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Dealing with drought

 
Lee Einer
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I live in Las Vegas, NM. There has been no measurable precipitation since February IIRC.

The city is in a state of emergency. All outside watering is banned.

We are really in an "edge" ecosystem where the Sangre de Cristo mountains meet the great plains. But it is borderline high desert. Hot days, precipitous temperature drop-off at night. The humidity is below ten percent, the dewpoint is sub-freezing.

Rainwater catchment is near useless at this point, as there is no rain. I am keeping my perennials alive with greywater from the washing machine and from the shower. Mulch basins and swales are situated throughout the landscape to retain and infiltrate precipitation. All growing areas are mulched. The vast majority of plantings are native or at minimum proven drought-hardy and climate appropriate.

Mulch basins have trees and other vegetation planted in them to make use of the water and to further retard water loss by blocking wind and sun from the soil.

Vertical mulches of the Chris Meuli variety have been used near some, but not all of the trees and bushes.

What tricks am I missing to cope with drought?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Susanna de Villareal-Quintela
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Ludi... thanks for the links.  I can't wait to try that!   
 
rose macaskie
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I tried burying flower pots whose holes i had stopped with concrete. I am not sure that i am good enough at concrete mixes to make a good stop to the holes in pottery pots and i was not there to observe the effects of my efforts and re-stop the pots if the concrete was not stopping the holes well enough or to fill up the pots often.  I also cut a circle of thick plastic to put in the flower pots so the water would not evaporate out of them.
Flower pots are easier to buy and cheaper than pretty old fashioned type pots but obviously not the right shape for the job.
Frost broke a few of the pots in winter which is quite a draw back, if you wanted the system to be efficient then you should make pots that would last.

     There is a pottery teet sort of thing sold in Merlyn Leroy that you can buy, whose other plastic end fits into the the mouth of your avergage bottle of bought water. You fill the bottle of water with water, fit on your pottery teat and upturn your bottle and stick the teet in the earth.
       They are very expensive someone could do the world a big favour and maybe make a mint for themselves producing cheaper pottery teets for plants, the chinese maybe.
  what about pottery closed ended pipes with a sticking out mouth that allowed you to fill them that could be set horizonlataly into the ground, as well as fat pots with thin necks and small mouths that allowed us to refill them without there beign a big area for evaporation for users in our rich countries. It is as well for us to develop the techniques that might help everyone.
    I have added these photos about after about four more posts have been added to this thread.
  Have found photos of a pot of the small necked variety that was a photo i did not know i had and of the flower pots i used to water the ground. agri rose macaskie. 
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Lee Einer
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rose macaskie wrote:
I tried burying flower pots whose holes i had stopped with concrete. I am not sure that i am good enough at concrete mixes to make a good stop to the holes in pottery pots and i was not there to observe the effects of my efforts and restop the pots if the concrete was not stoppiing the holes well enough or to fill up the pots often.  I also cut a circle of thick plastic to put in the flower pots so the water would not evaporate out of them.
flower pots are easier to buy and cheaper than pretty old fashioned type pots but obviously not the right shape for the job.
Frost broke a few of the pots in winter which is quite a draw back if you wanted the system to be efficient then you should make pots that would last.

     There is a pottery teet sort of thing sold in Merlyn Leroy that you can buy, whose other plastic end fits into the the mouth of your avergage bottle of bought water. You fill the bottle of water with water, fit on your pottery teat and stick the teet in the earth.
       They are very expensive someone could do the world a big favour and maybe make a mint for themselves producing cheaper pottery teets for plants, the chinese maybe.
  what about pottery closed ended pipes with a sticking out mouth that allowed you to fill them that could be set horizonlataly into the ground, as well as fat pots with thin necks and small mouths that allowed us to refill them without there beign a big area for evaporation for users in our rich countries. It is as well for us to develop the techniques that might help everyone. agri rose macaskie. 


Frost is a problem. Last winter we set record lows of 25 below zero. So, bummer if the pots crack and bust after a season.

I saw a video several days ago of a gardener who was using plastic gallon milk jugs, poking a bunch of small holes in the bottom so the water would emit slowly. This might be a solution that overcomes the clay pot issues of expense and cold weather damage.
 
Ken Peavey
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Clay Pot irrigation, also known as Pitcher Irrigation.  I've done it, with excellent results.

I've used 8" terra cotta plant pots, available at any big box hardware/home improvement store, cost $2-3 each, hold about a gallon of water.  The things MUST be unglazed.  If it is glazed, it wont allow the water through.  The idea is simple: bury the pot in the ground up to the top edge, or real close to it.  Fill with water.  The soil around the pot will draw out the water according to need.  The dryer the soil, the greater the water flow.  If the soil is saturated, it will actually flow back into the pot.

