Goodbye June!  Hello, July!  While organizing my pictures from June 2019, I could see amazing plant growth with Self-Watering Planters in my small garden this month.  It is astonishing to me that the first potatoes that popped through the Wicking Bed soil was on June 9, 2019, which was the same day that I installed the Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System (Self-Watering Basin).  At the same time, the peas and tomatoes were just tiny little seedlings!  In this article, I am going to discuss how things are growing in my self-watering planter systems and some of the challenges I have had so far with the new garden.
You can watch a recent Garden Update video from the Small Scale Gardening YouTube Channel:

What is Working and Creating this Amazing Plant Growth?

I have really been blown away by the amazing plant growth with self-watering planter systems.  I have two varieties of self-watering planter systems in the garden right now: two wicking beds and one self-watering basin.  The plants in each system are growing REALLY well!  I couldn’t be happier at the moment!


Wicking Beds

I created two Wicking Beds using livestock watering troughs.  I picked them up at a local store, and I installed them after demolition of the old garden beds was complete.  I will be teaching you how to build these Wicking Beds in the future, but needless to say, the advantage of using these Wicking Beds are two (right off the top of my head):

Water Management

I have only filled the Wicking Beds ONE TIME since constructing these beds.  When I built these Wicking Beds, I put the hose in the main intake snorkel and filled the reservoir until the water spilled out of the “Spirko Snorkel.”  I have NOT added any water to them since filling the Wicking Beds on May 5, 2019.  Before I celebrate too loudly and pat myself on my back, we have had rain in June.  However, the power of the Wicking Beds is that the water is 16″ down at the bottom of the bed.  This water reservoir is not exposed to the sun, and it takes time for that water to wick up through the soil and evaporate out of the Wicking Bed!  This is consistent with Doneil Freeman’s experience with his Wicking Beds in Colorado Springs, Colorado (as we discussed on the Small Scale Life Podcast in 2017.


The beautiful thing about the Wicking Beds has been the ease of maintenance.  I really haven’t had to do much maintenance other than weeding endless maple tree propellers in the bed and combating slugs (see below for a discussion about both).  I took some time to clear the propellers and maple tree seedlings from both of the beds.  There has been some weeds from residual seeds in the old square foot garden beds that sprouted, but I have been removing those weed seedlings as they pop up.

I have not added any fertilizer, fish emulsion, Epsom salt solution, worm castings, worm casting teas or compost teas to these Wicking Beds yet.


Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System (Self-Watering Basin)

I built and installed a Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System in early June.  I am also calling this a “Self-Watering Basin” since there are no rain gutters involved in this.  The plants in this Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System (Self-Watering Basin) are planted in felt grow bags that sit in 1/2″ of water when the basin area is full, and the availability of water at any time allows for some amazing plant growth.  Plantes get as much water as they need.  Like the Wicking Beds, I see the following two advantages to this system:

Water Management

I have filled this Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System (Self-Watering Basin) a total of three times in June. I used a 5 gallon bucket to fill the Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System (Self-Watering Basin), and that results in 1/2″ of water in the liner. I purposely let the water evaporate out of the basin, so I am not growing a new crop of hungry mosquitoes (we have enough in Minnesota). This does not include the water from June rainstorms. For the rest of 2019, I will be tracking the amount of water I put into this system, but so far, so good. The growth speaks for itself!


Like the Wicking Beds, the Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System (Self-Watering Basin) has been easy to maintain. There is no apparent slug damage on the pepper plants or seedlings in the basin, and the biggest challenge has been the maple tree propellers, seedlings and weeds. Using the soil from the compost pile and the old square foot garden beds has introduced weeds into the grow bags, but it is really easy to pull those weeds out. There are no roots from trees or grass roots in these bags, and the peppers seem to be loving the environment!

I have not added any fertilizer, fish emulsion, Epsom salt solution, worm castings, worm casting teas or compost teas to the grow bags yet.

What isn’t Working?

Obviously, I am pretty pleased with the growth in the garden.  I do not have too many complaints; however, I will admit that I have had some pest pressure in the new gardens.  I have been dealing with the following pests: Maple Trees and Slugs.


