Plastic Bottle Drip Irrigation, How Effective Is It?


plastic bottle drip irrigation

In 2016, when President Museveni demonstrated how to use a plastic bottle drip irrigation system on his farm, he received many criticisms. Those who criticised him gave the following reasons:

  1. Plastic bottle drip irrigation was rudimentary and old-fashioned.
  2. Secondly, if we promoted plastic bottle irrigation, the poor disposal of non-biodegradable bottles would affect the soil negatively and cause widespread environmental impacts.
  3. Thirdly, fetching water for irrigation would consume much time and energy. 
  4. Fourthly, it was not sustainable.
  5. Lastly, promoting plastic bottle drip irrigation was a setback and diversionary to initiatives for modernising agriculture.

I hadn’t yet thought about venturing into agriculture as a business by then. But when I started a small backyard garden, I saw a need to water my tomatoes, kale, cabbages and passion fruits in the dry season. Therefore, I bought a watering can and started immediately watering the plants. It somehow worked. However, I experienced the challenge of using too much water to irrigate the crops.

The burning desire to venture into agribusiness made me start an avocado growing project. I started with about 100 trees in October 2020. During the following dry season, I lost 30 trees (worth UGX 240,000 or USD 67) to drought. I then researched. And eventually, I discovered that drip irrigation using pipes was the most effective method of watering my avocado trees.

Plastic Bottle Drip Irrigation Vs Pipe Drip Irrigation

Pipe Drip Irrigation

Pipe Drip Irrigation

After discovering the drip irrigation system using PVC pipes, I went forward to establish its cost. The initial investment was substantial, about UGX 12 million per acre. Although it’s convenient and consumes less time, it’s not affordable for most Ugandans.

On the other hand, plastic bottle drip irrigation is laborious, especially if your garden is extensive. Although it’s cheap to set it up, you have to refill the bottles with water quite often. I think this is why the critics of Museveni drip irrigation argued that it was not sustainable.

What Can You Do, Then, To Venture Into Agribusiness with Limited Resources?

plastic bottle drip irrigation

Plastic Bottle Drip Irrigation

If you don’t have enough resources for a modern drip irrigation system, you can still venture into commercial agriculture. You don’t have to wait for the government to extend water near your community. Similarly, you don’t have to wait for it to provide you with access to modern irrigation technologies. Why? Because you don’t know yet when such a government initiative will come forth.

Secondly, when you conceive an agribusiness idea, it’s always prudent to take action immediately. But waiting for the government to extend irrigation technologies to your community will result in procrastination. And the truth is, you will never start your agribusiness. Because of the above reason, I concurred with Museveni on his method of using plastic bottles to irrigate plants in the dry season. Although his critics regarded it as a rudimentary irrigation method, it’s affordable for anybody to use.

One crucial aspect you must learn right from the start is that water is essential to gardening or agriculture. Plants need water to grow. Consider investing in having water readily available near your garden. Secondly, the way you water determines the success of your agribusiness. Thirdly, to earn big from agriculture, you must learn to grow crops in the dry season. Why? Because you want to harvest them when they’re in high demand.

Because of the above reasons, you should consider irrigating your plants to benefit from your agribusiness. And in this post, I would like to present to you how to set up a plastic bottle drip irrigation system.

How Do You Build an Effective Plastic Bottle Drip Irrigation System?

Irrigation Water Reservoir

Irrigation Water Reservoir

First and foremost, think about having a water source near your garden. If your farm is far away from the natural water source, then build water reservoirs at its edges. Digging a pool is not hard. You can do it yourself if you don’t have money. Alternatively, you can hire a casual labourer to do it for you.

The size of the reservoir will depend on your water requirements. Of course, if your farm is large, you can either dig one huge water source or several small ponds at different locations. So, with your reservoirs created, you will have to catch runoff water during the rainy season. You will then use this water to irrigate your crops in the dry season.

Secondly, you will collect big plastic bottles of 1.5 to 2 litres. You can get them from restaurants. But you can also get them from garbage collectors at a fee. I buy my bottles from the KCCA landfill in Kiteezi at UGX 100 each (USD 0.02). That’s quite affordable.

How Do You Set Up a Plastic Bottle Drip Irrigation System?

Creating a plastic bottle irrigator is not hard. But making a slow-release drip isn’t all that easy. Before setting up my plastic bottle drip irrigation system, I researched and tested numerous approaches. However, I failed to achieve a slow water drip.

Let us now dive into the different methods, which include:

1. Hanging bottle above the plant

2. Cap-end buried into the soil

3. Bottom-end buried into the soil

The last two methods involve punching holes and burying the bottle into the soil. I didn’t like them because of my bad experience with them. Either water ran out in seconds, or the holes were plugged with dirt, causing the water to stop dripping. I instead opted for the hanging bottle drip irrigation because I could see water dripping. Secondly, I could adjust the drip rate.

How do you get a slow drip?

V-Shape Bottle Mouth

V-Shape Bottle Mouth

At first, I punched a hole in the cap with a small nail and hung it upside down on a pole over my plants. Gosh. The water ran out fast. Since I wanted a slow drip, I changed the strategy. Instead, I cut a minute V-shape at the top of the bottle mouth. I then put back the cap and powered water into the bottle. I slowly adjusted the cover to allow the water to seep up. This step involves loosening or tightening it until you achieve the appropriate drip rate.

I then hang the bottle on a pole over the plant. I used a two-inch nail to attach the bottle to it. Voila! That’s how the technique of hanging plastic bottle drip irrigation works.

What are the Advantages of the Plastic Bottle Drip Irrigation?

  1. It is cheap to set up. You get discarded plastic bottles free of charge. The only cost is digging a water reservoir if you are not near a natural water source.
  2. It enables you to use water efficiently and reduces your water consumption in the garden by over 60% compared to other irrigation methods.
  3. Crops mature early, which leads to higher returns on investment.
  4. It increases yields up to 230%.
  5. Bottle drip irrigation eliminates soil erosion and reduces weed growth/water evaporation.
  6. It only supports the growth of the target plant and not the weed because the water supply is only at the plant root area.
  7. Plastic bottle drip irrigation allows you to fertilise your plants effectively by mixing the fertilisers with water.
  8. It provides moisture around the plant root area and keeps the root system hydrated throughout the day.
  9. When you use plastic bottles to irrigate your plants, you recycle them instead of throwing them out to endanger the environment.
  10. It enables you to make money from your agribusiness throughout the year.

What are the Disadvantages of the Bottle Drip Irrigation?

avocado drip irrigation

Avocado Drip Irrigation

  1. It is somehow laborious. You have to refill the bottles regularly, and if you have a big garden, you spend a lot of time and energy doing it. Secondly, you must adjust the cap several times until you achieve the appropriate drip-rate.
  2. If aesthetics is your top priority, having plastic bottles all over your garden doesn’t look pleasant.
  3. It is not suitable for crops planted so close to each other.

Which Crops are Suitable for Plastic Drip Irrigation?

It is suitable for orchard crops, plantation crops, vegetables and flowers. It is also practical with cash crops and other crops not planted close to one another.

Final Thought

As I conclude, let me ask you again. Is the plastic bottle drip irrigation method recommendable? I would say yes. Although it’s rudimentary, as some critics put it, it helps people venture into agribusiness.

My appeal to you is to ask you to venture into agribusiness. Start by irrigating your crops with plastic bottles if you don’t have money for a modern irrigation system. Then with time, work towards installing a pipe irrigation system. What do you think?

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