Garden Irrigation by curlydock

Here is a garden irrigation technique I am experimenting with. I have been using it for about a year. The testing is incomplete because this year there was plenty of rain. I am hoping this technique will reduce the amount of water needed to water a garden.

Fig 1
At various places in the garden plastic bottles are buried upright up to their mouths. The mouths of the plastic bottles are wide enough to accept the necks of inverted glass bottles, such as a wine bottles.

fig 2
The bottoms of the plastic bottles are either cut completely off or perforated. The perforations begin or the cut is at a level about five or six inches below the surface of the soil. Whether to cut or perforate may need to be determined by trial and error. If the soil does not drain well, you may want to cut the bottom completely off. If the soil drains very well, then you may prefer perforations.

The idea is that the water should slowly permeate the lower root zone without saturating the upper root zone. The longish neck of the wine bottle insures that the water level will never rise above the mouth of the wine bottle, which should be about two inches below the surface. Once the water reaches the mouth of the wine bottle, the water will stop feeding until the water recedes below that level by gradually soaking into the soil. The water will be fed automatically at a rate that will be just at the rate at which the earth can accept it. None of the water should reach the surface.

My wine bottles are filled from a rain barrel. Hold fingers over the wine bottle as you invert it over the plastic bottle so that you don’t lose too much water. There is no point to getting water on the surface and, in fact, there are good reasons not to. The surface is kept damp only when seedlings are first germinating or their roots are not long enough to reach the level of the neck of the inverted wine bottle. After that, irrigate only with the wine bottles.

I am hoping the advantages of this method are:

1. Cheap. A friend supplied me with plenty of empty wine bottles. The plastic bottles are typically the ones that single-serving juice came in. They have mouths wide enough to accept the wine bottles without being cut down.

2. Re-use bottles that would have been piled in a dump or re-cycled.

3. I believe less water will be needed to keep the garden hydrated because the water is not poured over the surface where most of it would either evaporate or run off. Instead, it is fed directly to the deep roots where it is most needed. The upper roots of the plant are more for oxygen absorption than water or nutrient absorption. This technique should reduce the likelihood of drowning the plants by over-watering.

4. I think the drier soil surface will discourage slugs. I understand that slugs like things nice and damp.

5. Other irrigation methods are more of a tear-up. More of the garden surface needs to be dug up. The burying of long drip pipes would need to be done before the garden is planted. The wine-bottle method could be implemented after the garden is growing.

6. The wine-bottle method seems ideally suited for cold frames where it is especially important not to get things too damp. The frame will have a cover to keep rain off. The wine bottles full of water could be kept in a warm place. When they are used, they will help to keep the root zone of the cold frame plants nice and warm. The bottles could be warmed on a sunny windowsill or in a solar oven.


If you try this wine-bottle technique for garden irrigation, I would like to learn of your results and what you think of the method.

fig 4

Published in: on November 6, 2006 at 9:46 pm  Comments (46)  

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46 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i love that!

  2. Hi, this was neat. I subbed to your blog (and sent DH the link to the no-power radio post).

  3. Thanks for your interest. I have not been updating this blog for several months but may get back to it in the future. I still check in now and then and see if there are any new comments.

  4. Very cool – I think I will try it!

  5. This is a super fantastic idea on so many levels!

    Not only is it an ingenious was to irrigate my garden … but the shallow indent at the bottom (top) of the inverted wine bottle is perfect for catching rainwater that will keep the bees (and other helpful insects) in my garden happy!

    As far as slugs go … I’m in the Pacific Northwest where we have commando slugs that grow to the size of small Winnebago’s. I don’t think this technique alone will keep then at bay! But it can’t possibly hurt!

    I’m heading over to my local restaurant to acquire the wine bottles — since they’d only go to recycling anyway.

    You should definitely keep up this blog! I’ve just discovered it and am already finding ideas very helpful!

    • Aldo in PNW. Ditto that on the slugs! I’ve been collecting wine bottles and will put this idea to the test this season. Thanks!

  6. Thank you, maryanne, for your comment.

    I have so many projects that I have not had time to test this particular watering technique with scientific rigor. Also, my garden is very small, which leaves little room for both dependent and independent variables. I look forward to hearing of the results of any others who try this.

    Your observation about the bottom of the bottles making little watering wells seems to be on target. This summer I had a beautiful garden spider build a web very close to one of the bottles. I read that the garden spider likes a source of water so I made sure that that particular little well was always full for the spider. It is a good idea to change the water every couple of days so mosquitoes can not breed in it.

    Also this last summer, I inverted a plastic dust bin lid in a shallow depression dug in one part of the garden and kept it filled with water from a rain barrel. In this little “pond” I placed an overturned strawberry pot made of fired clay and some gravel. Next to that I made some little caves or “toad abodes” out of some rocks and concrete blocks.

    The original idea was to attract toads. The strawberry pot and little cave was for sanctuary, a place to escape from hungry birds and cats. The gravel formed a small ramp so bugs and worms that fell in could get to a dry place and perhaps climb out.

    I have not attracted a toad yet, but even if I never do I am going to keep the little pond.

