Welcome.....I'm a keen organic gardener, and I use Ecobeds to make my vegetable patch drought resistant, sustainable and productive.....I use homemade compost and compost tea to make my plants healthy and pest resistant without using poisonous chemicals.....My main aim is to make gardening easy and to produce wholesome delicious food for my wife and myself.....Happy gardening.........................John Ashworth 4th March 2016.
How Garden Ecobeds Work
Latest Update 28th April 2017
Ecobeds are designed to reduce to a minimum the amount
of water, fertiliser and pesticide brought into the garden
from outside. My Ecobeds are fairly compact at 2.7m long x 1.65mm wide, but space is limited in my small suburban backyard, and much longer ones are quite practical given enough space.
The schematic above shows how Garden Ecobeds work. They are lined with a polythene membrane to form a water tank which is full of 20mm drainage Scoria (crushed volcanic rock).
It supports the soil above it and its porosity provides pathways for the water to travel upwards into the soil even
when the tank is nearly empty.A barrier of shadecloth
keeps the soil out of the tank without interfering with
the upwards movement of water.
The tank is supplied with water through a distribution system comprising a vertical filler pipe, a slotted distribution tube and an overflow pipe. There is a simple water level indicator inside the filler pipe which can be seen easily when walking past the bed.
The water tank fills quickly because the slots in the distribution
pipe are kept open by the corrugated structure which stopsScoria getting
close enough to block the slots.
My oldest Ecobed
built in May 2012 is still filling as quickly as the latest one built
in March 2015 using this design.
Although the 250mm deep water tank is full of Scoria, there is sufficient space between these granules and within their structures to contain about450 litres of water.
tank's water maintains a column of moisture 300mm above its surface, and as the waterlevel drops, the penetration of this column reduces so that when the water tank is nearly empty, the column only penetrates 50mm into the soil.
Despite this, well structured organic soil still holds moisture
in its aggregates above this column for some time, but once the tank is allowed to drain
completely, the moisture is quickly used up by the plants with unfortunate consequences.
Good organic soil
covered with mulch holds moisture right up to its surface when the water tank is full. If this doesn't happen, the soil needs active bacteria and fungi to maintain the structures which hold water and nutrients. However, it doesn't take long for high quality homemade compost to restore the microbiology and rebuild the soil's structure. I add about 60mm of high quality homemade compost to the soil after it has been cleared every harvest to maintain a high microbial population.
rise and fall of water in an Ecobed's water tank acts like an air pump
drawing fresh air into the tank through the soil as the tank empties,
and expels it as the tank is filled. Plant roots need fresh air
to feed the beneficial (aerobic) micro-organisms in the plant's root zone
so the air in the soil needs regular replenishment. Water tanks
should be left until nearly empty before refilling, and they should
then be filled until they overflow to get the best out of this feature.
Take a look at my blogpage for information about the Soil Foodweb.
is an issue in an Ecobed because a build up of minerals in its water
tank will eventually inhibit plant growth.
Chemical fertilisers are
highly soluble and drain through the soil into the water tank easily when it rains. This is obviously undesirable so we need to deliver nutrients to plant's roots in a way that doesn't lead to this pollution of the water tank.
The beneficial microbes in
biologically active organic soil release nutrients to plants in an
organic form as required by the plants in their root zones. Surplus nutrients, if
any, are locked up in soil aggregates formed by bacterial and fungal
activity until needed by the plants.
and diseases are controlled in Ecobeds using biological and exclusion
methods. I maintain a very high organic content in my soil by
incorporating lots of homemade compost to feed the soil'sbeneficial microbes
and keep their
numbers and diversity high. Plant pathogens are out-competed and kept under control.
are beneficial microbes on the foliage of plants too, and to keep
airborne pests and diseases under control, their numbers are topped up
every month by spraying the foliage with aerated compost tea.
An Ecobed protects plants from flying pests using exclusion netting. This
netting stops all but the smallest insects invading the bed and provides
21% shade from the hot summer sun.
built exclusion frames are designed to make this easy and effective, but
I use them sparingly trying to build a balanced community of pollinating and predatory insects
and other flying creatures by growing herbs and flowering plants to attract them.
insect pollinators must be allowed access to flowers. So flowering
plants are left uncovered except when conditions demand extra protection
from extreme weather.
I use Vegenet with a 21% shade factor on my exclusion frames to keep flying pests off my plants, and I use heavy duty shadecloth to protect myplants from very hot, dry and windy conditions.It can
be fitted quickly over the Vegenet (if fitted), using the frame's comprehensive array of hooking
points, when conditions demand and removed when milder weather returns.
and snails are excluded from Ecobeds using perimeter barriers of self adhesive copper strip. This tape is bonded tothe external perimeter of each bed,
and molluscs get a mild shock when they come into contact with it. It
has worked faultlessly for me since 2012, but is becoming quite tarnished on my older beds. They will lose their effectiveness eventually and need to be replaced.
A family of blackbirds have become a real pest as a result of their foraging expeditions looking for worms. The worms in my Ecobeds are a particular target and they dig up young seedlings and small plants indiscriminately at the same time.To protect young seedlings, I cover them with
wire mesh tunnels complete with mesh end plates.
If rainwater supplies fail.
Strip your Ecobeds of plants, reapply compost and a thick layer of
A full Ecobed water tank will last this way for many weeks before emptying even in hot
This maintains the health of the soil while you are away from
home. You simply plant new crops when you return from your holiday.
if your rainwater tanks run dry in a drought. Rather than contaminate
the Ecobed with treated water, shut the beds down as above, and restart
when rain restores your water tanks.
I use a small household inline water filter to remove chlorine from
treated mains water when I run out of tank water. It seems to work fine
and I can fill my 2000 litre rainwater tank overnight. So far the use
of this water does not appear to causing any adverse effects on the
Ecobeds' biology, but it costs about AU$90 dollars for every 6500 litres
in replacement cartridges.
option is to aerate a tank load of treated water to drive off the
chlorine. The guys at the Soil Foodweb Inc use this technique on
chlorine treated water before using it to make aerated compost tea. As
an additional measure they use 5% homemade humic acid containing active microbes to neutralise other chemicals.
use a bubbler to make aerated compost tea using rainwater. The process
is much the same as the one above, but if I decided to adopt this
method to remove chlorine from treated water I would need to scale up my equipment to handle much larger
batches (2000 instead of 15 litres).
You can see how I aerate 15 litre batches of compost tea on my blogpage at How to build a compost tea brewer. Obviously a much bigger pump and bubbler would be required, but the basic design should work fine
Crops grown in an Ecobedbenefit from close attention, but once the
fundamentals are attended to they can be quite low maintenance.
fundamentals include, propagating new plants, supplying water as needed (almost never in cool to
mild weather), feeding the soil with homemade compost after every harvest and
spraying the plants with homemade aerated compost tea every month.
You can even
go away on holiday in cool to mild weather, but if you go for a prolonged holiday in hot weatheryou will need a friend
or family member to water at least once a week.