A portable life support system for fruit trees. Giant self-watering planters.
The trees can be moved anywhere with a forklift or a truck.
A 70 gallon water tank under the tree wicks moisture up to the tree's roots as needed.
Rain water and sunshine are free. Fruit trees are free. Dirt and boxes are free. You do the math.
The big plastic tubs used here are "macro bins" the winemakers next door gave me.
They are about four feet square. Seen here with a fig tree and a fruiting cherry.
The Tree Dolly was used for transplanting and A-Frame for heavy lifting.
Here's the A-Frame transplant method without tree boxes, just into the ground.
Many thanks to Dad, Rachel, James, and others!
Step 1: How Does It Work?
A wooden platform supports most of the dirt above the level of the water.
Along two sides of the platform the dirt extends down to the bottom of the water tank
This wet dirt acts as a wick to raise water up into the rest of the dirt, where the tree's roots can get to it. I call any similar arrangement with rags or dirt a "Pot Wick" or "Potwick". It's fun to say.
There's a 2" overflow hole in the side of the tank at about the 70 gallon mark.
That keeps the water level from getting too high and drowning the roots of the tree. A plant's roots need both air and water.
Tool Box for Thought:
"Soil Mechanics" is the name of the science that studies the interaction between particles and moisture. The "Wetting Angle" is the angle of a water droplet where the meniscus contacts a solid material. The lower that angle the greater affinity the water has for the solid. A very hydrophilic material with a very low wetting angle will have no water droplets on it. The water just sheets out.
"Pore Size" is how large a void is in the soil.
Capillary Action occurs where the attractive affinity at the contact line of the Meniscus exceeds the weight of the water below the meniscus. The water is magically lifted against the force of gravity.
Wetting Angle and Pore Size together tell you how high and how fast the water will move through your dirt.
The particle size distribution determines the pore size distribution.
The pore size distribution determines which pores will contain air and which contain water. Like a sponge, the small pores will contain water and the large ones, air.
Since the roots need both air and water, a jumbled up arrangement of pores is great, so both air and water get to all parts of the root system.
Agitation and pressure compacts the dirt and eliminates large pores. That suffocates the roots two ways. By making a denser mass of dirt between the roots and the sky, and by making smaller pores that wick more water.
Step 2: Wooden Platform
I grabbed some shipping pallets to make the platform. I didn't use any pallets with the IPPC (International Plant Protection Confusion) mark. Those have been fumigated or given other treatments that I didn't have time to investigate. I used mostly white oak pallets, they're pretty rot resistant. I'd like it to last five years or so. I used galvanized nails mostly.
I cut one pallet down to the size I wanted, removed the bottom boards, and filled in the gaps in the top with boards ripped from other pallets. The new pallets were easy to pull the nails from. For the rusty nails I ground the heads off and pulled the boards off that way. Otherwise the rusty nails broke the boards too much while removing them.
I added legs, side boards, and cut a big hole for the refill pipe.
Step 3: Platform Installed in Tank
There's a 6" or so gap along each side of the platform for the dirt wick trenches.
Hoisting ropes run under the platform. Those ropes hang over the sides of the box while filling with dirt, and get tucked under the mulch after that. When it comes time to re-plant the tree those ropes will make the job a lot easier.
Step 4: Pipe and Lining Installed
The refill pipe allows refilling the tank without disturbing the dirt or washing nutrients out of it. A cap on this pipe will prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the water tank.
The dirt extends down to the bottom of the water tank along two sides of the platform.
This side trench dirt acts as a wick to raise water as needed up into the rest of the dirt, where the tree's roots can get to it.
The cotton tarp and cardboard keep dirt from falling into the water and also act as additional water raising wicks. By the time they rot away the dirt will have been stabilized by roots, worms, and other critters.
The wooden platform with legs supports the dirt and tree just above the level of the water.
Step 5: Raised Sides
The macro bin isn't quite tall enough for trees as big as we're getting, so Rachel helps build raised sides. The posts are 4x4 from big pallets used to ship sheet metal. The side boards are a mix of pallet wood and construction scrap 2x4 and 2x6 lumber.
Step 6: Go Dig Up a Tree
Step 7: Plant the Tree
You're tired, stupid, and ready to make big mistakes. The sight of your tree's leaves wilting makes you want to hurry.
If you use a forklift, remember they're really dangerous, especially for high lifts like this.
The higher your forklift raises something, the less weight it can safely lift. You learned this in forklift class.
Take the time to do it right, and recruit help from the Ben Hur temp agency if you have to.
After you have the tree planted is the wrong time to decide it's rotated the wrong way, or you should have mixed something else with the soil.
Step 8: Got It Made in the Shade!
Move your trees into a shady spot to rest for a while. The plant is confused and distressed.
The last thing it needs is to be on the sun's anvil right away.
We dug up these trees after they were waking up, it would have been better to do it in the winter when they were asleep. But that's life in wartime! When the free tree needs to move, you've got to move it!
Step 9: Happy Nomadic Fruit Trees
So there they are taking it easy in the shade of a building. I mulched them heavily to keep the top of the soil from drying out, and threw some smashed eggshells in that in case the pine mulch was acidic. Caps on the refill pipes keep mosquitoes from breeding in the water tank.