Even without electricity and water connection, there are ways to implement an irrigation system. These are presented in the following article.

Suppose you own a simple hut away from civilization and want to plant a vegetable patch there. The hut has neither water nor electricity connection. Nevertheless, it is not hopeless to implement irrigation. There are four basic options to choose from:

  • Irrigation with solar powered pump
  • Irrigation with non-pressurized hoses
  • Use of capillary irrigation
  • Irrigation with watering spikes and balls

Collecting rainwater

What is necessary in any case, regardless of which variant you choose, is to ensure the necessary water supply by collecting rainwater. The larger the area on which rainwater is collected, the larger the quantities that can be collected. The easiest way is to catch the rain falling on the roof of a building with a rain gutter and channel it into a collection container (water butt or cistern). Such water butts (Amazon Link) are offered in a very functional or in a decorative form, e.g. in the form of wine barrels or rocks. A filter must be installed before it is fed into the collection tank in order to clean the rainwater of impurities.

Irrigation with solar pump

If a conventional garden pump does not work due to a lack of electricity, then a solar pump is an environmentally friendly alternative. This is an electric pump that gets its power from a separate solar panel. Of course, you shouldn’t expect the performance of a normal garden pump from such a pump, but solar technology has improved successively in recent years and these pumps are now delivering better and better results. There are pumps that pump water directly as soon as the sun shines and there are pumps that feed a battery and then carry out the pumping at the desired time, regardless of whether the sun is shining or not. The cheapest variant of the solar pump are pond pumps, but there are now all types of pumps in solar variants, e.g. also deep well pumps or submersible pumps. In principle, the following applies: the larger the solar module, the more powerful the pump.

Excerpt from solar pumps offered on Amazon:

An alternative to such pumps are complete solar irrigation systems, which contain hose connections and drippers in addition to the pump, solar panel and battery.

Another completely different solution would be to generate the missing electricity using a gasoline-powered generator (Amazon Link) and then use a normal pump.

Irrigation with pressureless pearl hose

For this variant, it is necessary to collect the water in an elevated tank, i.e. in a rain barrel or cistern that is higher than the area to be irrigated, so that the water runs down from the tank. The tank should be at least 20 inches higher. The higher, the better, because the difference in height allows some pressure to build up. 40 inches of height difference puts 14.5 psi of pressure. When the barrel is full, the pressure is also a little higher, since the water itself is also pressing down.

What applies in principle to micro-irrigation applies here even more: A filter is essential! Since irrigation is carried out with almost zero pressure, the system has hardly any opportunity to clean itself and it must therefore be ensured that no contamination gets into the system. The water should be filtered before it enters the elevated tank so that there is only pure water in the tank. In addition, another filter (Amazon Link) can be attached to the water discharge side.

The hose is connected to an outlet in the lower area of the elevated tank. Since you only have minimal pressure, you can’t connect a normal drip tube here, but have to use a pearl hose. In contrast to a drip tube, a pearl hose does not release the water through individual drip openings, but has a porous surface through which the water is evenly released over the entire hose surface. A pressureless pearl hose is a special version of the pearl hose which, according to the manufacturer, works with no pressure at all. In my opinion, this may be a bit exaggerated, but the hose only requires minimal pressure to function, so a small gradient from the high tank to the irrigated area is sufficient.

Such a pressureless hose releases the water when it occurs. In practice, this makes little sense if water also comes from the irrigation system when it rains and, conversely, the tank is empty in dry periods. Therefore, one needs a way to control the water release. This can be done using a water tap attached in front of the pearl hose, which can be opened and closed manually as required. Or as an automated variant using a sprinkler timer, on which the desired irrigation time and duration is programmed and which starts automatically at the desired time. A very simple, inexpensive type of sprinkler timer is sufficient here, see my blog post on sprinkler timers.

Capillary irrigation

Capillarity means the rising of liquids in narrow pipes or cavities. For example, a piece of sugar cubes or a sponge that you put only one corner in the water soaks up completely with water. Another example are the foundation walls of a house, which stand in damp soil without adequate insulation and thus ensure that the outer walls are damp in the long term. The water thus migrates in all directions and apparently against the rules of gravity also independently upwards. The reason for this is the surface tension of the water.

This behavior can be used for irrigation. Cords made of special fibers, especially fiberglass, are offered for this purpose. If you hang this in the water on one side, the entire cord will be permeated with moisture.

A possible application scenario is to lead the water from the high tank to the vicinity of the area to be irrigated by means of a pipe connection and from there to the individual plants by means of wick cords protruding into the pipe. The cords lie with one end in the water and subsequently become completely full of water. If you do not want to supply the earth with water over the entire length of the cord, but only at the end of the cord, then the part of the cord in between must be insulated with foil.

It would also be possible to direct the water into specially built raised beds, which contain a fillable water tank in the lower area. From the water tank, the water is directed upwards into the bed by means of wick strings. As an alternative to the wick cords, you can also work with special capillary mats (Amazon Link).

Wick strings for capillary irrigation at Amazon:

Irrigation with watering spikes and balls

Watering spikes are often used for watering plants on vacation, but can also be used for constant watering when there is no electricity or water connection. The watering spike is placed in the ground next to the plant, spike first. There are three types of irrigation cones available on the market:

Watering spike with integrated water tank

Depending on the model, a smaller or larger container is integrated into the spike, which has to be filled with water manually. The container is made partly in an elegant, decorative form and partly in the form of funny characters, so it has a decorative function at the same time.

