Thirty-five Water Conservation Methods for Agriculture, Farming, and Gardening. Part 2.

Please note that this is the second of a special four-part series here at Big Picture Agriculture listing and describing methods to help produce more food with less water. This post, Part 2, lists methods 6 through 15.

6. Ripper-Furrower Planting System

In northern Namibia, farmers are using a ripper-furrower to rip 60 cm (2 feet) deep and form furrows which function to harvest rainfall. The crop seeds are planted into the rip lines with fertilizer and manure. When it rains, the water is funneled by the furrows to the crop roots.

Tractors are used the first year to start the ripped furrow system. After the first year, farmers plant crops directly into the rip lines using an animal drawn direct seeder.

This practice is being used to plant drought tolerant millet, sorghum, and maize. Farmers using the system are encouraged to practice crop rotation with legumes.

These practices together lengthen the growing season and improve the soil’s structure, fertility, and moisture retention. They improve crop growing in both droughts and floods. Average maize yields have increased from 300 kg/hectare to 1.5 tonnes/hectare, or five-fold in Namibia since using this system.

This method of rainwater harvesting especially aids in regions where soil is dry, solid, and crusty. Whereas the rain previously ran off, now it soaks into the ground right where it is needed to grow the crop.

7. Acequias

The above photo is a wooden aqueduct near Las Trampas, New Mexico on the High Road to Taos. The aqueduct spans a deep gorge at an approximate elevation of 8,000 feet above sea level.

This is an example of an acequia, which is a historical engineered canal that carries snow runoff or river water to a distant field. Acequias are commonly ditches, and need to be planned, maintained, and overseen by groups of cooperative farmers. Acequia water law requires that all persons with irrigation rights participate in the annual maintenance of the community ditch including the annual spring time ditch cleanup.

Acequias originated in Spain and were built later in the Spanish-American colonies.

8. Subsurface Irrigation Systems

Below is a graphic from the Netafilm subsurface irrigation system.

Advantages of subsurface irrigation systems include:
• water savings
• improved crop yields
• no surface evaporation
• no soil and nutrient run-off
• nutrients can be applied at the root
• there is less disease and fewer weeds
• it requires less labor
• produces uniform moisture at the root zone
• reduced amount of energy is required for pumping

Plus, they are especially suitable for hot, windy regions.

Disadvantages include the high initial cost requirement, clogging and leaking problems, and potential rodent damage. Problems can’t be seen since they are below the ground. Maintenance requirements are chemical injections, an annual clean-up flush, and draining the pipes before it freezes each fall.

A 2009 Colorado State University study estimated that a subsurface drip irrigation system costs $1000 to $2000 per acre and lasts 12 to 15 years, or up to 20 with good maintenance. CSU adds that “if center pivots last 20 to 25 years, these must last 10 to 15 years to be economically competitive.”

9. Water Storage

In the photo above, an excavated water holding reservoir was dug to collect water during heavy rains. It was built lower than the remaining field where some terracing work was also done, so that gravity could do the collecting. A drip irrigation system with some type of pump might be added, and the small pond can also be lined with plastic.

Holding ponds or small storage tanks on small farms can also be fed through canal irrigation. They can collect the water when it is available to be used by the farmer — when needed or when it is a convenient time to irrigate.

There are many kinds of tanks: steel rimmed tanks, plastered concrete tanks, cisterns which are covered storage tanks either above or below ground, and birkahs which are open reservoirs. For both the cisterns and birkahs, channels, dykes, or (stone) walls constructed as wings can be used to aid in collecting water for the reservoir.

Holding ponds fed by canal systems are useful for center pivot irrigation, too.

10. Black Plastic Mulch, and Organic Mulches Can Save 25 Percent in Water Requirements

Organic vegetable producers in drier, cooler climates such as ours on the front range of Colorado like to use black polyethylene plastic film as mulch on vegetable row crops for multiple reasons.

When drip irrigation is laid underneath the plastic film, it delivers water and fertilizer to the plants and evaporation is reduced. But, because there is no surface evaporation of water, it is easy to over-irrigate crops. For this reason, a moisture probe should be used to check root zone moisture levels.

In addition to providing water conservation, this synthetic mulch controls weeds and warms the soil, making for an earlier crop. The black plastic mulch can be covered with hay or straw to protect crops from excessive heat later in the summer.

In addition to black plastic film which can only be used one season, black woven landscape cloth is often used, which can be reused up to seven years.

Organic mulches such as straw, hay, grass clippings, pine needles, and leaves also conserve moisture. These organic mulches add organic matter to the soil after they decompose. One needs to pay attention how different organic mulches can change the soil chemistry, however.

Finally, green living mulches, or cover crops, can help to conserve moisture if the right cover crop is used for the right agricultural crop given its soil and climate conditions.

11. Sand Dams

Sand dams were developed by the Romans in 400BC.

Experts agree that Africa is especially well-suited to benefit from this fairly simple concept. One sand dam can provide clean drinking water and enough water for gardening and farming for a thousand people, lasting several months after the rains have fallen.

