Germination, Wicking and Gbiota Beds

My post explains the best way we have of fighting the Corona virus today is to strengthen our immune system. Gbiota beds were developed specifically to enhance our gut biology so in today’s emergency environment I simplified the design so anyone can install a Gbiota bed in their back yard.

However I received many questions so hopefully this article provides the answers.

Once upon a time

Some twenty years ago I pioneered Wicking beds with a very simple design, basically a lined hole in the ground making a watertight bed with a pipe in the bottom to distribute the water to form an underground water reservoir with the water wicking up to the plant roots.

They were highly productive and water efficient, the reason why they were so water efficient is that the surface soil was dry so there was minimal loss of water by evaporation from the surface or seepage of water past the root zone.

Virtually all the water applied would be used by the plants.

But they had two intrinsic problems, germination and the water in the reservoir turning putrid.


As the surface is dry Wicking beds normally have poor germination. This is easily solved by initial surface watering until the plants roots have reached down to the water reservoir.

With the Corona virus people want to grow plants very quickly – and the best way is by growing baby greens, which does mean more frequent germination of seeds.

This can readily be solved by applying water through a leaky pipe on the surface. As long as the surface is flat the water will spread over the surface and give good germination.

Just take regular polypipe and make a slots with an angle grinder.

Then bury the pipe just below the surface making sure it is pressed well into the soil.  This controls water flow so it does not just spread out of the first few holes.

Block the end of the pipe (just fold it over and tie.)

This is dead easy to do with a Gbiota bed with a pump and still quite easy with a manual bed which I will explain in a future post.

This means there are really two ways of operating this bed.

Water can be applied from below to give a genuine flood and drain system which is a very effective way of growing with minimal loss of water by surface evaporation


water can be applied from the surface which aids germination but means a loss of water by surface evaporation.

In reality it takes only seconds to switch the pipe from bottom to top irrigation so it is not really an issue.

We can now look a the much more serious issue of nutrients and the beds turning putrid.

Nutrients and the beds turning putrid

My original work on Wicking beds was done, over twenty years ago, during droughts in Africa where people were starving.

But they needed more than water they needed nutrients. My solution had two parts.

First collect weeds, which may be a pain but are incredibly effective plants being able to extract nutrients from the soil and grow with great vigour even under drought conditions.

There were placed in a lined hole in the ground and back filled with soil. The weeds would decompose providing nutrients to the crop – an incredibly effective and simple system with minimal cost.

Water was in such short supply that there was no question of over watering so the plants would put roots right into the water reservoir and such out all the water so there was no issue with the beds going putrid.

Simple and highly effective.

Keep on making it more complicated until it fails

I learned computer programming in the early days of computers having to learn the art of machine code the hard way by trial and error.

From what I see no one but a few specialist code in machine code any more they have layers of software underneath the top layer where people actually code.

They learn coding at University where they are taught one of the basic rules of modern design. If you have a product which is working fine then just keep on making it more and more complicated until either no one can use it or it simply stops working because of some untraceable bug.

The law of complication applied to Wicking beds

That’s exactly what happened to Wicking Beds. Some bright spark had the idea that instead of letting the roots suck at all the nutrient rich compost tea at the base of the beds they would fill the base with nice clean stones and put a layer of cloth to stop the roots getting into the water.

The logic of this still defies me as stones just don’t wick, there has to be a very fine texture. But another mechanism came to their rescue. It is called the evaporation and condensation cycle and in a closed space water will evaporate until the air is saturated when the water vapour will condense on all available surfaces. It the soil above is hydroscopic (water loving) it will absorb the condensation so the roots can pick up the moisture.

And it actually works fine as long as the water in the reservoir is clean water and not compost tea.

Marketing over technology

This is yet another of example of marketing over technology. The other is the food industry which very effectively spends billions of dollars on promotion to convince us that food full of sugar and fats, lacking basic nutrients and contaminated with toxic chemicals is actually healthy.

And it really works, modern food kills millions of people through diabesity, obesity and dementia and we just keep on gobbling it up. I am sure when we are invaded by a more intelligent species from outer space they will set up monster research projects trying to understand human behaviour – and failing miserably.

Gut biology

But now, as my grand kids say, I am into gut biology as it is the best way of defending against modern foods and now the Corona virus.

This is all explained in my latest post which is pretty simple and explains that the key to a healthy gut is to feed the good bugs and good bugs happen to have the same obsession about compost tea that I have about cheese cake.

But any idea that I can use Wicking beds when the water reservoir could be filled with stagnant compost tea is just blown away, they would just go putrid. So drum role for Gbiota beds where there is one overriding rule, never let the compost tea become stagnant – keep it moving.

And technically that is dead easy, either with a little pump that works automatically, or manually if you have cooperative granddaughters (or time).

The one great snag

In all my long life of being a technical innovator I have yet to come across that perfect idea that does not have some snag.

Gbiota beds have not dodged that reality – and the snag is that there must be somewhere for the compost tea to drain into.

In my article on quick Gbiota beds I focused on in ground beds as there are the easiest way of growing a lot of food quickly. With an in ground bed it is just a simple question of digging a hole (sump) to catch the draining compost tea. (Tip – granddaughters are not into digging, so buy a good spade).

But many people want to grow their vegetables in a box. That is no problem if the box is sitting on the ground as you can still dig a hole.

But if you are installing your bed on a hard surface then you need to find some way of raising your box of the ground so there is height for the compost tea to drain into before it starts its circular path.

Fighting the Corona virus

My current focus is on fighting the Corona virus by getting as many people as possible to grow fresh veggies in their back yard. The more people do that the quicker we will defeat the virus. The best weapon we have against the virus is to have a population with a really strong immune system – when the virus sees that we all have a strong immune system it will just nick off and invade Mars or some other planet.

So the check list for the home grown veggies runs along these lines.

– do I want to just grow veggies or do I want to grow veggies full of micro biology.

If you just want to grow veggies then a good old fashioned Wicking Bed which you can put virtually anywhere may be the solution.

– if I want veggies full of micro biology then that means Gbiota beds.

If I can grow in ground then its straight forward – just buy a good spade (and may be a slab).

– if I want to grow in a box, will it sit on the ground so I can dig a sump, no problems

If it will sit on a hard surface then they must be raised up above ground level (unless you are building on steps which is a miracle as there is no digging at all).

Was this helpful or boring

My granddaughters tell me this post is incredibly boring but just in case you found it helpful just do me a favour and tell you friends (real and virtual) about my battle with the virus and see if you can enlist their support by registering on this site then by getting them to build a Gbiota bed in their back yard.

Stay healthy

Colin Austin