Pitcher irrigation techniques and uses...





Other Info

There is not enough of it to go around or it is too expensive to use in large quantities. You need to figure out a way to water your crops and your garden in a way that won't deplete the resources you have. You live in an arid or semi-arid area, but surface irrigation and drip watering are not effectively watering your crops in the dry season or during dry years. In addition, climate conditions of arid and semi-arid areas allow for large portions of water to be lost to evaporation in the more traditional techniques of irrigation.
Pitcher irrigation uses unglazed clay pots to distribute water by diffusion and capillary action through the wall of the clay pot. Pitchers are less expensive per acre and much more effective than traditional means. Per cubic meter of water, the buried clay pot method can produce 2.5 to 6 kilograms of total plant yield, compared to 1.4 kg with drip irrigation, 0.9 kg with sprinklers, and 0.7 kg in closed furrow irrigation systems (Bainbridge). Pitcher irrigation has been shown to save 98.7 percent of water used in sandy loam soils and with a seepage rate of 88 percent in just over 24 hours. This water storage and slow, continuous irrigation technique allows farmers to irrigate 5-acre fields with only a hand pump or other single source of water. The need for plowing and weeding are also minimized as the water source is below the surface and does not allow for weeds to get out of control (Soomro).



  • save over 90% of water over traditional irrigation methods
  • CHEAP!
  • easy to install, operate and maintain
  • low to no environmental impacts
  • controls weeds for you
  • can be used in colder climates with lower air temperatures
  • minimize erosion by keeping the water underground
  • implement as much or as little as needed

However, as with any system, pitcher irrigation is not a perfect solution. There is a dramatic disadvantage of plants becoming dependent on the pitchers for their only water source and therefore do not develop the deep-rooting systems that would develop otherwise.

When incorporating this irrigation method it is therefore important that the community understands this and is willing to commit to the labor required to check and fill the pots as needed. A large advantage to this is that the system can be implemented as intensively as desired; from one pot in a garden to 500 pots in a field. Gradual introduction of the pitchers can give communities a better understanding of what would be required on a larger scale before requireing them to commit to a large project. Pots can be added each year if the system works well with the community.



Created: 22 April 2003 by Kraig Lothe and Panchita Paulete.