The Self Watering Bucket

Sometimes there is no rule book and you don’t know where you are going to end up doing permaculture research but we think we have made some interesting discoveries.

Watering fruit and vegetable plants is really important and a big time and resource for many people around the world. This new permaculture research might grow a new type of irrigation system that effectively counts the rationed drops of water from a water tank and out to each part of the garden or garden bed. All this “drop irrigation” without a pump on a flat site – what a challenge!

Buckets emptying by themselves might sound like the magic of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” but I just made creative use of gravity and hydrology. I was inspired by the needs of permaculture and conservation in a world that must better manage water and return environmental flows.

I effectively turned a bucket into an hourglass. The drips accumulate in the bucket until one last drip triggers the discharge of the bucket out across the tubes leading out over the garden bed. The 8 flexible irrigation pipe tubes start in what I call “the octopus” then extend out through the bucket wall. It is the octopus that provides the mechanism to trigger the distribution of the contents of the bucket.

The other way of thinking of this is as a new type of pulse sprinkler that stores up the low pressure droplets and then occasionally releases them in spilling surges out multiple tubes to spread out directly over a whole garden bed. These would ideally be laid under mulch and in really dry country with a plastic liner across the base to block moisture leakage directly into underlying cracking clays and tree roots.

Each leg has a tap on it that can be used to adjust how much flow and what proportion of the bucket contents passes out each leg. Typically this will range from zero through to an eighth of the bucket flow volume but this could end up greater if the other legs are cut back and up to 100% if the other legs are all turned off. This would also drag out the discharge period and reactivation frequency so adjustment for this may also have to be made if the application timing is important. Non-application time is important to let the soil dry out a little and not over saturate.

– These articles contain research ideas and our local experience. Note that your circumstances, plastics available, site risks, local public health issues with water quality such as microbes, parasites and mosquito control issues may be very different. Check with local authorities if you are unsure and make the appropriate adjustments or take appropriate precautions to protect yourself and others from these local risks.


  1. I’m sure this would be a very useful system for my plot but I don’t really understand how it functions. Could you write it again with more diagrams? (I see that there are probably photos at the end but they don’t open.)

  2. Great ingenuity. But, check out ‘automatic bell siphons’. No moving parts. They have been used for years with great success in septic tanks.

    1. Thank you Paul, Pretty hard to start siphons with really low flow rates as low as one drip every 8 seconds. These just leak over the top of most siphons unless really well balanced and precision designed. This is all about cheap and simple and getting even spread out each tube or multiple tubes that is difficult to achieve with a surge flow.
      This only a prototype and should get better and the only moving parts are flexing tubes. As simple as I could make it.

  3. Siphon will work fine as long as the tube has a small enough diameter. i.e. about 5mm. The meniscus of the water will ensure it cant drip through the siphon. Much simpler.

  4. Nice topic. Recently I started gardening. I was facing problem with watering with insufficient stocks of water. Most of the watering tool I found was not too good, but here I found something very innovative water saving watering tool named “WiserWand” (you can take a look : It’s very effective for me.

    1. Wiserwand looks interesting and looks like an improvement on the hose. Might help with dilute nutrient injection to. I am trying to devise a system though where I just go around occasionally seeing what might not be getting enough water and most of the time doing things other than watering !! Tuning the system to the weather should not take long when ever the weather changes. Cheers :-)

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