Category Archives: permaculture

Thirty-five Water Conservation Methods for Agriculture, Farming, and Gardening. Part 3.

Please note that this is the third of a special four-part series here at Big Picture Agriculture listing and describing methods for “doing more with less” water use in farming. This Part 3 post lists methods 16 through 25.

16. Organic Farm Soils Require Less Water to Grow Crops

In the Rodale Institute’s 30 year farming systems trial, they found that organic outperforms conventional in years of drought as shown in the photo above. Organic fields increased groundwater recharge and reduced runoff as compared to industrial farming. The organic farm fields had 15 to 20 percent higher water volumes “percolating” through their soils. When rain falls, the organic soils absorb the water instead of running off the surface and taking soil with it. During periods of drought, healthy crop roots can access the stored water present in the organic field soils. And by practicing crop rotation, soil retains more water, reducing erosion and the need for irrigation.

In conservation agriculture or natural farming systems, zero tillage, crop rotations, manure fertilizer, cover crops, and residues help to protect the soil and increase organic matter. During rains, healthy organic soils absorb water and store it better. Good soil structure with macropores allows the water to go deep into the soil where it can be accessed by roots and is less prone to evaporation.

17. Drought Tolerant Livestock Breeds

The Nelore cattle breed is of the Zebu species from India and has been raised extensively in Brazil. It does better than most other cattle breeds in conditions of heat, poor range quality, and drought. Its hallmark is the prominent hump behind its neck. Other breeds of the drought tolerant zebu are found in Africa.

In the U.S., the Texas longhorn is gentle, provides lean meat, and is heat and drought-tolerant.

Sheep are very drought tolerant, requiring as little as two gallons of water per day. During the cooler season they require little or no supplemental water beyond their forage intake. Navajo-Churro Sheep are a drought-resistant breed which is tolerant of temperature extremes and can subsist on marginal forage with minimal grain. The Dorper sheep (see photo) is a hardy, popular breed in South Africa. Originating in arid conditions, it is highly adaptable to many environments. Dorper’s have been popular in the U.S. since 1995.

Free range chickens are also efficient meat producers requiring little, but adequate water.

18. Change our Diets

To conserve water, diets should be regionally appropriate and in season. Water use is embedded in our food processing, packaging, and distribution systems, so eating locally, unprocessed food saves both water and energy. Some argue that meat consumption is an extravagant use of water, but if a region has abundant grass and rainfall, like for example New York state or Vermont, then grass fed livestock is a water efficient protein source from either meat or milk.

Drought tolerant crops should be consumed in drier regions, such as dried beans, lentils, wheat, millet, and squash. Rainfed or drip irrigated fruit and nut trees produce water efficient food. Some tuber crops and root vegetables are also water efficient.

Much of today’s food transportation system is extremely efficient, allowing for easy trade from the regions that are best suited for growing certain crops. But we need to pay attention to where food comes from when buying at the market, casting an important vote with each dollar spent.

We can save water by taking care to reduce food waste on a personal level. Don’t buy more than you need, store it appropriately, and compost the waste to recycle it into future food.

Thankfully, there is an enormous amount of resilience and adaptability in the human diet.

19. No Biofuels Mandates, Please

Biofuel production competes with food production. In the energy-water-food nexus, the IEA (International Energy Agency) predicts that biofuels production will attribute 30 percent of the new demand for water by 2035. It would create the second largest new demand for water, next to coal. (Fracking requires less water than biofuels production.)

The IEA anticipates a 242 percent increase in water consumption for biofuels by 2035. Ethanol and biodiesel now account for more than half of the water consumed for primary fuel production while they only provide less than 3 percent of the energy used to fuel our transportation fleet.

The IEA estimates that corn ethanol uses 4 to 560 gallons of water for every gallon of corn ethanol produced, varying by region. This compares to gasoline which uses .25 to 4 gallons of water per gallon of fuel produced. Furthermore, precious aquifer water should not be permitted to provide irrigation for corn grown for fuel. According to one study, consumptive water use for ethanol production in the U.S. increased 246 percent between 2005 and 2008 and has particularly gone up in the Ogallala Aquifer region. The GAO estimates the average water consumed in corn ethanol production at 324 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol, 88 percent from groundwater.

20. Recycle Wastewater

Wastewater can be recycled and reused for agriculture. Urban wastewater that is treated adequately can be recycled into rivers where it can be reused downstream.

Nations which reclaim the highest percentage of their wastewater include Israel, Spain, Australia, Japan, Middle Eastern nations, Mexico, Latin America, Caribbean, and the U.S. states of Florida and California. Reclaimed water is used for agriculture and irrigation.

