Buried Clay Pot Irrigation
By David A. Bainbridge
United States International College of Business
Alliant International University
San Diego, CA 92131
The book Fan Sheng-chih Shu describes the use of buried clay pot
irrigation in China more than 2,000 years ago (Sheng Han, 1974). It is
likely buried clay pot irrigation had been used for many years before this
description was published. Current practices remain much the same.
Make 530 pits per hectare (210 pits per acre), each pit 70 cm (24
inches) across and 12 cm (5 inches) deep. To each pit add 18 kilograms (38
lbs) of manure. Mix the manure well with an equal amount of earth.
Bury an earthen jar of 6 liters (1.5 gallons) capacity in the center of
the pit. Let its mouth be level with the ground. Fill the jar with water.
Plant 4 melon seeds around the jar. Cover the jar with a tile. Always fill
jar to the brink if the water level falls.
Buried clay pot irrigation uses a buried, unglazed clay pot filled with
water to provide controlled irrigation to plants grown near it. A standard
red clay pot with the hole plugged works fine. The seedling or seed should
be placed in the area wetted by the pot. The water seeps out through the
clay wall at a rate that is influenced by the plant's water use. This leads
to very high efficiency--much better than drip irrigation and as much as
ten times more efficient than conventional surface irrigation.
Buried clay pot irrigation has been used to grow a wide range of annual
and perennial plants in China, Pakistan, India, Iran, Mexico, and Brazil.
In Mexico buried clay pot irrigation enabled two corn crops to be grown in
a season with yield sufficient to feed a family from 400 square yards of
In 1989 I grew Hopi corn using buried clay pots. The water use on a full
field basis was 7.5 cm/ha [0.25 acre feet], one tenth the conventional
water use for corn in California. The above ground plant yield per cubic
meter of water was 6.3 kg, total plant yield was 12.6 kg per cu meter.
|Irrigation System Efficiency
||Productivity in kg plant
Per cubic meter of water
|closed furrow (basin)
|porous capsule (pressure)
|porous capsule (no pressure)
|buried clay pot
||2.5 to 6
Buried clay pot irrigation is also useful for gardening, landscaping,
and growing plants in containers -- on patios or porches, where the clay
pot is buried in the planter box or a larger clay pot filled with soil. It
is also excellent for rooting cuttings.
Limiting water delivery to the area where the crop is grown dramatically
reduces weed growth- a major constraint on production in many areas of the
world. They also may be refilled every few days instead of requiring
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comparative effect of pitcher irrigation and pot
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