Saturday, May 28, 2011


So, it seems I am going to use my blog to talk about something completely non-critical and uncontroversial. I know it is a shock, but it's my blog and I can do what I want with it.

For the first summer in my life I am without a backyard, and only a 53"x 53" deck to lay claim to the outdoors with. I am also busier than I have ever been juggling 3 jobs, (2 of which are occasional work so it isn't like I'm working 70 hours a week), 2 online courses, many volunteer commitments and I don't even know what else, so it isn't like I have tons and tons of time to coddle a garden. Whatever I grew this year and how I grew it had to be pretty low maintenance.

Enter the idea of a sub-irrigation planter. They are also called self-watering planters. The idea being that if I don't have to worry about watering the garden every couple of days it will pretty much grow itself once the initial commitment of building the planters and planting stuff is taken care of. Since I've been asked lots of times about them and about how to do them, I thought I would put together a bit of a photo-tutorial even though I'm sure there are better more thorough ones out there.

So, let's get started!

You will need:

One storage container with lid (Mine was a 66L one that was on sale at Home Depot for $5). It's best if the lid isn't too rigid since you are going to have to cut it.
One exacto knife
A sharpie or something else to mark where to cut with
2 Yogurt containers (750 g)
A piece of pipe about 6 inches taller than the container (Mine were 2 feet tall) with one end cut on an angle.
30 L of triple mix soil

1) Use the exacto knife to trim the lid down so that it fits inside the container. For me this meant cutting it just inside the second ridge and just having the centre of the lid. If you are unsure leave it bigger and you can trim it down to fit afterwards with scissors. That's what I did until I figured it out.

When you are done, it will look like this:

2) Lay the two yogurt containers on top of the cut out lid and trace around them with the sharpie.

So that you will have something that looks like this:

3) Next we are going to be cutting those circles out. Before we do, I just wanted to mention that it is important to make sure that you are cutting inside the circle that you drew. The yogurt containers are going to help support the false bottom (aka the lid you just cut down) in the container, so it is important that when you cut out the circles that the containers can't fit through them at the top.

To cut out the circles you are going to cut a + sign into the lid in the middle of the circle like this:

To trace out the circle you are going to skor a curve into the lid, for one of the 4 segments you created, using the exacto knife just inside the line that you drew like this:

Then, you can push that one piece out through the middle and it will just snap off leaving a wedge shaped hole.

Repeat all the way around the circle until you get something that looks like this:

4) Repeat this process for the second circle.

5) Trace the outline of the pipe onto the lid.

The process for this is exactly the same as with the yogurt containers only this time, you want to make sure that you trace outside the black line since we want the pipe to fit through the hole. Don't worry if the hole is a bit too big for the pipe since when we put soil in the planter it will help stabilize it.

When you are done it will look like this:

6) Now we are going to put holes in the yogurt containers. That's how the soil will absorb the water. I used the exacto knife and just cut out triangles, you could also poke holes with a drill bit, or an awl or anything that you want. When I was done, mine looked like this:

7) Place the yogurt containers in the bottom of the storage container:

Then place the false bottom with the bias side of the pipe facing downwards in the container on top of the yogurt containers, lining up the yogurt containers with the holes for them:

8) Bring planter to where you want it to stay. From here on out it will get heavy so moving it will be hard.

9) Fill planter with soil.

10) Plant things in planter. In this one I planted 2 tomato plants, as well as some peas and kale from seed.

11) Pour in a bucket full of water through the pipe at the top and let the plants grow!

I'll check back in a few weeks with how everything is getting on!