The great seedling experiment is yielding some interesting results, and today I thought I would share the outcome of the wicking mat watering technique.
I have found seedling to be very sensitive to watering, particularly a missed watering over summer. On really hot days even a daily water seems not enough, and if you are not there to provide it then it’s all over red rover. Seedlings don't have to be completely shrivelled to become useless either. My understanding is that thirst can cause them to close their stomata, the tiny holes in the leaves and stems used for breathing. Recovery can sometimes take weeks, or sometimes never, stunting the plants growth. So I wanted to find a low tech self-watering solution, and the one I have experimented with is a wicking mat.
The principle behind a wicking mat is similar to cleaning up a spill with a dish cloth. A porous mat that draws water up out of a reservoir is used to distribute water to the base of a set of seedling pots sitting on it. The soil in the pots then soaks the water up from the wet mat.
I made this one with a plastic tray for the water reservoir, a couple of bits of wood to hold the mat and pots above the water level, and for the mat I just used a dish cloth. I sat the bits of wood in the tray, laid the dish cloth over the wood with enough overhang to touch the bottom of the tray, and sat the pots on top. I also drilled a couple of holes in the sides of the tray to prevent it over filling with water during a rain.
Quite an ingenious little idea I thought, so simple it was bound to work, right?
For the first few weeks I watched in great excitement as not only did the wicking work, but the seeds germinated and their growth was ahead of the rest. This was it! - the ultimate self-watering system had been found. I was only going to have to water every 5 days, and the seedling were never going to have to be put in the bathtub again on weekends away.
Based on the results of the experiment thus far it looks like the good old fashioned watering can is still the winning method. But probably due to a desire to see the wicking mat method work, the question "did I do something wrong, or is there another way?" keeps rattling around in my head.