Converting traditional raised beds to sub-irrigated beds

For several years I’ve been using Earthboxes to grow annual vegetables (beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, etc.). I’ve had fantastic results and I wanted to bring this amazing growing method to two of my raised beds. The concept behind sub-irrigated beds is pretty simple. Water is added to a reservoir in the bottom of a container through a fill tube and a peat-based planting medium is used to wick water up to the plants. An overflow tube is also installed to funnel excess water out of the bed.

Applying this to a raised bed is super easy and I’ll show you what I did to make mine. Here are the steps I wrote down before starting this project:

1. Remove the existing planting medium from the bed
2. Grade the soil inside the bed to create a level base
3. Add a layer of weed fabric to buffer the liner
4. Install a non-toxic barrier (I used a pond liner) to keep water in and create the reservoir
5. Cover your drainage pipe w/ a drainage sock to keep roots out
6. Add perforated drain pipe to create a reservoir
7. Install an overflow tube to let excess water out
8. Add a fill tube to get water into the reservoir
9. Fill the box w/ a peat-based planting medium (we used ProMix BX)

The beds I chose to convert were filled with garden soil so I had to remove and relocate the existing soil:

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Once the soil was removed I create a level base inside the box and removed every stone I could see. To create a cushioned buffer between the liner and ground I laid down a thick layer of weed fabric. Next I covered the inside with a heavy duty non-toxic pond liner and stapled it to the top of my beds to keep it in place. It took some wiggling and shouting to get it installed perfectly but eventually I had a nice snug fit.

To create my reservoir I cut 6″ perforated drain pipe to size, wrapped it with a drainage sock and placed them where I wanted them. Here is the bed with the pond liner and drainage pipe installed:

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To allow excess water to drain I had to drill a hole on one end of the bed and install a short piece of PVC. The PVC was pushed into the drain pipe and run several inches outside the bed. To allow air to circulate I left a small gap between the top of the drainage pipe and the PVC overflow:

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Here’s a picture of the tubing poking out the side:

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Next I installed a PVC fill tube to get water into the reservoir:

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At this point I was ecstatic! I just needed to add a peat-based planting medium, fertilizer and water. To give my beds a healthy start I picked up 5 compressed bails of ProMIX BX and spent half a day opening bags and breaking apart the compressed soil:

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I soaked the top of the soil with water to loosen it up and added a batch of lettuce transplants. The lettuce grew like mad and the sauce tomatoes we grew this summer ended up producing 60 pints of sauce! We also got hundreds and hundreds of peppers from the other bed we converted.

The beds were VERY self sufficient. I filled the beds with water once a week during the hottest days of summer, pruned, added fertilizer as needed and picked a boat load of vegetables. Here is a picture of the bed once we trimmed off the excess liner and filled it with mix:

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I’m extremely happy with results and the ease of growing in our new sub-irrigated beds. I’ll make sure to post pictures this summer once our next batch of vegetables go in.

** UPDATE **

Put up a couple of posts about growing vegetables in sub-irrigated beds:

Optimizing Pepper production in a sub-irrigated raised bed
Optimizing Tomato production in a sub-irrigated raised bed

Growing seven more lettuce varieties in an Aerogarden. Lettucepalooza II begins!

I had such an awesome experience with lettucepalooza I that I decided to fire up my second Aerogarden and start Lettucepalooza II. This time around I really wanted to mix things up, so I decided on 7 unique lettuce varieties. Here is the list of seeds I went with:

Top left – 8 Lolla Rossa seeds from Botanical Interest
Top middle left – 8 Oak Leaf Blend seeds from Botanical Interest
Top middle right – 8 Lettuce Romaine Rouge D’Hiver seeds from Botanical Interest
Top right – 8 Black Seeded Simpson seeds from Botanical Interest
Bottom left – 8 Lettuce Romaine Garnet Rose seeds from Botanical Interest
Bottom middle – 8 Butterhead Speckle seeds from Botanical Interest
Bottom right – 8 Butterhead Marvel Of 4 Seasons seeds from Botanical Interest

Things are coming along very nicely as you can see from the picture below:

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All seven of the seeds germinated, which I attribute to the quality of seeds that are sold by Botanical Interest. I’ve been performing periodic taste tests (quality control, right?), and I’m especially found of the Lolla Rossa, Romaine Rouge D’Hiver and Romaine Garnet Rose varieties. I’m getting really good production from this batch, and I will definitely be adding a couple of the seeds to my final “what grows best in an aerogarden” list.