Costs for large scale treatment of wastewater are much higher than having available freshwater, even for crops which are not directly consumed by humans. For urban wastewater reuse, the agricultural production needs to be reasonably close to the city providing the water source.

Untreated wastewater is the only option for irrigation in many poor farming regions. Affordable treatment technologies need to become more available to these areas which maximize benefits with the lowest possible risks. Unique and regionally appropriate solutions should be used.

Domestic graywater (laundry, dishwashing and bathing water) can be collected and recycled through a setup of wetlands and aquatic plants which purify it so that it can be used in the garden.

21. Qanats

Qanats are old Persian water management systems which draw upon underground water sources, often at the base of mountains. They allow for the creation of a living oasis in the midst of deserts. They are made up of a series of well-like vertical shafts, connected by gently sloping tunnels. Large amounts of water are brought to the surface without pumping by using gravity. Qanats as a water source are nearly as reliable in dry years as in wet years. Qanats allow water to be transported over long distances in hot dry climates with minimal loss of water to evaporation. They are used to provide irrigation in hot, arid and semi-arid climates and many are still in existence today, operating in regions from China across to Morocco.

To learn more about the construction of Qanats and their history, I recommend this site.

22. Rain Water Harvesting and Rain Gardens

(Left) The city of Santa Rosa, California offers a rebate for each gallon of rainwater stored.

(Below) The city of Raleigh, North Carolina worked together with its fire department to set up a rainwater collection and storage system that helps the fire department use less of the city’s drinking water supply.

Some gardeners set up rainwater collection systems which are used to water their vegetable gardens, often employing them in drip irrigation plans.

In addition to harvesting rainwater from roofs, there are methods to harvest rainwater in the soil. The goal is to prevent runoff by encouraging water infiltration into the soil, and then minimizing evaporation. One way to do this is by planting a “rain garden,” which is a collection of shrubs or native plants located in a depressed spot that collects runoff. These collect up to a third more water from roofs, sidewalks, driveways, and lawns that would otherwise enter waterways. Urban rain gardens filter out pollutants to help keep local streams cleaner.

Rainwater may be harvested on a small scale to grow fruit trees, water small livestock, or support fish ponds. The collected water can be stored in small tanks above or below ground, in drums, or in small reservoirs.

On a farm, in situ rain harvesting and filtering are accomplished through having buffer strips, grassy areas, terraces, off-stream storage reservoirs, and natural wetland areas.

23. Canal or Ditch Irrigation

Canal irrigation is a surface flooding irrigation method, the most common type of irrigation in the world. Because surface flooding accounts for most irrigation, it is very important to develop and promote methods or technologies which improve the efficiency of canal irrigation.

This is a method of transferring water from a water source to fields. Canals, ditches, basins, furrows, borders, pipes, and surface flooding provide ways to move the water by gravity. Surface flooding can lose more than 50 percent of the water used through evaporation and runoff. Furthermore, soil salinity, loss of nutrients, and runoff pollution can occur. Laser leveling of the land helps improve efficiency.

Seepage from canals or ditches can be reduced by reinforcement of the canal banks and by sealing or lining the canals. Roughly 60 to 80 percent of the water that is lost in unlined canals can be saved through hard-surface lining. Lined canals and ditches may use concrete, concrete blocks, bricks or stone masonry, sand cement, compacted clay, or membranes made of plastic or other materials to line the bottom and sides.

Canal maintenance should be a priority. Inspections are helpful, and keeping the systems weed-free greatly improves their efficiency.

(Note that the top photo, taken here in Colorado, shows a concrete lined ditch with siphon pipes to be placed in furrows for irrigation. The photo on the right, also taken here in Colorado, shows a ditch lined with black plastic.)

24. Polyethylene or Aluminum Gated Pipe Irrigation

Gated Pipes made from aluminum or plastic can be used in the arid West instead of ditch irrigation and they can also be used on laser leveled land. Gated pipes reduce evaporation and leakage, saving 30 to 45 percent of water used, while reducing erosion. The gates can be opened and closed, allowing for watering only the areas, or furrows selected.

The system is set up by delivering water into the pipe using a concrete box containing a tight screen or filter which keeps debris out of the water entering the pipe. Pipes may range from four inches to 15 inches in diameter. Every two feet, the pipe has a plastic slide, or “gate” that can be opened or closed using an irrigating “shovel”.

This is a form of flood irrigation, or gravity irrigation. It is popular in the U.S. and Latin America for growing corn, soybeans, fruits, nuts, vegetables, sugar cane, and pasture land. The cost and operating expenses are comparatively low for this system of irrigation.

