The drought is now officially over and Yosemite National Park is in its full glory with profuse waterfalls. But we all know that California's water resources are fragile.
In the garden, plants cannot grow without sun and water. We have no control over daily sunshine, but we can influence water supply somewhat by making a self-irrigating pot. Such a container provides some assurance that your plants are getting the water they need with less labor on your part.
You can buy ornamental pots for gardening, but if you are growing edibles seriously at home, you may want less expensive, larger-capacity alternatives. Some stores do carry self-irrigating trough containers intended for vegetable growing, but they can be costly. You can create your own with less investment.
Self-irrigating pots and raised beds reduce watering needs dramatically, sometimes to zero in locales that get rain. You do not need to set up a drip-irrigation system. In Napa Valley's Mediterranean-type climate, a self-irrigation pot (SIP) system may still require occasional watering, but depending on your micro-climate, once every few weeks or once a month may be sufficient. In short, a SIP system simplifies your life and reduces watering chores drastically.
For a small SIP system, start with two plastic 5-gallon buckets. For ornamental plants for indoor or patio gardening, choose decorative store-bought pots. For edibles, you can use any kind or size of planter, but 5-gallon plastic buckets have built-in handles and are relatively lightweight even when filled with soil and plants.
Some people use 2-gallon soda bottles with great success, but they generally lack UV (ultra- violet) protection and may leach harmful chemicals. Painting the bottles may solve the UV problem, and the filtering effect of the soil may neutralize harmful chemicals, but plastic buckets are simpler and easier and can water a larger planting area.
Here's how to convert two 5-gallon plastic buckets into a SIP:
With a 3-inch hole saw, drill four 3-inch holes in the bottom of Bucket #1.
Purchase four 3-inch net cups or use four 3-inch plastic drinking cups and drill a dozen ¼-inch holes in each.
Fill the net cups or drilled plastic cups with potting soil. These cups will serve as water wicks. Put the cups in the holes you drilled in Bucket #1.
Drill at least two ¼-in overflow holes in Bucket #2, where the inserted bottom of Bucket #1 lines up.
Place Bucket #1 inside Bucket #2;
Fill Bucket #1 with potting soil. Water the soil until the water reservoir of Bucket #2 is filled and water leaks from the overflow holes.
Plant the edibles of your choosing in Bucket #1. Refill the water reservoir in Bucket #2 only as needed.
For your SIP to be successful, you must establish water wicking between the water supply and the soil. The overflow holes prevent drowning of the roots.
You can build a self-irrigating raised bed using the same principles, but it takes more steps, work, materials and care—a topic for a future article.
Workshops: U. C. Master Food Preservers will teach a workshop on “Pickling and Fermenting” on Friday, July 14, from 10 a.m. to noon, at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Learn the basics of pickling and fermenting, understand the cautions involved in home food preservation, watch a demonstration of each process and discuss recipes easily managed by the home cook. THIS WORKSHOP IS COMPLETELY FULL AND REGISTRATION IS CLOSED.
U. C. Master Food Preservers will teach a workshop on “Food Preserving: Canning, Drying, Freezing” on Saturday, July 15, from 10 a.m. to noon, at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Learn the equipment required and hazards to avoid in this demonstration with recipes provided. The emphasis is on microbial food safety but biotechnology, food quality and food security will also be addressed. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening publi with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.