Self Filling / Self Watering Pots

In this Article I am going to show you how to make your own self-filling self-watering pots I am passionate about helping people save time and money when it comes to having your own garden. Whilst this article is geared towards Tomatoes the principles and designs contained within this article can be applied in any gardening application, all you need to do is understand the concepts and apply them in different applications.
Ever since I was a young boy my Father has always grown fresh vegetables at home. After Growing up and leaving home to join the Army some years later I missed the flavor and superior quality of these vegetables in particular home grown tomatoes. I believe if there is one item to grow at home it is a tomato bush as the flavor of a vine-ripened tomato just can’t be replicated in stores.
It wasn’t until I decided to attempt to grow some tomatoes myself that I realized there were going to be some problems that I would need to resolve.

These included:
• I was in the Army and would go away for weeks at a time (how would I water them?)
• I didn’t own my house I rented so I couldn’t just dig up the place (where would I put them?)
• I didn’t have allot of spare time to tend to the garden

So after numerous hours of research and lots of money purchasing different items I tried a few styles of hydroponic setups some of which worked well whilst others did not. The main issue with hydroponics is the cost and complexity of the systems. So then I tried self-watering pots these worked well unless you forget to add water to them and then your plants will die.
So for the last couple of years, I have been trialing a homemade self-watering pot setup that anyone can make and use.

The main advantages of this design are:
• Saves water
• Fully automatic you just spray your vegetables for pests, fertilize every so often and pick the finished product when ripe
• Modular you can design your self-watering pots system however you like to fit different plants or locations
• Renter friendly

This self-filling self-watering pots system is very simple it works on the concept of capillary action the same way normal self-watering pots do with the exception of being a self-filling self-watering pot so you never run out of water.
To simplest way to explain capillary action is if you were to hang a shirt on a coat hanger above a bucket of water and dip only the very bottom of the shirt into the water eventually the whole shirt will become wet. This is the most important principle of this design and must be thought of when making your own self-watering pots designs otherwise your design may not work.

Ok, that’s it time for you to build your own system.  

 

LAZY LEWY SHORTCUT

If you would like to build the below system but can’t be bothered going to all the effort below there is a lazier option. The main reason that I built the below system is you can’t really find 60 Litre volume self-watering pots so I had to make my own. If you would like to modify an existing self-watering pot all you need to do is buy the self-watering pot and modify it by following the principles outlined in the Outer pot section. Essentially you will modify your fill hole to become your drain hole, then drill a 4mm fill hole somewhere above the existing fill hole this will become your new automated fill hole. 

Click here to skip to the outer pot section.

WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE 1 POT

2 stackable plastic pots (Must not have drainage holes, must not be transparent otherwise you will get algae in your reservoir, Wider styles will work better then taller styles as you will have less height required to lift the water through capillary action the below style is fine for tomatoes as they have very deep root systems)

60-Litre-Garbage-Bins-Plastic-stackable
2, 60 Litre stackable Garbage Bins
  • Small piece flyscreen mesh
  • Scissors
  • 90-degree elbow 19mm screw male and 19mm thread female
  • Tape Measure
close up of 90 degree 19mm elbow-scissors-fly screen-tape measure
90 Degree fitting / Scissors / Fly screen / Tape Measure
  • A drill with a small spade style drill around 10mm and a larger 19mm spade style drill bit you will also need a drill bit slightly larger than the outside diameter of your 4mm tubing
Power drill / 4mm drill bit / 10mm & 19mm spade bit
  • Small roll of 4mm flexible tubing and 1 each of the following 4mm parts
    • 4mm barbed t piece
    • 4mm barbed tap
    • 4mm double barbed insert
    • 4mm barbed stake 360 adjustable sprinkler with double barbed insert attached
  • 1 meter of wicking rope 10mm thick (similar style as used in lanterns must be cotton style absorbent rope not nylon)
4 mm flexible tubing, sprinkle, t peice, tap and 10 mm soft cotton absorbent rope
4 mm: flexible tubing,stake sprinkler, tap, t piece & 10 mm cotton absorbent rope

building the inner pot

  • Take one of your pots and drill x 5, 10mm holes using the 10mm spade bit (these should be evenly spaced with one in the centre as pictured) these holes are for your rope to go through.
10 mm drain hole locations
  • With the 10mm spade bit drill qty 4 drainage holes about 40mm from the bottom of your pot (these are overflow holes for if you get heavy rain)
10 mm overflow hole locations for heavy rain

Inside your inner pot into your outer pot ensuring that any grooves match up so the pots sit properly

  • Measure the distance between the top of your inner pot and the top of your outer pot, in this case, its 565mm-495mm= a difference of 70mm. Record this measurement as you will need it later.
Measure the distance from the top of the inner pot to the top of the outer pot
  • Cut up your rope into even lengths and tie a knot on one end of the rope the knot should be roughly 50mm longer then the difference of your pots so in this case the knot should be roughly 120mm along the rope(this will ensure the rope is right to the bottom of your reservoir)
  • Fray both ends of the rope as picture below
10mm soft cotton rope wicks
  • Now insert the long ends through the inside of your pot to the outside of your pot as pictured
Insert your 10 mm cotton wicks from the inside of your inner pot

The inner pot is now complete!

