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The problem of water shortage continues to grow – both locally and globally. At the same time the need for restoration of dry lands and more food production from deserts and dry lands are both increasing.

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Buried Clay Pot Irrigation

  • One of the most studied, and very effective systems uses a buried clay pot full of water to irrigate plants
  • The capillary flow of water through the clay walls of the pot is regulated by demand – so little water is wasted
  • Highly recommended! For restoration, gardens, landscaping, farming
  • Clay pots worked well even in the lowest, hottest desert
  • Excellent for seedlings or for starting seeds or cuttings
  • Pot rim painted white to reduce evaporation

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Getting Started

  • Regular red clay pots work well
  • Seal the bottom hole with a cork or sealant
  • Use a lid with a small hole drilled in it to capture rainwater
  • Set the pot in the soil so the rim is above ground
  • You don’t want the dirt and leaves to wash in
  • Firm the soil around the pot — and plant

A Long Tradition

  • A Chinese agricultural text describes the use of buried clay pot irrigation in China more than 2,000 years ago
  • Excerpts from this book provided my inspiration — writing does speak across time
  • I later found work and use of clay pots in Iran, Pakistan, Mexico and other countries

Fewer Weeds

  • Another great advantage of buried clay pots (and other deep watering systems) is reduced weed growth
  • In one study weeds were cut 87%
  • Less work – and less wasted water!
  • Buried clay pots have also proved to be very effective when saline water must be used – or when salt is a

problem in the soil

  • The steady moisture reduces salt buildup in the root zone and damage

Starting Cuttings

  • Double clay pots are ideal for starting cuttings
  • The inner pot is sealed and filled with water
  • The moisture is maintained in the soil at an ideal level
  • BCP are good for starting cuttings in the field as well

Deep Pipe Irrigation

  • This method of irrigation was suggested by a traditional system from India – where water was placed in the hollow stem of a dead plant to water deeper in the soil
  • Subsequent research found one study and one report from India
  • This has been our best system for restoration work — cheap, durable and very effective

Deep pipe installation

  • The pipe may be about 14-16” long, 2” diameter, set vertically
  • Small holes are drilled on the plant side below soil level
  • A screen lid is glued on to protect wildlife

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Deep pipe drip

  • Where a drip system can be set up it can also be used in a deep pipe
  • Smaller pipes can be used with the emitter inserted in the pipe

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No waste

  • Little water evaporates because the water is placed in the deep soil
  • Little time is wasted because it is fast and easy to fill the pipe
  • It works very well on slopes
  • It develops large root systems

Excellent Results

  • Survival can be good with very little water
  • Mesquite trees were started with a total of only 5 gallons of water in the first year
  • Not five gallons a week or two gallons an hour

Wick Irrigation

  • Wick systems were also described in reports from India
  • Wicks were traditionally combined with clay pots to water orchard trees
  • After trying several types of wick systems I think this may be the next great thing!

Wick options

  • Wicks can be used in a capillary form, where water is wicked from a reservoir to the plant through a raised section by capillary forces (as little as 20 ml day)
  • Or in a gravity feed form, with the reservoir above the wick (a hose clamp can be used to adjust the flow rate)
  • Wick with clay pot
  • With a riser tube in bottom hole
  • Capillary wick from buried bottle in plastic tube

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More wick options

  • Half inch diameter gravity wick with large reservoir
  • Installed with treeshelter and wire cages for jack rabbit protection
  • Seedlings topped treeshelter at 3 weeks!

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Wick Material

  • The best material has been old, used woven nylon rope (1/4”-1/2”)
  • Fresh woven nylon rope can be used if it is washed with detergent to remove oils – but it is not as good as old rope
  • Cotton is used in India, but tended to mold in my early tests

Porous Hose

  • This system uses a vertically placed leaky or porous hose section
  • It performs a bit like a clay pot–only it is cheaper and smaller
  • These hoses are made of recycled rubber and hold up well
  • This can be fed by a bottle
  • Or attached to a drip type line
  • Both have worked reasonably well
  • A fast rate hose is needed to work at low pressure

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Tree shelter

  • Watering into a tree shelter is also effective if the base is sealed into the soil
  • This can be done by hand from a hose, water jugs or using a drip type system

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Perforated Pipe

  • Sub-irrigation can also be done with slotted drain pipe
  • The pipe is laid deep in the soil and filled with water using a water truck
  • Best for lines of plants – good for landscaping

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Porous Capsules

  • A modern adaptation of buried clay pot irrigation was developed in Brazil
  • The clay is formed into a capsule that can be placed on a water line
  • These worked well — but were more costly to make

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Types

  • Porous capsule made by gluing two red clay pots together (I would use Gorilla glue now)
  • Porous capsules made by a staffer using a beer bottle for a mold

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  • These are easy to plumb in a system
  • Or they can be gravity fed from a bottle or tank
  • These are very efficient
  • A range of smaller porous irrigation systems are sold for container plants

Microcatchments

  • A microcatchment is a specially contoured area with slopes and berms designed to increase runoff and concentrate it
  • Rain falling on the catchment area drains into a planting basin where it infiltrates and is effectively “stored” in the soil profile
  • Used for millennia – very effective if it rains! But can be easily filled from a water truck if it doesn’t
  • Microcatchments can be shaped to look more natural, but do entail disturbing the soil surface
  • More appropriate in agriculture – but has worked well on restoration projects.

About Gopal MishraVerified

Gopal Mishra is a Civil Engineer from NIT Calicut and has more than 10 years of experience in Civil Engineering and Construction. He is the founder of The Constructor.