An update on lettucepalooza #1

I wrote about my first foray into growing lettuce in my Aerogarden a few weeks back. Things have been progressing quite nicely, and the five varieties I mentioned in my previous entry are going bonkers. The Red sails, buttercrunch and butterhead varieties are doing especially well, as we you can see in the following picture (the back top left, front left and bottom left are the three varieties I am referring to):

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For those just tuning into my lettuce growing adventure, here are the varieties I have growing:

Top left – 8 Red sail seeds from Botanical Interests
Top middle left – 8 Tom thumb seeds from Territorial
Top middle right – 8 Baby leaf lettuce mix seeds from Burpee
Top right – 8 Sunset lettuce seeds from Baker Creek
Bottom left – 8 Butter crunch seeds from Territorial
Bottom middle – 8 Red wing lettuce mix seeds from Baker Creek
Bottom right – 8 Green butterhead adriana seeds from Johnny’s

All but the tom thumb and sunset lettuce seeds germinated. The red sails, butter crunch red wing and butterhead varieties have been the best producers so far. I’ve been taking 1/3 of each lettuce plant every 2 – 3 days and when we toss in some greens from our Earthbox we have more than enough to make salads each evening. Using both growing mediums is a great approach, since you can experiment with specific varieties in the Aerogarden, and then grow heavy producing lettuce varieties in Earthboxes.

The mixture we currently have is great, and the salad I made yesterday for lunch was absolutely amazing. Color from the red wing and red sails mixed with butterhead, buttercrunch and baby greens is an absolutely amazing mix! When I do Lettucepalooze #3 I am going to try growing some spicy greens as well as some greens with a bit more texture. This is really the only thing missing at this point.

Growing seven hand picked lettuce varieties in an Aerogarden. Lettucepalooza I begins!

I first learned about the Aerogarden last year while I was watching several videos on the balcony grow youtube channel. For those new to the Aerogarden, they are hydroponic systems for growing vegetables, herbs and flowers indoors. They also provide an excellent system for starting seeds, and from the seed starting videos I’ve seen I’m pretty sure that the unit will pay for itself if you currently rely on nursery’s for transplants (I plan to test out their seed starting system in the spring and will report back on it then).

Being curious about how well the Aerogarden worked I decided to pick up an Aerogarden Extra earlier this year. I started off by growing one of the Aerogarden lettuce seed kits, and that went amazingly well. I got a fair amount of lettuce, and the Aerogarden added a nice decor to one of our boring hallways (it doubles as a night light as well). Eventually my lettuce seeds died off and I decided to purchase a grow your own seed kit and try seven varieties of lettuce from different seed companies. Here are the varieties I started with:

Top left – 8 Red sail seeds from Botanical Interests
Top middle left – 8 Tom thumb seeds from Territorial
Top middle right – 8 Baby leaf lettuce mix seeds from Burpee
Top right – 8 Sunset lettuce seeds from Baker Creek
Bottom left – 8 Butter crunch seeds from Territorial
Bottom middle – 8 Red wing lettuce mix seeds from Baker Creek
Bottom right – 8 Green butterhead adriana seeds from Johnny’s

All of the seeds other than the Sunset lettuce and Tom thumb sprouted in 7-days. I’m not real sure why these two varieties failed to produce a single sprout. It’s possible the Aerogarden provides too much light, or maybe I just got two bonk packs of seeds. Since all of the other varieties were growing well I decided to put 7 – 8 red sails seeds from Botanical Interest into the two pods that didn’t produce anything. The red sails seeds sprouted in no time flat, giving me the following wonderfully looking Aerogarden after just 2-weeks:

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While I am currently only producing 5 different varieties of lettuce, this has already been a valuable learning experience. I’ll continue to update my blog on my progress. I’m hoping to nail down the best lettuce varieties to grow indoors in an Aerogarden after a few lettucepaloozas, and at the same time narrow down the types of lettuce I like to eat. There are 30 – 40 different lettuce varieties I want to try, so stay tuned!!!