Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures

Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures - learning about gardening up north.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Build Your Own Alaska Grow Buckets

The new improved Alaska Grow Bucket design is still based on bottom watering which depends on a wicking medium to draw water from below up to the plant roots. The design has been simplified and eliminates the second inner bucket and and the plastic wicking basket. Construction is much easier and takes less time. A free guide with complete step by step instructions is available for viewing and download hereAll components for building your system are available through my Garden Gadget Store

A bulk reservoir with a float valve regulator is still recommended for automatic watering and to maintain the optimal water level throughout the system when connecting several buckets.
The advantage of this system over a true hydroponic system is the lack of liquid pumps to circulate water and nutrients and air pumps to aerate the root zone. Lack of pumps means that power is not necessary. You can use this system anyplace you have a water source.

The first key to this system is the growing medium. It must have a strong wicking property. Soil or compost will not work. A soilless mix with the correct properties is necessary. I prefer a commercial product called Sunshine Mix #4 by Sun Gro Horticulture. It consists of Canadian Sphagnum peat moss, coarse perlite, starter nutrient charge (with Gypsum), dolomitic limestone and a wetting agent. Other Peat based soilless growing mixes will also work – but the addition of perlite and dolomite lime are recommended

The second key to this design is the readily available fabric shopping bag. These common bags can be found at most supermarkets and are very inexpensive or free. The bags are made from spun polypropylene and are very porous. To test a bag simply fill it with water. If it runs out freely then it will work. Similar “Grow Bags” are available from nursery and garden suppliers at a much higher cost. Canvas or burlap bags may also work – but they will eventually rot and fall apart.

The porous fabric allows excess water drainage and aeration of the root zone which is necessary for optimal growing conditions. The system is also based on the principle of “air root pruning”.  As roots grow out to the porous fabric they become exposed to air, dry out and die. This causes the plant to produce dense fine feeder roots and prevents root circling.  The increase in fine feeder roots leads to better nutrient and water absorption and promotes accelerated plant growth.

The third key to this system is the 5 gallon support bucket with plenty of ventilation holes around the sides. The bucket helps support the fabric bag and the ventilation holes allow adequate air movement. The bucket also acts as a water reservoir below the bag providing a water source for the wicking grow medium. By maintaining the proper water level with the float valve regulator the medium will never dry out and will continuously wick moisture up to the root zone.

I put together my complete How To Guide for building your own Grow Bucket system. You can view the PDF guide on line - download a copy and print it out. 


  1. Hi Jim - Wow, I'm blown away by this planter. I've seen gardeners using Home Depot buckets as planters for tomatoes, but this is taking it to a whole awesome new level. Thanks for making my day!

  2. Hi Jim - Would you be OK if I blog post about this on our planter blog site -- I'd probably pick the 1st photo and use a quote or two. Our site is www.QuestionAndPlanter.com. (We're in Michigan).
    If so, GREAT. (Of course, I'll link and attribute photo and text back to this site)
    If not, maybe another time.
    Either way, congrats on a really cool innovation!


    My email is emmon@QuestionAndPlanter.com
    My cell is 248-425-3438

  3. I live in Wasilla too -- great ideas here! I haven't been in dirt since I was a kid and would like to start. I have a yard that my husband and I want to transform into a pretty space with a garden. It's a bit hard when all the info out there is about warmer climates! If you know of more cold weather garden sites, please forward them to me!

  4. your pdf is great!