thanks for the head's up about the masonry bit). I used a standard square foot garden mix of 30% each of compost, vermiculite, and coir as well as rock dust and eanthworm castings. It planted it the day after completion and seeds are germinating well and the transplants look very happy.

Here's the clay lining (while I was struggling to get it level) -

Here's what it looked like pre-planting -

There are pictures of each step on my blog - Bean & Bee - Clay Lined Bed
So far everyone thinks it's kind of a weird idea. I appreciate the input I got here and I will post an update in a few months.
4 years ago
Thanks for the response! I hadn't thought about drilling holes in the pots, but it makes sense. What kind of drill bit would you use? Also, would you add a gravel layer on top of the clay to act as a reservoir or can you just do soil?
5 years ago
Hi ya'll,

Has anyone attempted a plastic-free wicking bed? I see one post mentioning using a clay lining instead of sheet plastic Inground Clay-lined Hugelkultur Wicking Beds but that is all. I live in Central TX, where we are in a continuing drought and wicking beds have a lot of success here. BUT, I don't want to risk the nasties of PVC and other plastics as they break down. I grow our food in part to limit our exposure to crazy toxins.

So, my idea is to do something similar to the clay-lined hugel outlined in the link, but do it in a traditional raised garden box. Wicking beds usually have plastic all the way up the sides though - will it lose too much water without that? Also, wicking beds usually have PVC pipe running under them to distribute the water. Would a terracotta pot olla without the bottom sealed work as that pipe? Or is there appropriate (and affordable) metal piping that can be used?

Any ideas / input are appreciated. My hope is to build some kind of water efficient bed come late January.

5 years ago
Hey Michelle, in the picture after the rains it looks like everything washed away? Or is that still just berm mix? What did you plant in it?
5 years ago
Yes! I knew I couldn't be the first person to think about doing this. Thank you for posting. Have you tried it or have any more resources to share on it?
5 years ago
Hi Michelle,

I too live in limestone land! I have had success with a keyhole garden - I built it all with free / found materials. It's basically a hugel on the bottom with growing medium on top and a composting basket in the middle. From the top, it looks like a doughnut with a wedge cut out.

Texas Co-op Power(where I first discovered it)
Building a Composting Keyhole Garden
Keyhole Garden 6 month update

If you decide to do something like this, you can position the cut so that it can't be seen from the road. I can see that putting compost in something not so close to your house may make this an undesirable option. The also get really hot in the beginning, like all hugels, as it decomposes. I had some really hot spots in mine where nothing would grow - soil temps reached almost 100 degress F.

Good luck with your projects!
5 years ago