25. Half Moons, Bunds, and Terraces

Some methods within this category can conserve both water and soil while requiring little capital investment. Terracing, contour bunds, infiltration pits, tillage, integration of tree crops, and green manuring all help to increase water inflitration and storage in the soil.

Bunds: On land with slight or moderate slopes and light to medium weight soils, bunds can be constructed to reduce rainwater runoff, gully formation, and soil loss. Bunds are raised earthen barriers which must be constructed by machine or by hand. They require a significant amount of labor and take a small amount of land out of production. They help rainwater to percolate into the soil. Bunds are used in terraced rice farming to retain water in the paddies.

Half Moons: By constructing half moon structures on slight slopes, rainwater is collected and erosion is stopped. Like bunds, they are appropriate for lighter soils that form surface crusts. They help enable the production of drought resistant crops like millet, where there is little rainfall. Half moons can be used for forage crops in rangeland degraded areas, too.

Terraces: These serve as small dams on sloped farmland and prevent gully washing. While expensive to construct they help preserve soil and water quality and grassy buffer strips provide nesting habitat for wildlife.


(End of Part 3.)

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. 

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. 

Thirty-five Water Conservation Methods for Agriculture, Farming, and Gardening. Part 1.

Please note that this is the first of a special four-part series here at Big Picture Agriculture. One post will go up each of the next four days which will list and describe methods for producing “more with less” water use in farming.

A leading concern facing the future of agricultural production is the availability of water. It is expected that climate change will cause more extreme climate events including droughts and floods and shifts in plant growing zones. As populations grow, more efficient use of water in growing food will be of key importance.

Today, some 2.8 billion people live in water-scarce areas, but by 2030, it is expected that about half of the world’s population will live in water stressed areas.

Past overuse of fossil water from aquifers will make it necessary to improve the efficiency of irrigation and rainfed agriculture methods to grow tomorrow’s food. The increasing competition for water in urban areas and for energy uses will lessen what is now available for agriculture, estimated to be 70 to 80 percent of global fresh water use. As other interests gain a share of the fresh water supply, the production of food will need to increase at the same time that the water used to grow it decreases.

Agriculture is done using both rainfed and irrigation farming. About 80 percent of globally cultivated land is done with rainfed farming, accounting for 60 percent of world food production. Using smart methods to enhance efficient and creative water use in rainfed agriculture has the potential to increase production. The majority of the world’s poor and hungry live on rainfed farms in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, so techniques which can improve water use in these regions are very valuable. While irrigation levels have declined since the 1970s for various reasons, irrigation has the potential to expand in the future in parts of Africa.

Productivity of irrigated land is more than three times that of unirrigated land. Around 40 percent of the world’s food is produced on the 20 percent of land which is irrigated. The monetary value of the yield of irrigated crops is more than six times that of unirrigated crops because crops with higher market values tend to be grown on irrigated land.

Many of the methods known to conserve water and use it efficiently have been practiced for thousands of years in some very arid regions of the world with great success. The best systems require little maintenance while yielding maximum results. The ability to add water during crucial growth periods can greatly increase crop yields.

To follow, is a list of water saving techniques which will be helpful in growing more food with less water. Because every parcel of land requires its own best unique solution, I hope readers find this post both useful and inspirational. Please feel welcome to add other methods not included on this list, in the comments below.

1. Drip, or Micro-Irrigation

Drip irrigation delivers water (and fertilizer) either on the soil surface or directly to the roots of plants through systems of plastic tubing with small holes and other restrictive outlets. By distributing these inputs slowly and regularly, drip irrigation conserves 50 to 70 percent more water than traditional methods while increasing crop production by 20 to 90 percent. The water and fertilizer are also more easily absorbed by the soil and plants, reducing the risks of erosion and nutrient depletion.

Usually operated by gravity, drip irrigation saves both the time and labor that would otherwise be needed to water crops, leading to larger harvest yields. Small systems on timers can easily be set up by the home gardener, too.

This technology must be innovated and tailored to the crop and conditions. For example, some systems are now solar powered and tubing materials have changed. There are many styles of drip inserts which can be incorporated into the hoses and soaker hose segments can also be used. Instead of using plastic tubing, ceramic can be used as it is more porous.

Small stream diversions, water collection tanks, or holding ponds can be used to provide a gravity water supply for drip irrigation systems. Hand or peddle powered pumps or elevated buckets can also be used.

These micro-irrigation systems, while affordable, are less suitable for major rice growing areas or for staple grain growing. They are more suitable for high value vegetable gardens. Care should be taken to avoid the build-up of salts in drip-system soils.

Within the last two decades, the area irrigated using drip and other micro-irrigation methods has increased more than six-fold, to over 10 million hectares. The adoption of drip irrigation in more areas holds much hope for growing more food with less water.