In my sandy soil, a pot will irrigate a radius of about 2 feet.  I space them every 3-4 feet in order for adequate water in the overlapping area.  When I first tried the pots, I would refill them as needed with a hose.  The plants grew so thick I had to use a stick with a piece of tubing tied to it or I would damage the plants, plus it was easier on my back.  This later evolved to dripp irrigation lines added to the pots-all I had to do was turn on the faucet.  Finally, I added a timer to turn on the water every other day for an hour, refilling the pots automatically.

These standard plant pots have a circular hole in the bottom which must be plugged, lest the water drain out the bottom.  I also found that covering the pot with a piece of floor tile was a good plan, no so much to prevent evaporation and mosquitoes, but to keep the neighborhood cats from trampling the plants in search of a drink, plus you can find the pot easier if the tile is brightly colored.  The whole point is that the water seeps through the sides of the pot, servicing the plants at the root level by maintaining soil moisture.  There is no overhead dripping to compact the soil, and weeds are not afforded an advantage.  

During the driest part of the year, the pots would empty completely in a day.  It is good to let the pots dry out now and then or mosquitoes have a chance to survive to maturity.  If you do the math on a 4'x4' area with a gallon of water every day, it works out to about a quarter of an inch of rain per week.  Not enough to sustain a crop completely, but enough of an advantage that the plants can make it until the next rain.  If its especially dry for an extended period, or if drought conditions persist, adding more pots is an option.

A problem with the plan is that crud and gunk will eventually fill the pores of the pot to the point it is sealed and no longer allows water flow.  The pot can be cleaned to some degree with muriatic acid and a good hard scrubbing.  Vinegar can also help, but the pot will need to be removed from the bed for the cleaning and allowed to dry completely.  I have not cleaned any pots.  If they got plugged, I pulled them out, used them in the greenhouse.  I lost about 4 pots to build up over the course of 4 years.  I have used as many as about 40 pots in the garden at my old house.

When using this or any irrigation system, it is advisable to not use treated water, especially during a drought.  The water will evaporate from the soil, the chemicals (particularly chlorine) will remain behind, increasing in concentration as more water is added and evaporates.  Rainwater is best.  If city water must be used, leaving it in a bucket exposed to the sun and air for a few days will help with the chlorine problem, something about the way the sun breaks down the sodium hypochlorate.

My first experiment with pitcher irrigation was with 3 pots and a bed of cauliflower.  I had 3 pots on one end of the bed, nothing on the other end of the bed.  After a few weeks, the dry side had short plants with buttons for cauliflower.  On the wet side the plants were a foot taller, with cauliflower 4-6 inches across.  I was sold.  
 
Ken Peavey
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I had a couple of the pots crack,  they still worked, just drained a bit sooner.  If freezing is a problem, pull the pots out of the ground over the winter. 

Milk Jugs
A couple of pin holes will do the job.  You have to remember to leave the cap off or the jugs wont drain.  If you leave the cap on to keep stuff out of the jug which would clog the pinholes, be sure to put some pinholes in the cap or way up on the jug to let air in.  Milk jugs don't hold up for long in the sun.  In about 3 months they will become brittle.  Still, the price is right.

 
rose macaskie
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 Las Vegas Lee. I have read somewhere advice to english people not to buy pretty mediteranean pots as they break in english frost the implication is that english flower dont crachk in frosts so it may also be true that the pots you bury in your garden be more or less able to withstand frosts. 
         I have just gone through my photos hoping to find a photo of a system I use that seems to work though i dont know how, as it often does not seem to work well, but still it keeps my plants alive when my husband does not put a drip on them, of putting two or three or four holes in the top of plastic bottles of juice or coca cola, filling the bottle full of water and upturning it into a hole i put in the ground by the plant to drip into the ground as Ken Peavey describes. 
         I know a girl who puts the bottle full of water upside down into the ground without a top on it, and swears by it. I suppose she presses the bottle firmly on to the earth so that the earth serves to stop the water coming out of the bottle too fast.
          This seems to work for me though i dont know how, as when I come back two weeks later often but not always, either all the water is gone and i imagine went the first day or hardly any has gone. I did not find those photos.
        I have found a photo of the trick Las Vegas Lee mention which is to fill a big plastic bottle and pierce a few holes in its base for the water to trickle out of. If you put the lid on the bottle so air does not get in the water is more likely to drip out I reckon.   
      I have buried a flower pot in at the foot of this tree as well putting plastic bottle with a few holes in its base full of water by the tree. i put a slate over the flower pot so that no one would put their foot in it.
      This is mulberry I put in last year because mulberries are meant to be accelerators and produce plenty of mulch for the ground. I want a black mulberry but ended up buying two white ones, they were cheap, whose fruit seems to be very small and they are said to be very invasive. I say this because among permaculturists you have to be careful or you will be accused of being a half hearted member of their crowd so it is as well to mention ¡t if you have put in plants that help the soil. 
        Companies who sell  cooking oil in big plastic bottles, one of the sources of big plastic bottles, restaurant throw them out, or water or coa cola and juices in smaller bottles, could provide the instrurment to make just the right sized and number of holes in their bases or tops, so that people the world over could use botles easily as a way of drip watering their crops. agri rose macaskie.
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Jordan Lowery
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hugelkultur is your friend, but only if it has a winter to go through. building one in the middle of summer wont help at all.
 