The typical, classic watering spike is made of clay, but plastic spikes are also available, although these two types differ fundamentally in terms of functionality:

Plastic spikes:
Release a specific amount of water in a specific amount of time. Types with different water capacities are offered, as well as those whose water capacity can be adjusted manually.

Clay spikes:
Clay consists of porous material and is permeable to water when unglazed. Clay spikes gradually soak up water and, once fully soaked, release it into the surrounding dry soil. This happens until the soil has reached a certain level of moisture. Then the water release ends and only starts again when the soil moisture falls below a certain level again.

For our scenario, in which the water is collected in a water tank, you would have to fill the water tank manually with a watering can at certain intervals – depending on the size of the collection tank – so there would only be a semi-automatic solution here.

Watering spike for placing bottles

The spike consists only of the spike itself, but is constructed in such a way that you can place an inverted plastic bottle on it. Depending on the spike manufacturer and model, bottles of different sizes are possible, sometimes up to 1.6 gallon bottles. Whereby the whole thing becomes very unstable with such large bottles, you should definitely support them additionally.

For our scenario, this would work as described in the example above. The bottles would therefore have to be filled manually from the water tank at regular intervals.

Watering spikes at Amazon:

Watering spike with separate tank (Blumat)

Blumat is a proven system that has been on the market for many years. It also works with a clay cone. There are two different Blumat systems to choose from:

Blumat Classic

The clay watering spike is inserted into the area to be irrigated and connected to a water tank with a Blumat hose. When the soil is dry, the clay cone releases water. A negative pressure is then created in the cone, which creates a suction effect that allows water to flow out of the water tank. Since the Blumat hoses are only 2.6 to 3.3 feet long, the water tank must be very close to the area to be watered. The intensity of the irrigation can be influenced by the height at which the water tank is attached. The higher, the more water. If the water level in the container is at the upper edge of the Blumat spike, the manufacturer specifies 0.02 gallons per hour as a guideline. If the water level in the container is below the upper edge of the Blumat cone, then it is 0.013 gallons per hour. In a second Blumat Classic XL model variant, the values are 0.033 gallons (upper edge) and 0.02 gallons (below the upper edge). These larger spikes are designed for watering larger plants and have a slightly longer hose length of 3.3 feet.

In our scenario, using the Blumat Classic is only conceivable for a very small area to be irrigated, or if the water is collected in several containers and then distributed in a small area around the containers.

Blumat Classic and Classic XL at Amazon:

Blumat drip system

With the Blumat drip system, the spike is not used to dispense water, but rather acts as a kind of sensor. The Blumat hose is not fed into the spike here, but through the head of the spike so that the open hose opening is positioned next to the spike. In the initial state, the Blumat hose is compressed by a pin in the head of the spike so that no water can flow through. As with the Classic System, the clay cone is inserted into the ground and releases water when the ground is dry. A negative pressure is created, which creates a suction effect. Unlike the Classic System, however, this does not suck in the water directly, but pulls on a flexible membrane located in the spike head. By tightening the membrane, the pin no longer presses on the hose and water runs through it and is discharged to earth at the end of the hose. As soon as the soil has reached a certain moisture level, the Blumat spike draws water back, ending the negative pressure, the membrane returns to its original position and no more water runs through the hose.

The drip performance can be set separately for each irrigation spike, and it is also possible to split the drip hose of an irrigation spike into several hoses so that it drips in several places. The Drip-Blumat Maxi can be used for areas with a particularly large water requirement.

Unlike the Blumat Classic, the Blumat drip system is not limited to the length of the spike hoses, the water is supplied with a separate 1/4 inch supply hose. The distance over which the supply is possible depends on the available water pressure, according to the manufacturer a maximum of 200 feet is possible. With the Blumat drip system, it is always necessary for the water tank to be higher, ideally at least 20 inches or more.

For our scenario, the Blumat drip System can be used much better than the Blumat Classic. A supply line from the high tank is possible via the supply hose, which can also be divided using Blumat connectors. The individual irrigation spikes are connected to the supply hose. If necessary, this can be dripped in several places by means of an extension if individual plants are to be watered precisely.

Blumat drip system at Amazon:

Self watering Terracotta pots

Like the watering spikes, these are made of clay and also work according to the same principle: They release water to the dry soil until it has a certain degree of moisture. However, the water is not supplied via a separate container or an attached bottle, but the pots themselves are so voluminous that they can hold enough water. Although pot is not quite the right term, the shape is more like that of a spherical vase, i.e. a large spherical belly that merges into a slender neck. The large pots are completely buried in the ground so that only a small part of the narrow neck looks out at the top. The water is refilled in these.

The pots are available in different sizes and the models I know can hold up to 1.7 gallons of water. The large 1.7 gallons variant supplies an irrigation area of4 feet with water.

In our scenario, such irrigation pots could be used in such a way that whenever you are on site, you fill these pots up from the water container using a watering can, so that the plants are then supplied with water for a few days.

Self watering pots at Amazon: