Clay Pot Irrigation part 1 of 3

The four basic needs for living organisms to survive are food, water, shelter, and oxygen.  While this paper does not intend to discuss shelter and oxygen it will discuss the first two.  Clay pot irrigation, while thousands of years old, (Bainbridge, 2000) may be a reasonable solution to water conservation and high quality food sourcing.  While agriculturalists of the developed world know little about clay pot irrigation, agriculturalists in India, Iran, Brazil, and Burkina Faso practice clay pot irrigation regularly.  (Daka, 2001)

In order to pique an interest in the study of an ancient, yet emerging, technology we must pose questions as to why we should pursue this research.  Some of these questions are as follows.  
1. Is clay pot irrigation a capable substitute to modern irrigation technology?  

2. Are there problems with conventional agriculture?  If so, can clay pot irrigation solve these potential problems?

3. Has the abundance of the United States allowed modern American agriculturalists the leniency to ignore solutions to problems that are now in their infancy in the developed world?

4. Are modern food sourcing techniques generating healthy food sources?  If not, what is an alternative?

5. How important is clean, fresh water to you?  

6. How important is your time?

7. How important is your health?

It is my belief that if we are capable of saving time, and resources, while improving health, through a sustainable change in food sourcing then we must pursue fresh ideas with an open mind.  Current trends in health and wellness, as well as changing demographics throughout America, require a radically different approach to the feeding of our population.

Central Texas is currently facing a drought.  Other areas of the US are facing this as well.  Most weather and climate patterns are cyclical, however one may not be certain that this drought will end.  Agriculture, and subsequently our food supply, is dependent on water.  Human beings are dependent on food and water.  It is critical that humans research and discover any system that allows the efficient reduction of water use combined with potential increases in crop production.  

The current methods of irrigation in the United States can be broken down into three broad categories: flood, sprinkler, and drip.  Flood irrigation is as it sounds.  Producers flood fields from a local waterway for a predetermined timeframe.  This may be through furrows or throughout the entire field.  This method is cheap, simple, and used by many societies throughout the world and the US. (The USGS Water Science School – Irrigation Techniques, 2014)   This method is also extremely inefficient in terms of water usage.  Water losses are upwards of 50% when using flood irrigation.
Sprinkler irrigation is more efficient than flood irrigation.  Sprinkler irrigation requires the use of machinery, pipes, and engineering throughout the sprinkler system.  These systems include center pivot irrigation, lateral movement irrigation, and your typical home landscape irrigation system with pop up sprinklers.

Drip irrigation is the most efficient use of water in the above cases.  Drip irrigation delivers droplets of water directly to the soil in order to irrigate the root zone of the plant.  Irrigation occurs through drip tape on the soil or through subsurface channels.  Drip irrigation decreases the amount of evaporation dramatically.  It also uses far less water compared to the above systems.  Flow rates on drip irrigation range between ½ to 2 gallons per hour.  Pop-up sprinklers rate their flow rates by the gallon per minute. (Smith, 1997) Clay pot irrigation is a form of drip irrigation.  Drip irrigation has many benefits and little detraction.

A few of the noted benefits of drip irrigation are: (Smith, 1997)

1.  Water placed in root zone with minimal evaporation

2.  Reduced weed growth

3.  Beneficial growth noted in plants

A few of the noted disadvantages of drip irrigation are: (Smith, 1997)

1.  Filtration required

2.  Complex management possible

Clay pot irrigation has many of the above benefits while potentially limiting some of the disadvantages of traditional drip irrigation.  Clay pot irrigation is as simple as burying an unglazed porous clay pot in the ground and filling it with water and fertilizer.  As mentioned earlier, this method is widely used in arid, low-income regions of the world.  There is evidence that there is little indication of water stress on plants and does not require filtration.  Clay pots are simple to install however they are labor intensive upon installation.  Clay pot irrigation has been shown to successfully irrigate many plants including perennials, annuals, fruits, vegetables, and many crop trees.


Bainbridge, D. A. (2000). Buried clay pot irrigation: a little known but very efficient traditional method of irrigation. Agricultural Water Management , 79-88.

Bayuk, K. (2010, September 16). Ollas: Unglazed Clay Pots for Garden Irrigation. Retrieved June 22, 2014, from The Permaculture Research Institute:

Briggeman, B. C. (n.d.). The Importance of Off-Farm Income to Servicing Farm Debt. Retrieved June 22, 2014, from Kansas City Fed:

Daka, A. E. (2001, April). Development of a Technological Package for Sustainable use of Dambos by Small-Scale Famers. Pretoria: University of Pretoria.

Grattan, S. R., Schwankl, L. J., & Lanini, W. T. (1988, May-June). Weed control by subsurface drip irrigation. California Agriculture .

Lori. (2012, May 29). Basics of Ollas. Retrieved June 22, 2014, from Dripping Springs Ollas:

Murray N.D., M., Pizzorno N.D., J., & Pizzorno M.A., L.M.T, L. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria Books.

Smith, S. W. (1997). Landscape Irrigation Design and Management. New York: John Wiley and Son, Inc.

The USGS Water Science School – Irrigation Techniques. (2014, March 17). Retrieved June 20, 2014, from USGS – Science for a Changing World:

Vasudevan, P., Thapliyal, A., Sen, P. K., Dastidar, M. G., & Davies, P. (2011, August). Buried clay pot irrigation for efficient and controlled water delivery. Journal of Scientific & Industrial Research , 645-652.

One response to “Clay Pot Irrigation part 1 of 3

  1. Really wonderful explanations about the claypot irrigation system, now it is substituted in the modern technology. Drip irrigation is the most efficient use of water compared to the other irrigation system. Thanks for the sharing with us these many benefits of the clay pot irrigation system.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s