rose macaskie
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Humbert Cumberdale. Is that because it will take a while and a while of wet weather for the wood to get full of water and help you through the summer? agri rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
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  It has occured to me that I dont need to be in the country to take photos of how using a plastic bottle, used for coca cola or fruit juice or the like, a litre bottle, works.
     Ken peavey says two pin pricks are enough, i have made holes that are too big. I used to make pin pricks and sometimes they worked and sometimes they blocked.
ihave read this and met people who do it as well as doing it myself it may look crazy but it does help my plants through the summer.
  The japanese shop mugi sells a bottle to water your plant with with their bottle the water comes out through a tube. I have not tried it though.
i mention all the wquestions i have about the reason why one sort of hole might be better than another.
    There is, maybe, a right sized hole to assure your water leaves the bottle and that the bottle takes a week or two to realease its water but i dont know it, I used to make holes with a darning needle these holes might be a bit big. Pressing the top of the bottle, with the holes in it hard against the soil probably stops the holes a bit and assures that the water comes out slower. If the drip went through a thin tube it might be likely to come out slower. As i dont know I just do it any old way and put two sometimes three, if i mind a lot about the plant, bottles on each  newly planted tree or bush. I suppose that you need more than one hole or you would not getting any air coming into the bottle and so you would not get any water coming out.
  Maybe someone else knows more about all this it might help some other person do experiments and find the perfect answer.
 
  The first photo is of the bottle top and the gimlet, i think its called,that I used to make some holes in the bottle top with. This is a Spanish pasteurised milk bottle. 

The second photo is of the bottle up right, it is a bit out of focus.

The third is of the bottle upside down in a window, you can see a tomato plant and a pot with some small purslane plants in it. I could not find seed for purslane but it happens to grow under some trees here in Madrid in my square.  I did know a bit of road on the way to my house in the country where i had seen it growing but it is easier to get it in my own square than to stop on fast and busy road for it.
    I think the pidgeons that eat the berries on the aligustre japonicum sow these seeds at its feet, They must eat the seed of this plant or the leaves and swallow the seeds at the same time.
      I will take a photo of it when it has grown a bit so everyone else will know the plant if they see it. it is meant to be good for chicken and it an be eaten as salad and it contains omega 3.
      This year a lot of ivy seeds have sprouted in the square, the birds must eat the fruit of the ivy too. They are the original guerilla gardeners i cant remember the right name for taking over plots in the city and growing things on them without permision.
    The portulaca is doing well i tried taking full grown plant last year but they died. This year i have taken the tiniest seedlings and they are growing like crazy. Having them appear on my doorstep seems like  a big stroke of luck to me.  agri rose macaskie.
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Tyler Ludens
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I think building the "hugelpit" in the summer is fine - just don't plant it until it has had a winter's rain soak in. 

 
rose macaskie
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  Ken Peavey says his pots drained in about a day, as the litre bottle i put in the earth to water my new plants seem to keep them from death door and they have to do with just that litre of water for two weeks, filling the pots every day seems to mean they are loosing too much water. I would get pots made of finer clay.
Mind you I put bottles on just one tree or bush and the pots are meant to keep the soil wet for a number of vegetables for instance.  agri rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
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  I would have thought you just need to wait a winter before you use it. A huggle pit takes an awfull lot of wood, at least a big one like those Sepp Holzers make and an awfull lot of earth to cover the bed to get the earth you need to dig a deep pit i suppose. Maybe to be super sucessful you need to put a lot of wood in your huggle pit.
  The problem with a good sized huggle bed is you have to disrupt your garden so and be so ready to plan for a big hange to your space and be capable of sculpting out such big forms. My mind blows a bit at the prospect of such a venture.  agri rose macaskie.
 
