IrrigationWaste WaterWaterWater ConservationWater Harvesting

Water Saving Irrigation Practices

Saving water in the soil is without a doubt the easiest and most effective way to manage the water flowing through your land. If you need extra irrigation, however, the water stored up in your soil isn´t easy to access. For irrigation needs, you´ll want to use water that you store in cisterns or tanks. This water can be harvested either from the sky in the form of rain or through capturing water from a spring, river or another source of fresh water.

Irrigation, unfortunately, is one of the most wasteful practices in modern day agriculture. From traditional sprinkler systems to large-scale irrigation by airplane and helicopter, millions of gallons of water are lost each year by irrigating pieces of land where nothing is growing.
For a plant to grow properly, it obviously needs water. That water resource, especially when limited, should be focused on the root area. While sprinkler systems, to name just one example, indiscriminately spray water over entire fields of plants, drip irrigation systems can focus water directly to the root zone of the plant where water is needed.

Drip irrigation systems have been reported to use 80% less water than traditional irrigation practices. Furthermore, since these systems direct water only underneath the plant, fungal diseases caused by excess water accumulating on the leaves can also be avoided. We will briefly look at two easy to set up drip irrigation methods below.

Bamboo Drip Irrigation

If you have the money, you can purchase drip irrigation systems that include everything from primary lines to secondary lines to emitters. These complete sets are usually pretty reliable though costly, and if treated correctly will last for several years. If you want the easy approach to drip irrigation, you can search the web for any number of drip irrigation systems.

Bamboo is a plant that can be found on every continent except Antarctica. It grows fast (often becoming an invasive species) and has an excellent resistance to water. Bamboo can be grown and harvested as a building material and it can also be split to be used as gutters on your house. There is also a growing body of evidence that shows that bamboo is also one of the best plants for capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Bamboo of any size or diameter can be used as a makeshift drip irrigation system as well. Simply take a piece of bamboo and split in in half with a machete. Lay the bamboo along your garden rows and mark where each tomato plant or lettuce plant will be planted. With a small drill bit (the smaller the better) drill holes along your marks.

Place the bamboo on the slightest of declines along the garden row. Transplant your seedlings next to each hole that you drilled. If you have a garden row that is longer than the piece of bamboo, simply place another piece of bamboo next to the first one and seal any gaps with glue or silicone. Make sure to maintain the slight decline to ensure proper flow.

To feed water into your split bamboo “emitters” you can run a PVC pipe perpendicular to the piece of bamboo and drill a hole in the PVC where it meets the bamboo. If you want to be 100% natural, you can use a full bamboo pole (not split) that is about 2 inches in diameter. Since most bamboo has periodic separations you will need to open those connections to allow the water to flow.

Connect a hose to the PVC pipe or bamboo pole and you´ll have an instant irrigation system. The strength of the water will depend upon how many garden rows you´re irrigating and how many individual holes you have drilled. If you have excess water accumulating at the end of your bamboo emitters, you´ll need to slow the water inflow.

Bottle Irrigation

For folks who enjoy small gardens or container gardens, bottle irrigation is another drip irrigation method that works well. If you habitually forget to water your plants, this technique is a simple way to keep your plants alive as well.

Take any plastic bottle with a twist-on cap (a two-liter soft drink bottle or a milk gallon jug work well) and make a small hole in the cap. Instead of a drill bit, you can use a heated needle that should poke through the plastic cap with a little bit of effort. Hang the bottle upside down over the plant you want to be watered. For indoor plants, you can tie a string from a window sill while for outdoor plants you may need to bind the bottle to a stake so that it hovers above the ground level.

The water should drip slowly out of the small hole you opened in your bottle. Since all of the water will go to one plant, the smaller the hole (and the slower the drip), the better. If you get more than a couple drips per minute you may have to try and make a smaller hole to avoid excessive moisture.

A gallon milk jug container should last for several days so that even the most forgetful of waterers will have a little bit of leeway.

Tobias Roberts

After working in the development industry for over a decade, Tobias decided it was time to stop advising Central American farmers how to do things if he didn´t have a piece of land to live coherently with what he taught. Together with his family he runs a small agro-forestry farm, tourism cooperative, and natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador.


  1. I have tried this plastic bottle method and found the holes become clogged after a few weeks and the water then becomes stale and smelly. A clay pot works much better, as the water slowly seeps through the entire pot and the roots grow around the pot; use a saucer or tray for a pot-lid. Another suggestion is to use any container, including a plastic bottle (though I prefer to not use plastic), and place one end of a thoroughly wet 12+” strip of terry towel cotton in the water filled pot, and the other end around the nearest plant, and just under the surface of the soil. I use at least two of these per pot.

  2. I understand there was an irrigation system used in old Mexico that used porous clay pots (like mentioned above) does anyone have an idea where such pots can be purchased at reasonable prices (in bulk )?

    1. Those pots are called “olla” or “oya” pots and can be found from many places, both locally and online. They’re especially wonderful in humus-rich, loamy soils!

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