Maple Trees

Since moving to this house, maple trees have put my gardening skills to the test.  I have fought thick mats of maple tree roots infiltrating the square foot garden beds.  Surely the landscape fabric would keep them out, right?  They simply laugh at such naive attempts to stop them!  Fortunately, the new garden beds are putting a stop to any root infestation, unless they are able to break through galvanized steel or climb 2 feet into the air!


Where maple trees can be a problem is from above. I am not sure if it was our wet spring or just because I had stopped the roots, but this year, we had a blizzard of maple tree propellers. They are everywhere, and there was a huge quantity of them! I had to use a shovel to scoop them up off the driveway.

They covered the Wicking Beds, the grow bags in the self-watering basin, the patio garden and new flower garden area. Don’t even ask about the gutters on the garage (which is proof that gutter gardens DO work)! Fortunately the gutters on the house have gutter guards, so I don’t have to clear them from the house.

However, I am picking little maple trees out of every planter, flower bed, compost pile and patch of mulch on the property. These little buggers are perfect plant propagation missiles! They drop and stick their landing perfectly, with the seed pointed downward into the soil. Once there, the tap root can begin to grow, creating a solid base for the mini maple tree.

What is the solution to this pest? Slow down and take the time to remove mini trees and propellers from the gutters, garden beds, planters, compost pile and mulch. There is no easy fix for these pests; you have to use good old fashioned elbow grease!


If you have been following my work since the start of Small Scale Gardening, you know I have been fighting with those nasty little balls of slime called slugs.  I had them in St. Louis Park where they completely destroyed some celery, squash and zucchini plants.  I had them the past two years in the square foot garden beds here in Minneapolis.  Why did I think they wouldn’t be a problem in the new garden beds?  I mean, I did repurpose the old soil from the square foot garden beds, so I should have expected some problems.  


Needless to say, I was caught off-guard when I noticed significant leaf damage on my baby cucumbers and pole green beans. The slugs were having an all-you-can-eat salad bar buffet, and they were loving it. I lost some cucumbers and green bean plants to their rough little tongues, and I couldn’t let them wipe out the whole garden area.

What is my solution for slugs? Well, dear readers, that is the subject of another blog post! Stay tuned!

What is Next?

I have seen some amazing plant growth with Self-Watering Planter Systems so far! I think you can see the progression in the photos above and the videos on the Small Scale Gardening YouTube Channel.

If you are a gardener, you know that plants grow like crazy in July. Hot, humid days of summer create a great opportunity of plants to grow tall and create massive amounts of vegetables and herbs. This is the time of year we gardeners have been waiting for and love!  Let me make an easy prediction: we haven’t seen the end of amazing plant growth this season!

If this is the amazing growth with self-watering planter systems in one month, what will the garden look like by the end of July? I can imagine we will be starting to preserve peppers, tomatoes, an green beans at that point. I am really excited to fill up the pantry with ingredients from the Soup Garden!

I will be working on three projects as we move forward in July:


  • Build A Patio Salsa Garden – This will be a small Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System that you could build and put on your patio or deck. I want this to look good and be very functional, and I will show you that even though I am planting this in July I can still get a harvest by the end of the season and make salsa from the harvest!  Don’t worry, folks, I am still sticking with the Soup Garden Concept I outlined in June!
  • Planting Comfrey – I received some comfrey from my friend Harold Thronbro from Small Town Homestead. He has extra Bocking 14 Russian Comfrey Crown Splits and is selling them on his website. I am really excited to get some comfrey after my 2018 comfrey plants died last winter. The 2018 comfrey from The Contrary Farmstead has a story all to their own that I will write about soon.
  • Growing Indoor Greens – We eat A TON of greens in our house. Julie has encouraged me to start growing greens inside, and I will be developing a self-watering planter system that can fit on my little “greenhouse” shelf inside our house. I have a feeling I will be borrowing from my hydroponic friends to create this system, and I am planning on growing indoor greens all year long.

Your Turn!

How about you? What is happening in your garden? Do you have any garden pests that are driving you up the wall? How is your garden growing? Feel free to post your comments, questions and thoughts below or send me a note through the Contact Page here at Small Scale Gardening.

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