    I have observed that many other insects and animals appreciate the watering hole. The gravel doubles as a place for the bird feet to get a purchase while the bird takes a bath. I noticed that they always bathe in that part. Wasps, bees, flies and many other beasties are attracted to the water. If the squirrel can get a drink there perhaps it will be less likely to slake its thirst on one of my tomatoes. It is an education in itself.

    I change the water every couple of days to keep it fresh and eliminate mosquito larvae. I pour the old water right into the depression under the lid after checking to see if there are any slugs under there. Any slugs found there I move to the cold compost heap where they are more likely to do good than damage. So, the little pond doubles as a slug trap!

    Thanks again for your input. I would like to know the results of your own experiments.


  7. thanks for this item , i want know more information of this system irrigation

  8. that is incredible! I never knew that could be done like that.

  9. I’m an avid wine drinker and a garden rookie. My dad used to keep a wonderful veggie garden when I was growing up and this year I plan on starting my own! I’ve seen the little glass globe irrigation thingamajigs in gardening magazines etc. Same concept, right? I like this idea because I always buy these cool bottles of wine and hate tossing them into recycling to never see them again. This way I can still recycle and see them in my garden!

    I’m absolutely going to give this a try and I REALLY hope it works! If not…I’ll just line my garden in wine bottles for the heck of it 🙂

  10. jules:

    You are right. The “…little glass globe irrigation thingamajigs in gardening magazines…” were part of the inspiration for this experiment.

    There are certain pet and chicken watering devices that work this way. They automatically feed the water a little at a time as it is used.

    It is important that the top inverted bottle be made of something rigid like glass. If it were flexible, as in a plastic milk bottle, it would act like the bulb of a medicine dropper and the atmospheric pressure would cause the water to feed too quickly.

    Also, it is important that the neck of the top bottle extend below the surface several inches. That will keep the water away from the surface where it is not needed, would be wasted, or even cause problems.

    I am still evaluating my own experiment and am looking forward to hearing the results of other peoples efforts.

  11. Hi!

    The buried bottles are nice, but you’re only halfway there. You have sustainable methods, but you’re missing the maintenance free end. If you bury a plastic bottle to its neck and then run a black rubber drip line found at Lowes through the top where you drilled a hole, the hole will be a tight fit and you won’t lose any water to evaporation. If you run the other end of the drip line to a nipple attached to a two inch or three inch in diameter capped pvc pipe, then you can attach a bunch of small drip lines. Then, if you attach a hose to a line that runs downhill from your rainbarrel, you can put a water timer one one end of the hose and the pvc in the other. Your rainbarrel will fill the pvc, and the pvc will slowly fill the bottles. Then, you can have the same benefit of an evaporation-proof garden without having to fill wine bottles every day from the spigot on the rainbarrel. I have that set up attached to a fifteen hundred gallon tank attached to my gutter, and the pressure is great.


  12. shu-ncrew:

    Thanks for your input. It is interesting to know that your system works and you are pleased with it.

    You are correct to say that this wine-bottle method is work intensive, especially for a large garden. My experimental garden is small enough and my rain barrels close enough that I can fill the bottles one at a time on the spot.

    I did consider what I might do someday to reduce the labor. One idea is to keep a small wagon full of empty bottles. The whole wagon of bottles can be filled at once from the barrel. Then, you can pull the wagon of filled bottles through your garden, exchanging at each station a filled bottled with an empty one. The buried plastic bottles allow the exchange of wine bottles to go very quickly.

    During this route, you can also pull weeds and pests and keep a close eye on what is happening in your garden, which is particularly important in an organic garden. You are less likely to do this if a higher tech solution takes away the need for this garden intimacy.

    Here are some more thoughts on the method in your comment:

    1. The “rubber” drip line and “pvc pipe” you purchase from a hardware store are more likely to be a product of petroleum abuse. The plastic bottles in the wine bottle method are not purchased. They are rescued from a re-cycle bin or trash heap.

    2. You said I have sustainable methods, but am “missing the maintenance free end”. To my way of thinking, the definition of life is work. The question is, do I want to spend my time and effort in a cubicle, or, alternatively, outside in the fresh air and sunshine “maintaining” my garden?

    3. The “water timer” you use is another high-tech input that will need to be purchased and will have a provenance of complex production behind it. It probably requires energy in the form of electricity to operate. Electricity is, at least in my state, mostly gotten through the abuse of coal burning. In contrast, the gradual feed of water for which this timer functions is achieved automatically in the wine-bottle method by simple and sustainable technology.

    4. There is probably no real difference is evaporative water loss in either method.

    What I seek in this blog are methods of application of technology in a way that is sustainable and socially responsible. The day may come that many of us will have little money and there may not even be a hardware store open any more where we can spend it. We might plug our electrically driven pumps in the wall outlet, but they will not work unless the outlet is supplying power. How will we get our food?

  13. I stay in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. We have a small trial nursery for Jatropha trees. The problem is watering the trees. We had no rainfall the last 6 months. I have two youtube video-clips, but one of these is in Dutch language. I tried to explaine that I use waterbotle for wterring the trees.
    and allso next videoclip:

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    Garden Irrigation by curlydock | Green Man Waiting

  45. Such a clever idea. I love how you’re able to use items that would be otherwise discarded for such a useful end.

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