2. Bottle Irrigation and Pitcher (Olla) Irrigation

Buried clay pot (olla) irrigation is an ancient technology that uses a logical idea. By burying a porous clay pot up to its neck, and filling it with water, a gardener has a 70 percent efficient watering system. Water weeps slowly out of the pot and moistens an area about one-half the diameter of the olla. Since soil is not saturated, the environment created is very healthy for the plant roots, which form a mat around the olla. (Many modern gardeners kill plants by overwatering.)

A perfect olla has a thick wall, is fired at a high temperature, has rough surfaces, and holds one quart to two gallons of water. After burying the pot and filling it with water, the top can be covered with a rock to keep it clean and prevent evaporation.

Depending upon the crop and the rainfall, filling the pots two to three times a week may be adequate.

To use an olla, place it in the middle of several plants so that the plants draw moisture from the center and grow outward onto dry land. This uses the space and the water very efficiently. Smaller ollas may be used to water containers or patio pots.

If the pots lose flow after many years of use, they can be soaked in vinegar to reopen pores. Always use clean or settled water and don’t add fertilizer so as not to clog the clay’s pores.

Here is a source from which to order ollas:

To the left is one of many possible designs to aid in using a recycled bottle as a slow release pot or plant waterer. Wine bottles, plastic bottles, and almost any bottle will work. Holes can be tapped into plastic sides or lids, or commercial plastic spikes can be purchased which the bottle can be inserted into. Or, a bottle can simply be filled with water and inverted next to a plant into moist soil. Here is the source link for the wine bottle waterer: .

3. Zai Pits

Zai planting pits are hand dug holes about ten inches wide, ten inches deep, and three feet apart (25cm x 25cm holes one meter apart). They are used to trap water and increase soil fertility, especially in arid regions with degraded, crusty soils. The pits are planted with a mixture of crop residues, manure, and seeds, and covered with a mulch of grass or leaves.

When digging the pits, the excavated soil is used to make a small ridge around the pit to help capture rainfall.

The pits can be reused if silt and sand are removed annually.

This simple technique can increase the amount of crops that smallholder farmers produce by 50 percent after just three years.

Recommended video here.

4. Drought Tolerant Crops and Seeds

Grow the right crop for the growing region. Regions which suffer water shortages are wise to plant crops which are more tolerant to drought. These include finger millet, pearl millet, Guinea millet, cowpea, teff, lentils, amaranth, fonio, emmer, various sorghums, African rice, Ethiopian oats, irregular barley, mung beans and many grasses. Ideally, researchers would be working with all of the crops on this list to improve the seeds for our crop requirements of tomorrow.

For example, researchers have improved cassava varieties over the past four decades which can increase yields two to four-fold over traditional varieties.

Traditional millets require little water and can grow in poor soils without any synthetic fertilizers. Millet is a heat resistant crop which has high calcium and fiber content as well as essential amino acids.

In addition, drought tolerant crop seeds are available both through biotechnology and from native seed varieties. Examples of drought tolerant seeds available today include corn, rice, and cotton. Just as importantly, there are flood resistant rice seeds available. Having the right, reliable, and quality seeds in hand for a new planting season is of utmost importance.

5. System of Rice Intensification (SRI) or System of Crop Intensification (SCI) or System of Root Intensification (SRI)

Millions of smallholder farmers have found that by using SRI and SCI methods of farming, they can get higher yields with fewer inputs through setting up an environment with optimal conditions for the plant. The effect is to get crop plants to grow larger, healthier, longer-lived root systems, accompanied by increases in the abundance, diversity and activity of soil organisms. These organisms constitute a beneficial microbiome for plants that enhances their growth and health.

These principles, applied to growing rice in systems for 30-some years, are being successfully applied to growing vegetables, legumes, wheat, corn, finger millet, and sugarcane. The methods use 25 to 40 percent less water, and make crops more resilient to temperature and precipitation stresses. Crops can be productive with less irrigation water or rainfall because SRI or SCI conditions enhance the capacity of soil systems to absorb and provide water.

SRI methodology is based on four main principles that interact in synergistic ways:

● Establish healthy plants early and carefully, nurturing their root potential.

● Reduce plant populations, giving each plant more room to grow above and below ground and room to capture sunlight and obtain nutrients.

● Enrich the soil with organic matter, keeping it well-aerated to support better growth of roots and more aerobic soil biota.

● Apply water purposefully in ways that favor plant-root and soil-microbial growth, avoiding flooded (anaerobic) soil conditions.

To read more about the System of Rice Intensification, I recommend this article.


(End of Part 1.)

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.