What is the Difference Between Wicking Beds and Raised Garden Beds?

Wicking beds and raised garden beds play an important role in urban agriculture, which has made a significant comeback in recent years. The price of dirt is high in big cities making it cost-prohibitive to dedicate a plot of land to food production. Whether on rooftops or in a neighborhood garden, self-contained garden beds are the go-to-solution for food growing in urban environments. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 800 million people grow fruits, vegetables, and raise animals in cities across the planet. These efforts produce an impressive 15 to 20 percent of the world’s food. In Toronto, Canada, regulations are already in place requiring new buildings over six stories tall and with over a specific number of square feet of floor space to have at least 20 percent green roof. Toronto is North America’s second best city for building green roofs, with only Washington D.C. building faster. While other cities may follow suit and incorporate architecture and agriculture—agritecture—into their building codes, many locations around the world actively grow food on rooftops.

Wicking Beds and Raised Garden Beds are an Essential Component of Urban Gardens

Green building practices continue to gain popularity with several organizations offering ratings and certifications. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) developed a multi-tiered rating system for the built environment, which continues to garner international recognition. Moreover, while many construction methods are beneficial to the environment, one of the most practical solutions, and perhaps the greenest building practice, is the construction of living buildings. The idea that buildings can provide shelter, integrate day-to-day human interactions, and leave space for growing plants, is a relatively new concept. Meeting all of these goals is most easily achieved during the design and build process. For example, building engineers must factor in the additional load on a building. They have to answer the question: Can the structure withstand all of the materials—soil, water, and infrastructure—for a green roof or rooftop garden?  Water, nutrition, and care are all needed for successful plant growing. Wicking beds and raised garden beds are two great options for building a long-lasting and flexible urban gardening system. Both systems require sturdy long-lasting liners and are an effective way to keep plants alive and healthy while growing on rooftops.

How Are Wicking Beds Different Than Garden Beds?

Wicking beds, a subset of raised garden beds offer a few advantages and disadvantages. Wicking beds constructed with waterproof linings hold a reservoir of water at the base. Water is drawn upwards to the surface of the bed through soil osmosis and the roots of the plants in the bed.
  • The concept is to build a self-watering raised garden bed that functions through capillary action
  • The actual bed can be constructed in a number of ways, but they all work on the same principles of drawing water up from below the soil
  • Building a wicking bed is  complicated process and requires a higher level of building skills
  • Wicking beds are a good choice for rooftop gardens and balconies, as they are self-watering to an extent and lower the amount of attention necessary for your plants to flourish
  • While you will still need to refill the wicking bed periodically it will go a long way in helping the plants grow with less supervision

Where Is The Best Place To Put A Raised Garden Bed?

A raised garden bed is a garden box built above ground level, usually with walls and liners built into the infrastructure. A raised garden bed can be built essentially anywhere there is floor space, regardless of material. This makes it a perfect candidate for rooftops, balconies, and other city buildings as you can even install them directly on concrete or asphalt. Garden beds also have the added benefit of absorbing rainfall, which can help lessen the load on storm drainage systems during rainy winter months. The best place to put a raised garden bed can be almost everywhere with sunlight, as long as you have the floor space. Additionally, a good liner will keep the soil and plants separated from the floor beneath the bed. The trend to grow food on rooftops and in community gardens addresses the need to create a more sustainable food system for growing populations. Overall wicking beds and raised garden beds are a great addition to urban planning. With a little work, and in the right climate, urban gardens can potentially produce a variety of crops and plant types.  

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