Jordan Lowery
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Humbert Cumberdale. Is that because it will take a while and a while of wet weather for the wood to get full of water and help you through the summer? agri rose macaskie.


well yea, if its not going to rain and you cant water them they cant get wet and mature. if you used fresh wet logs you might get a few months of decomposition maybe.

also Lee, if the land is flat, don't do beds do pits. and grade the land so any water ends up in the hugelpits.
 
rose macaskie
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  I have found and photographed one of the pottery teats that fit into the end of plastic bought water bottles. You fill the bottle full of water put on the teat and dig a hole by the paltn you want watered to take the teat and neck of your upside down bottle.
I will buy a bottle of water and  get  the foto of the teat and bottle together tomorrow.
  Here is a photo of the teat on a water bottle. agri rose macaskie.
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Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
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Hubert, since reading about 'hugel' on this forum I decided to try to use  some of the techniques in a new garden bed.

It gets hot as Hades here and we don’t get much of a winter to speak of – year round growing.  I started the bed after re-injuring a shoulder while trying to till the area.  So the tree limbs, grass clippings, leaves and other debris were just deposited on mostly hard dry ground covered with centipede grass.

I keep meaning to get out there and water it but just haven’t got around to it – it is a hot dry area that is hard to get water to.  I tossed in some squash seeds while I was at it and left it alone.

So far there are about 4 or 5 great looking squash plants!  How easy is that ?  If it is that good after only a month in the middle of summer then it should be a happenin’ place to plant by next year.  If I weren’t already sold on permaculture and hugel stuff then this would do it. 

My biggest problem is convincing other people that this is THE way to go.  Even when they see it with their own eyes they still want to go back home and dig, pull weeds and buy amendments from the store.
 
rose macaskie
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Reading about your huglekulture bed helps me believe it works on a deep level rather than just a logical one.
People need time to think about things, time as in a year or two or more. My mother used to shout at me all the time to get me to work or study and it did not seem to work but it takes a while to get disciplined you can't discipline yourself over night so you start to try to discipline your self while your mother goes crazy because it seems as if you are not paying attention to her.
  The sequel is that as a result of your mothers efforts you slowly discipline your self more and more to talk to the bores and to study and work but everyone around you remembers wha t you were like when you were fourteen. Then it is the importance of being Ernest, if you want people to take you seriously you have to look and sound very seriouse as well as being it, it is a bore for you and for others but if you dont do it you will never convince them you are any good at anything.
  i suppose people who see your hugglekulture bed will walk round their gardens thinking where could i try a bit of that, how many lawn cuttings do i need on that pile of wood, if i don't have grass cuttings, we leave ours where they fall to contribute to the organic matter to where the grass grew, what could i find to fill in the spaces on my wood pile.  How many trees do i have to plant to get leaves to cover my wood pile where else could i get some finer stuff from to stop that wood pile being too airey and so on. Will it be unsightly?That is all the planning things need that you did not expect to have to make. How do i convince my wife, or do i just do an in your face huggekulture pile? How the neighbors are going to laugh at me and in twenty years wwhen everyone has resvolved the aesthetics and logistis of it you will get hugglekulture mounds springing up all over the place.  agri rose macaskie.
 
Abe Connally
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For annuals, I use wicking beds.  We've gone 248 days without rain, and our home is run completely on rain catchment.  The wicking beds are lush and green, and we're eating greens and tomatoes in June....
 
rose macaskie
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Velacreations, how do wicking beds work? agri rose macaskie.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I've looked up wicking beds, but I also would like more information about your personal design, velacreations. 

 
Abe Connally
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ok, basically, a wicking bed is a garden bed with an impervious layer to hold water.

I make mine partially buried, but there are a number of ways to do it.

I dig a hole in the shape of the bed, level the floor, and make it about 8-12" deep.  Then, I line in with plastic and/or waterproof tarps.  I lay a drainage pipe in the bottom to help distribute water. I fill this basin with gravel, rocks and very coarse sand.

Then, I add good soil (1 part compost, 1 part rich soil, 1 part sand) to a depth of 12" above the gravel basin.  I cover this with a 3-4" layer of course mulch.

When I water, I fill the gravel basin, and it slowly wicks up into the soil.  So, plants are watered from below, and evaporation is greatly reduce/eliminated.

I throw in some composting worms for good measure, just to help keep things aerated.

