Phase 2 of 2, A window box that waters itself! | Week 27 | #52wonderfilledweeks

We did it! It's done and it looks great!!! It was a great reminder to take my time when creating things, no matter the medium.  What am I talking about? If I were sewing something and the seams didn't match up I would most likely take it apart and trim what I needed to and re-sew it.  The end pieces on the window box are too wide...and therefore there are a few gaps in the bottom of the box near the ends.  I should have taken the time to trim them when I noticed the discrepancy as we were dry fitting them.  Lesson learned.  I thought it wouldn't bother me but the 2 hours I spent painting the box I couldn't stop obsessing over it...oh well. If you missed last week when we built the box you can jump to that post HERE.

Phase two started with drilling 1/4" drainage holes in the bottom of the box and then sanding to get ready for primer and paint.  I used our orbital sander and some 60 grit paper to start with, then some 100 grit to finish.  If this were going to be an indoor piece we would have finished with 220 at least but since this is an outdoor piece we figured 100 was fine. Then I used the brush attachment on the shop vac to suck up the shavings and finished up with a good wipe down with an old (40 years at least!), retired cloth diaper.

Due to the possible inclement weather and bugs that like to fly into my freshly painted items we moved the box to the garage.  I used Zinsser primer in gray and primed the piece with two coats.  Despite the high temps and humidity it dried quickly! Not so with the actual paint.  I thought something was wrong when I opened the small can and was blown over by the smell...I rolled on the first coat and when I was done wrapped the roller and brush in plastic wrap.  The next morning I did a second coat and only realized my mistake when I went in to clean the brush and tray.  As soon as the water hit the paint it beaded up.  OIL.  I had somehow grabbed an oil based paint. I ended up having to throw out a really nice Purdy brush as I didn't have any mineral spirits on hand. Then I checked that the primer I used could be covered with an oil based paint.  It could...thank goodness.  What's the lesson here? Don't buy paint with two kids crawling over you and asking questions! Again since this was a practice project it will be fine...and we joked around that this box will probably last 20 years as is, ha! But you should check your paint and primer before you start. I also painted one piece of PVC since there is a small chance it will be visible once the project is finished.

Sanding the PVC to get ready for paint.

My super handy stand to hold the PVC upright when painting.

Oil based paint smells bad...

While the paint was drying I started to assemble the self watering irrigation system.  The idea of the system is that is uses capillary action or osmotic pressure to keep the flowers or vegetation properly hydrated.  I got the idea from watching a "This Old House" video on YouTube.  They were using something like this system from  Since it's just PVC we decided we could tackle it ourselves.  It cost approximately $30 for the supplies...maybe less.  I bought 7, 2' long pieces at 1.5" circumference.  I also bought 3 elbow joints, 4 couplers and 1 end cap.  If you wanted to buy the pieces longer you could ignore the need for the couplers but since we have two kids in car seats the pre-cut pieces were easier for us to transport.  We also grabbed a package of cotton rope for the wicks.

The process is pretty simple.  I attached 3 tubes together with two couplers.  We will have two "rows" of tubing when we're done so you need to do this twice.  On one set add the "cap" to one end and an "elbow" to the other.  On the other row you will attach an "elbow" to each end BUT you want one "elbow" to be horizontal and one to be vertical.  Next I had to measure the space from the back to the front of the box.  Mine was about 7" of room to play with so I cut down a piece of PVC from the 7th piece we haven't used yet (only painted the end).  I cut it to about 3" and used that piece to join the two rows together via the horizontal "elbows.  (You can see it in the picture.)  Once your paint is dry on the painted (stove pipe) piece you can measure how tall you'd like it to be (or rise out of the container) and trim that piece down and insert it into the vertical elbow.  This is where you will pour your water when filling.

I dry fit my irrigation system in the box just to make sure it all fit.  Once I knew it fit I poured water into the PVC to see how much water it would hold.  Since my irrigation tube is approx 12 feet long, it holds quite a bit, 1.5 gallons in fact.  This should help the roots of the plants get the water they need without me having to get on a step stool every night when watering the garden.  With the tubes dry fit together I started drilling holes for the wicks, also known as the cotton sash cord we bought.  Since the cord was 1/4" I used a drill bit that was one size smaller 7/32" so the rope would fit snugly and not pull out in future seasons when planting new vegetation.

I tried to offset the holes, and drilled three per 2' section.  The hardest part was getting the rope into the holes! First I wanted to make sure that the "wick" sat against the opposite side of the PVC so that no matter the water level water could wick up into the box.  I cut my lengths to about 10" then used a sharpie to mark up about 1.5" on one side of the wick.  Since this is the diameter of the tubing I knew if I could get the wick into the hole to that mark that it would be pretty darn close to the back end of the tube.  It took me about three wicks before I came up with a good system to get the wicks thru the smaller hole.  I had to sort of pinch the base of the rope and twist and push to compress the fibers, making the rope "tighter" as I pushed it into the drilled hole.  After I worked out this little system things went quicker but there was a moment or two where I thought this was never going to work.

Offset drilled holes

My sharpie marking and the rope wick fully inserted.

With the irrigation system ready I lined the bottom of the box with some weed fabric.  I wanted to make sure that I didn't lose dirt out the drainage holes.  We set the irrigation tubing in the box and centered it between the ends and moved the box into place.  I quickly realized the "stove pipe" piece was sticking out waaaayyyy to much (it was almost a foot above the box) and we were able to grab just that piece and trim it down using the chop saw.  Ideally you don't want to see the tube, just be able to access it when watering.  Once we trimmed it down you could barely see it.  This system is so great because if you don't have a bungalow like ours where the stairs allow you to access the box easily you can just open your window and water/fill the tubing easily.

Fits perfectly!
Next we filled the box in place with soil.  I did try move/hold  the wicks up a bit as we added the soil so they would lay up nearer the surface and evenly distribute the water in the box. With everything in place we headed to the nursery for some flowers! I was elated to see that Sweet Potato Vines were back in stock and we had a lovely time choosing some different flowers for the box.  We ended up buying some white Vinca, and orange and pink Zinnias.

The best part is how easy it is to fill the irrigation system.  I just have to stand on the top step and lean over! Or open the front window!! Can you imagine all the cool places you could use this watering system?!?!

See? EASY!!!

You can't even see the "stove pipe"!

I can't wait to see it all grow in and draping over the side!

This summer we've really gone "outside the box" (pun intended) with our garden.  Going to an actual nursery and choosing flowers that we've never grown before.  It's paid off in spades though as our yard has never looked better.

***UPDATE*** Three weeks later and our window box is THRIVING! Just yesterday a Swallowtail came and danced for us for almost a half hour!


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