The greatest lesson learned is that reserve water in this design and any design will stagnate if the water is not full used by the tomato or plant. The first question to ask before building one is: Do I need a self-wicking container for my tomatoes or garden plants? The answer can be found by answering two more questions. Does the heat of my summer dry a 5 gallon container out in less than 24 hours? Can I manage the watering needs of my container plants with a reservoir system?
If the heat of your summer doesn't dry out a 5 gallon container in under 24 hours you probably don't need the system. My summer heat in Maryland Zone 7 that comes in late June, July and early August will suck the water out of my containers (through plant use) in under 24 hours.The second question is more about the time you have available for your container garden.
Another problem is that you don't need to fill the reservoir when the plants are small. That water will sit. And it has no place to go. Natural rain patterns will often keep the soil moist and the plant doesn't demand much water. Sometimes the young plants only need to be watered 1 or 2x's in the early part of spring.
Change 1: NO Sponges
One main change I am going to make to the original design is to remove the sponges. They are an unnecessary step. And I feel they can contribute to bacteria. The change will be a smaller hole where the towel come through and a simple LARGE KNOT tied in the towel that is housed in the soil container. That knot will sit over the hole and stop dirt from falling in the reservoir. No sponges are needed. It saves money, time and one less place for bacteria to grow.
Change 2: Alternative Wicks
Another minor change is to replace the cotton towel with a wicking material that will decay at a slower rate. You do need to change tomato container soil every year and thus replace the towel but a wicking material that is man-made might last longer and house bacteria to a lesser degree.
Change 3: An Optional Flush Hole
If your water has an odor you can flush it out by over filling it but it is a bit messy in the current design. I am going to install a 2nd lower hole that is corked. It will stay removed when the reservoir is not needed. Water will not sit unused. It can also be removed when you want to flush out the water.
I am always looking for a way to make things at lowest cost. This current design takes two buckets and if you have to buy everything in the original video (minus soil), the cost is about $10.I am working on single bucket design that is cheaper. And working on a way to bring the double bucket system down in cost. One tip is going to your local restaurants and getting food grade 5 gallon buckets for free.
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