Here's how I did mine:
http://velacreations.blogspot.com/search/label/wicking%20bed

Here are some links about the concept:
http://www.instructables.com/id/Wicking-Beds/
http://wickingbed.com/
http://www.waterright.com.au/
http://milkwood.net/2010/05/11/how_to_make_a_wicking_bed/
http://scarecrowsgarden.blogspot.com/p/wicking-worm-beds.html
http://www.easygrowvegetables.com/html/wickingbed.html
http://www.easygrowvegetables.com/html/easygrow.html
 
rose macaskie
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  The wicking bed  sounds like a great idea in my garden.
    You are very pregnant in one photo. I was told that i could do what i wanterd when i was pregnant but i was pulling weeds in about the third mounth of my first pregnance and thought i felt the babby which at first pleased me and then worried me a bit and the baby turned out to have a very badly damaged or deformed head. The doctors wanted me to bring on the birth, the baby died before it came to that, so i would say, dont pull weeds when you are  pregnant. I was pulling out rose roots which where all over the place. A woman in the village told me I should not be working like that, I have no idea if it was pulling weeds which caused the problem. The baby was also conceived near the time of the chernobil acident and the air of that went further than i new of at the time such as to south wales one person said and my parents lived near south wales. agri rose macaskie. 
 
Tyler Ludens
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Oh rose I am so sorry about the baby.  I don't think it was pulling weeds that had anything to do with it - women had been foraging for millenia while pregnant, pulling plants is a natural activity for women.

 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
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Vela, I am very intrigued by your wicking bed.  I looked at a number of your pics and links.

I have a kiddie pool that I think could be put to good use in this manner if I sink it a bit.  Might also help with the dreaded voles.  Two questions:

1. The bottom of the wicking bed does not appear to have holes – am I correct that this should be water tight?

2. I couldn’t figure out the white pipe sticking up that it attached to the black pipe that runs along the bottom (it’s purpose might be obvious but humor me – I’m slow).

I also like the ease of attaching netting over the top; I could just as easily cover with plastic in the winter – we don’t have much of a winter here so I only need a little protection
 
Kirk Hutchison
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You need some shade. Try planting fast growing, drought tolerant leguminous trees and channelling as much as possible of available water to them. Once established, they should not require much irrigation, and the shade they provide will dramatically reduce water loss due to evaporation. That combined with stuff like clay pots and wicking beds should solve your problem. The only downside is that even fast-growing trees take a while to get going, and need protection when young.
 
                      
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South Carolina wrote:
Vela, I am very intrigued by your wicking bed.  I looked at a number of your pics and links.

I have a kiddie pool that I think could be put to good use in this manner if I sink it a bit.  Might also help with the dreaded voles.  Two questions:

1. The bottom of the wicking bed does not appear to have holes – am I correct that this should be water tight?

2. I couldn’t figure out the white pipe sticking up that it attached to the black pipe that runs along the bottom (it’s purpose might be obvious but humor me – I’m slow).

I also like the ease of attaching netting over the top; I could just as easily cover with plastic in the winter – we don’t have much of a winter here so I only need a little protection



Yes, the they are watertight.  The idea is to create a reservoir of water that the plants can access between waterings.
The white pipe is the fill pipe, where you put the water.  You could put a light stick on a bit of foam in there to gauge the water level, adding water only when its down.

David Wise, Dabearded1
   
 
Abe Connally
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I cover these beds with shade cloth during the real hot times of summer.

That photo was actually my wife, and yes, she was VERY pregnant (within 2 weeks of birth!).  Everything came out fine.  She worked pretty hard with our first child, but this one she took it easy....

A kiddie pool might be a good basin.  Be careful with the first layer of rocks/gravel, so as not to puncture anything.

David answered the questions, so I won't repeat that.  Do go check out all of the links, as they have excellent information.
 
Burra Maluca
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Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
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Those plastic bottle drip-irrigation ideas have inspired me!

I 'went dumpster diving for 5 litre water bottles and this morning I've been experimenting with them.  I filled them with water, punched two small holes near the top on opposite sides, then lay them down with one hole dripping water into the mulch near 'at risk' young trees while the other hole lets air in at the 'top'.  I think the holes are a bit too big to expect them to stay dripping for more than a couple of hours, but hopefully that will be long enough to allow the water to penetrate down into the root zone and keep the trees alive and growing.  As the water is pumped from a rather wide well that the light can reach, the water is a bit green and slimy,  so I thought pin-holes would block too quickly. 

I've installed about five bottles and gathered a whole load more, so more experiments are to follow when I've got the hang of how well they work.
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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