Federico Tbn’s Self Irrigating Pots


Federico Tbn sent me some very cool pictures of two self irrigating pots (SIPs) he built out of found materials.

The one in the picture above uses a water jug and a five gallon bucket. Unlike my really ugly SIPs, Federico has taken the time to ornament the outside of the bucket. Federico says,

This one is a variation on the 5 gallon bucket system.  The handle on the jug was a convenient way of inserting a piece of 1/2 inch PVC pipe to refill the reservoir. The plastic on the 5 gallon jug was surprisingly pliable; I was able to mold the top edge to fit the 5 gallon bucket better by carefully heating it with a propane torch.  The art is just for fun, sometimes it is hard for me to leave things unpainted.


The second pot uses a sock to wick water up into a container full of cat grass. Kitty looks happy.

I’ve used SIPs for years and they are a great tool for landless gardeners. Federico has taken the SIP a step further by making them beautiful.

You can see more of Federico’s projects and art at eeio.blogspot.com.

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  1. We did not have much luck last year using a double-bucket system. The idea was that we would fill the lower bucket with water and roots would grown down from the top and sip the water through holes in the top bucket… just did not work well for us.

    • I use the 2 bucket system a lot with great results. Here are a few things that might be messing up your setup:

      1) Soil is not wicking water. I use 1/2 compost and 1/2 humus (or peat or peat humus). If the soil is packed too tight or not very absorbent, the self watering pot won’t work.

      2) You might be missing trace minerals. I add a handful of perlite to the soil mix and my plants have done better since then.

      3) You might not be getting enough sunlight. Plants like tomatoes should have at least 6 hours of good direct sunlight a day. Herbs might need like 4 hours of good sunlight a day.

      4) You might be growing too large a variety. Cherry tomatoes are better than beefsteak tomatoes. There are varieties of cukes and other veggies that do well in a pot. Look for seeds that specifically say they are for containers. Melons will probably need more space than a bucket system.

      5) Did you buy seedlings from a nursery? In my experience those typically suck salty goat balls. Don’t get seedlings with flowers or fruit already on them. They will not thrive.

    • All of Sara’s advice is spot on in general for SIPs — but if I understand you correctly, I think your problem may be in how you set up your system. Forgive me if I’m wrong–this is what is hard about internet communication.

      For a true SIP, you need an upper bucket to hold potting mix, the lower to hold water, and then, in between the two, you need what’s called a “wicking chamber” to draw water into the upper bucket. Did you have one? You can’t rely on the plants sipping the water from the lower bucket themselves. You have to bring it to them.

      So, check out all our various Self Irrigating Planter (sip) links– see related posts, above, and we have a how to video under videos. In general, SIPs work fantastically well.

      Also, google Green Roof Growers.

  2. I love reading your posts. They are always so informative. I feel like I learn something everytime I visit. I think I will try some of these SIPs this year, as we are transitioning from a row garden to raised beds and we are just starting out with a few. Thanks for the information

  3. Nice! I may try this. Container gardening is difficult in Austin due to our super hot summers. The containers just dry out so quickly and it’s not feasible to water them several times a day. Thanks.

    • SIPs are perfect for hot climates! Good luck and let us know how it goes.

  4. I have plastic bucket SIPs and love them, but a warning for people who want to make them pretty.

    My pots are several years old and the plastic has gotten very fragile and brittle in the sun. If you want to spend a lot of time painting them up, be prepared for them to fall apart later. Mine still hold water, but I have to be very careful when moving them. Several have had the handle or parts of the bucket rim snap off.

  5. When I first started reading your blog, three years ago, I made some SIPs from tote boxes and 5-gallon buckets. I spent a lot of time on them, but the ones made from totes degraded to the point of being unusable within one summer of hot Texas sun. The ones made from buckets lasted 2 summers and then fell apart. I invested in some of the commercially-made containers at that same time, and they are all still fine. I think that DIY SIPS are great, but perhaps it depends on where you live as to how long they will last.

    • I’m also in Texas and I think my oldest DIY SIPs are on year 4. They are fragile, but I try to place them where I want them and not move them too much. When I do move them, I push gently against the side of the bucket instead of grabbing the handle or rim area. This has seemed to help keep them intact.

  6. Does anyone make these out of non-plastic materials? I imagine whiskey barrels maybe or metal trash pails.. As somone mentioned above, being in socal means pretty harsh sun- plastic breaks down annoyingly fast.

    • True–I’ve had them degrade on me. The problem with metal trash pails is that they are coated in zinc which is both toxic to plants and humans. I think the best solution might be to stick with the food grade plastic buckets but enclose them in something to keep them out of the sun.

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