What is a VersaPot Self-Watering Grow Bucket?
It is a 4, 5 or 6 gallon bucket altered to grow vegetables and flowers using a water reservoir in the base. Growing plants in self- watering buckets has been around for quite a while now, but our design has improved on the old method of using two buckets, one inside of the other, to create the water reservoir.

A Little History...
The first commercial growing system we saw was in Florida and they were growing tomatoes in blue 55 gallon drums cut in half. They had thousands of them. Their reason was the soil there wouldn’t hold water. The first time we saw vegetables growing in 5 gallon buckets was an herb farm in Florida. This was about 1999/2000, they had one bucket setting inside the other, the top bucket was the dirt bucket and the bottom was the water bucket. The dirt bucket had a 2” hole in the center for a water wick. The wick was made of rolled up terry cloth, which was stuck through the 2” hole in the dirt bucket, this allowed the water to be drawn up into the soil to the top bucket. There were several 1/8” holes in the bottom of the dirt bucket to allow excess water to run back into the reservoir. The water bucket had a ½” hole drilled in the side just under the dirt bucket eliminating the possibility of over watering, any excess water ran out the hole. After a few dumb questions we had enough information to build our own grow buckets. When we got back home we gathered up enough materials to build 50 grow buckets. That is how it started. Now we have nearly 5,000 buckets in production.

New 5 gallon buckets cost about $5.00 each and it is wasteful to use two if you can get by with one bucket. We solved this problem by designing a dirt plate that fits into a bucket with 6 legs to form the water reservoir, it has a 3” wick cup in the center, 1/8” drain holes and a 3/4” water fill tube hole. We designed the dirt plate to support the dirt 3” above the water reservoir. This eliminates the need for the second bucket. The water is wicked up through the soil in the net/ wicking cup into the grow bucket soil.

The net cup sits in the soil plate and extends down into the water reservoir. This system supplies a constant and even delivery of water to the plant. This eliminates the flooding or drought that is not good for growing quality plants, (assuming you keep the water reservoir filled).

When we introduced the grow bucket for sale for the first time we discovered people just wanted the dirt plate and net cup. Customers said they could provide their own buckets. But this caused a problem for us and them. The problem is buckets are not standardized in size. There is a 3/4” difference between the smallest to the largest buckets. The dirt plate won’t fit down into the smaller ones and there is a 1/2“gap between the dirt plate and the bucket wall in the larger buckets. This gap would leak dirt into the water reservoir. We solved the problem by adding a thin lip around the edge of the new dirt plate allowing it to fit all round 5 gallon buckets.

The kit consists of the soil plate with 6 legs, a 3” hydroponic net cup, a water fill pipe, coffee filter and instruction sheets.

Preparing the VersaPot

When starting with new buckets you can wipe the inside with a soapy rag and rinse with water. If you are starting with a used bucket, there are some things you will need to do to get it ready to put dirt in. Wash your bucket out vigorously with hot soapy water. Some very bad chemicals and oils come in plastic buckets. When we speak of bad we mean bad for plants. We can’t over stress this point enough. You will need to fit your dirt plate to your bucket and you will need to drill three or more 1/4" water overflow holes in the side of your bucket. The color of the bucket is important, black buckets will get too hot in the summer for most plants. If you live where the tempertures are mild all summer then you might want to use a black bucket, everywhere else will want to use white or light colored buckets.

The size of 4, 5 & 6 gallon buckets are not standardized. We had to make a dirt plate that would fit all round plastic buckets. The thin skirt can be trimmed to fit most buckets. (Note: A good fit between your dirt plate and bucket will keep the dirt out of the water reservoir.) The legs in the bottom of the dirt plate hold it off the bottom of the bucket, this is what forms the water reservoir.

The 6 legs should be installed in your dirt plate. Take your dirt plate with the legs down and try to press it into the bucket until the legs touch the bottom of the bucket. There are two ways to fit the dirt plate to the bucket: (1) You can trim the outer skirts diameter with scissors (see the witness rings on the skirt) until it fits your bucket. (2) The second way is the easiest, we think. Take your scissors and point them at the center of the dirt plate and cut up to the thick section. Repeat this cut every ¾” to 1½” around the circumference. You are making daisy petals around the outside edge of the dirt plate. When you push the dirt plate down until the 6 legs touch the bottom of the bucket, the thin skirt petals will fold up and fit your bucket. This holds the dirt out of the water

Now install the net cup. We have found it easier to fill the net/wick cup on the work bench. Put the coffee filter in the net cup and fill it with your soil. (The coffee filter keeps dirt out of your water reservoir.) The net cup seems to wick the water up into the dirt better if it is lightly compressed. So compress the dirt in the net cup slightly with your fingertips. We learned this by trial and error.

Before you install your dirt plate, net cup and fill tube you will have to drill some water over flow holes in the side of your bucket. The purpose of these holes is to prevent your grow bucket from holding too much water and becoming water logged. We recommend 3 to 6 equally spaced 1/4" holes drilled in the side of the bucket just under the dirt plate. If you or rain over fills your bucket it will simply run out of the water reservoir, just under the dirt plate. Place the bucket on a flat surface and measure up 3 inches from the bottom. Mark the hole on the outside of the bucket and drill it with a 1/4" drill bit. Install your dirt plate and see if the hole is just under the plate. If the next hole needs to be moved up or down adjust your measurement and drill the other holes accordingly. They don’t have to be perfect to work correctly. It won’t hurt the function of your grow bucket if you have six holes.

You are now ready to install your dirt plate, net/wick cup, water filler tube and dirt. The bucket's water reservoir will hold about a gallon of water. Pour the water down the 3/4" white fill tube until it runs out of the overflow holes and you are ready to plant.

Please note; the dirt will usually soak up at least a gallon of water the first day. We suggest you check the water level often the first few days until it stabilizes.

Suggested Reading

The Vegetable Gardener’s Container BIBLE by Mr. Ed C. Smith

The Complete Garden Expert by Dr. D.G. Hessayon

Organic Gardening for the 21 ST. Century by Mr. John Fedor


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