  • Cut a small section of fly just short of the length of your 90degree 19mm fitting and about 150mm long
  • Roll up just tight enough to fit inside the threaded end and insert fully into this end (this is mosquito shield that will stop mosquitoes breeding in your reservoir but still allow water to flow out)
Insert rolled section of fly screen into 90 degree 19mm elbow
  • We now need to drill our overflow hole this hole controls the level of the reservoir and it's very important that the hole position is correct this will control how much water sits in the bottom of our inner pot.
  • To do this we need to take our difference measurement and add 10mm we also need to factor for our 19mm spade drill as we want the bottom of the hole to be exactly 10mm higher than the bottom of the inner pot
  • To calculate where to drill your hole you would take 70mm add 10mm = 80mm (this is the point you want your system to drain)
  • Then take 19mm and divide by 2 to get the centre of your spade bit so 19/2=9.5mm
  • Now add 80mm and 9.5mm and this is the point you would drill the drainage hole so 89.5mm
This is where you would centre your drill bit for the drain hole
  • mark your measurement then drill your hole using 19mm spade bit
  • Check that you got it right in this case we calculated it should be 80mm to the bottom of the hole
  • Screw in your 90degree elbow and face towards the bottom
Measure to the bottom of your hole to check its correct then screw in elbow
  • Cut a 1 meter (or longer depending on individual system) section of 4mm flexible tubing and push your t piece onto the tubing (this tubing will go from your pot and connect to your 4mm tap and then to your main water supply)
Insert the 4mm T Piece into the flexible hose
  • At 90 degrees or 180 degrees to drainage hole drill 1 small hole at the same size as the section of the t piece with the hose inserted onto it (start small and continue to get larger until it just pushes in)
  • From inside your outer pot insert the 4mm tubing with t piece attached and push into place so that t piece sit in the horizontal position (this stops water shooting out of your pot)
T piece being inserted from inside of outer pot.
  • Connect your 4mm tubing to your 4mm tap and then run another length of 4mm tubing to your 13mm or 19mm main line (I will cover this later)
Connect to 4mm tap and then connect to main system using a male to male 4mm barb

Well done!!! Your self-filling self-watering  pot is now complete we now need to test to make sure it functions properly

  • Open your 4mm tap fully (arrow inline with the flow)
  • Place the pot on a level surface
  • Turn on your main system on and at the same time start a watch or phone timer you want to time how long it take to overflow
  • Wait for your pot to overflow the turn off the main system and stop your timer
  • Record the time somewhere
  • Check to make sure you have around 10mm of water sitting in your inner pot as pictured below if this is the case your self-watering pot is a success
Connect the system turn on and allow to fill

the main water system

The Main Water System

This is the most variable part of your system as it needs to be set up to meet your individual requirements. I will do my best and give a quick rundown on my system and how it works and then you can alter it to meet your needs.

What you will need

  • An available tap near where you would like your pots(you can use a y splitter as pictured for my system so you can still use the tap)
  • A tap timer mine is the a manual gauge style unit these are cheap and work well I have had a couple of the mid-range digital timers and they are very unreliable (unless you want to spend over $100 stick with the manual dials I can’t fault it)
  • 19mm or 13mm tubing depends on how much you want to water from 1 system if you want to be on the safe side go 19mm
  • Various fitting such:
    • 19mm /13mm barbed screw on hose connector
    • 19mm / 13mm elbows
    • 19mm / 13mm t pieces
    • 19mm / 13mm plugs (use at the end of a hose)
    • 19mm / 13mm clamps
    • 4mm barb to 4mm barb inserts (these are how you tap into your system)
    • 4mm taps (if you put a 4mm tap on each point you tap into your system it allows you to vary the flow to each individual watering point)

Putting it all together

  1. Install you tap timer
  2. Run your 19mm or 13mm hose past any watering pots or points you would like to use
  3. Insert 4mm barbed inserts into your self-watering pots to feed the self-watering pots you have made or other water systems such as sprays etc (I have pictured below some herbs that I have tapped into the same system that my pots are connected to)
  4. Set your watering time and frequency this is where you would use your system fill up time that you recorded earlier (for my system I started at 1 min twice a day and then as my tomatoes grow larger I changed it to 1 min 3 times a day)

This is the tap timer I use cheap and nasty but does the job.

Basic tap timer with a Y piece

Basic System Diagram

Self-filling self-watering pots system schematic

Other Useful Information

  • Grow your plants from seedlings first to a reasonable size so the roots can get down to the water zone of your self-watering pots
  • Select the right size self-watering pot for the right plant Tomatoes will need a very large self-watering pot as shown in this book a 60 Litre system is used as they have an extensive root system. (selecting a self-watering pot that is too large for a particular plant will cause the water in the reservoir to not get cycled enough and it will go stagnate)
    • If the water does go stagnate i.e. starts to smell or green algae is coming out of the overflow then simply unscrew the overflow and place a hose on the outside of the hole and flush with fresh water 2 / 3 times
  • When you first fill your self-watering pot with soil wet the soil down completely with a watering can this will start the capillary process
  • Use liquid fertilizer and water in with a watering can as required
  • When transplanting your plants into the self-watering pots bury your plants as deep as possible to get the roots down deep (for tomatoes I bury up to the first leaves)
  • You may need to change out the rope once a season depending on the condition.
  • Check the batteries in your tap timer periodically to make sure they are still working and if you turn off the water system for any reason make sure you turn it back on ( remember if the water stops the plants die)

Tomato Cages

 Below is a self-watering pot with a half grown sweet 100 cherry Tomato bush I also use the pictured mesh setup as a support system to make this all you need is:

  • Some re bar to use for stakes works well and much cheaper then star pickets
  • Zip ties
  • Mesh
Self-filling self-watering pot with tomatoe cage

IN CLOSING

Thank you for reading my guide to making your own self-filling self-watering pots. I hope this guide was easy enough to understand and that in enables you to grow your own plants the simple way.

Good luck and happy gardening.

6 Comments

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    • lazylewy on May 10, 2016 at 11:30 AM

      Thank you John! appreciate the feedback.

      Lewy

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    • lazylewy on May 10, 2016 at 11:31 AM

      Thank you for taking the time to write some feedback, it would be great if you share !

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