As a rain water collection system, they create a life generating spring where there was none before, by storing wet season water in sand, which filters the water and keeps it from evaporating.

A hand pump can be installed which accesses the deeper, stored, clean water.

Fruit and other trees can be planted near the dams and grass can be added for erosion control.

To construct the dams, villagers line up to dig a deep trench which is filled with concrete and the rainy season backfills the new wall with sand over several rainy seasons. These walls might be 90 meters long and 2-4 meters high. Located across small rivers which stop flowing in the dry season, the sand becomes about 40% saturated with water and can hold 2 to 10 million liters.

This technique has been used in India, Africa, and South America for the past fifty years, but remains underutilized.

To learn more, watch this video.

12. Plastic Buckets for Starting Young Trees

A great time-saver for irrigating newly planted trees is to use recycled 5-gallon plastic buckets. These are often discarded at construction sites. You first need to drill one or two 1/32 inch or smaller holes towards one side of the bottom of the bucket. Set it next to your small tree and fill with water every 1 to 2 weeks. You may move it to the opposite side of the tree each time you refill it.

Or, you can connect a small tube from the bucket into the soil to slowly irrigate, as in the photo above.

Gravity does the remainder of the work for you. If you have a row of seedling trees for a new windbreak, you can refill your water buckets from a tractor water tank if you have one. The idea may be adapted to irrigate berry shrubs and tomatoes, too.

13. Efficiency through Center Pivot Irrigation

As compared to the old days when center pivot irrigation lost an enormous amount of water through evaporation by spraying the water high into the air during hot weather, today’s systems are much more efficient. This efficiency comes from putting sprinkler heads, or nozzles on hose drops, as pictured above, to minimize water drift and evaporation. (Often the hose drops are lower than in this photo.) The systems can be customized with many available options. These newer Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA) center-pivot systems also use less electricity.

The above diagram is the schematic for an organic vegetable farmer’s field here in Boulder County, Colorado. This scheme is used in the center pivot’s electronic control box to set the time, and thus, the amount of irrigation applied to each specific vegetable crop. By planting the field of vegetables in a pie shape, each vegetable’s irrigation requirement can be customized for maximum water use efficiency.

This is the holding pond which supplies the water for the center pivot irrigation. It is fed from snow melt that is distributed through nearby surface ditch irrigation. In this semi-arid region, these water holding ponds are extremely valuable to local farmers.

Soil sensors can be employed to monitor soil moisture levels for center pivot irrigation which can report results directly to the owner’s computer. This helps to prevent overirrigating.

14. Rotational Grazing Systems

The above USDA photo is an example of a shared water tank for cattle in a four-paddock rotational grazing system in Iowa. Although livestock can get the majority of their water from lush forage which is 70 to 90 percent water, they still need to have a supply of drinking water. (Cattle can require 15-20 gallons of water per day, yearlings 10-15 gallons, and sheep 2-3 gallons per day.)

With good grazing management, decreased water run off and increased soil organic matter keeps pastures more resistant to droughts. During hard rains, pastures can absorb water better due to organic matter in the soils and better forage cover as compared to industrial farm fields. Reduced erosion rates preserve these fertile soils with higher water holding capacity for future crop production. The key is not to overgraze the land.

Pastures have reduced soil and fertilizer run off compared to cropped fields and barnyard herds. The animals hooves help break up the soil surface allowing better water penetration and their manure fertilizes the plants and makes healthy microbial life in the pasture soils. The input costs for the farmer are low and he or she sells “grass” in the form of meat on the hoof.

15. Gravity Drip Bucket Irrigation Systems for Vegetable Gardens

source: double in Kenya

Bucket gardens are a simple technology that is gaining a foothold for subsistence farmers in Africa, India, and at least 150 other nations. Utilizing plastic buckets or larger containers, and drip irrigation tape, these systems enhance food security.

Buckets need to be elevated on stands that are at least three feet above the ground — on the high end of the garden, if it is not flat. Beds should be prepared with compost or organic material and manure and then leveled. The drip tape can then be set up, and with care, the system should last 5-7 years.

Next, see one method of attaching drip lines to the bottom of a plastic bucket.

source: bucket detail from chaplin living waters
Below is a diagram of a system which is sold by Chaplin living waters.

source: chaplin living waters
This next photo shows an elaborate bucket drip irrigation set-up in Kenya.

source Kenya: green empire farms
For further instructions, you may visit the site Drip Bucket Irrigation.


(End of Part 2.)

35 Water Conservation Methods for Agriculture, Farming, and Gardening. Part 1.
35 Water Conservation Methods for Agriculture, Farming, and Gardening. Part 2.
35 Water Conservation Methods for Agriculture, Farming, and Gardening. Part 3.
35 Water Conservation Methods for Agriculture, Farming, and Gardening. Part 4. 

5 thoughts on “Thirty-five Water Conservation Methods for Agriculture, Farming, and Gardening. Part 2.

  1. Syed khadim Ullah

    Hi, I am very glad to use your co-operation here in concern to our research work, … please carry on this good job and I would like to be one of you…. regarded by Syed Khadim Ullah Noor


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