Last winter I took a series of gardening classes and one in particular intrigued me. The instructor, another Master Gardener in my county (in fact, she was the one that told me about the training program) taught one class on how to make self-irrigating planters. I love the acronym–SIPs–although I have to say these planters don’t really SIP. They use at least as much water as a regular planter, but more of that water is going into production because losses from soil evaporation are virtually nil.

In any case, a friend and I built a couple planters each one day. As I readied to plant them I realized I wanted more, so I obtained more supplies and built two more. Then I decided to teach a class at the county fair as part of the Master Gardener booth, so I built a couple more.

The latest two I made from buckets. One I kept empty to use as a prop for the class, but I planted the other with a melon. I hope that the black buckets will keep the soil warmer and produce good melons. I don’t get enough heat where I am to grow good melons or okra or other crops that require lots of heat, but the woman who taught me how to make these paints hers black and claims she is able to grow many hot-season plants that normally don’t grow here. I hope so, as I’d like to try growing okra again and eventually try sweet potatoes.

The photos of planted SIPs are from three dates: May 12, June 20 and July 2. As you can see, the plants are coming along nicely, in spite of the cool summer we have had so far. Now that our weather is starting to warm up, I expect spectacular growth.

So far, the main benefit I can see to the SIPs is that they allow people without dirt to grow food (or ornamentals) on a deck or balcony. I did plant a variety of foods in my planters, with the same or similar plants planted in my regular beds. Although the plants in the SIPS may be doing a little better, the difference isn’t significant. Nor to I see a significant difference in water usage. In fact, the SIPs may result in slightly more water usage. Within the set of planters, the second from left has one tomato and a zucchini. Together, and it’s mostly the zucchini I think, these two plants consume as much water as the other planters combined. So, the primary advantage seems to be that you can use them to grow on decks and balconies.