July 20, 2020

Conserving Water in the Garden: Inverted Bottles

Here's another idea for conserving water in the garden - an inverted bottle waterer. I'm trying it in my African keyhole garden, because the blazing afternoon sun with no rain has been unkind to the borage and lettuce growing in it.

Jericho lettuce seems to beat the heat! Borage behind it.

I got the idea from Liz at Eight Acres, and she got the idea from someone else, and I hope you'll try it and pass it on too! Idea sharing is what makes the internet useful.

Yes, you can use plastic bottles, although Liz's experiments favored glass to plastic because plastic bottles tend to suck in as the water empties. Plus, she found the glass bottles held water longer. Even so, I'm willing to see for myself. I don't buy bottled water or soda, so we rarely have plastic bottles, but I had one that contained seltzer water (mixed with fruit juice concentrate for a yummy sugar-free soda pop), So I'm using it to experiment in  my large back porch planter.

Originally, I planted lettuce in this pot, but violets took over. They're
a good test subject because they wilt quickly when the pot dries out.

I suspect longevity will depend on the quality of the plastic. Many water bottles these days are extremely flimsy and I doubt would last long. Even so, all plastic eventually dries out and cracks.

Punching a small hole in the cap will slow the emptying of the bottle.

Actually, we rarely have glass bottles either, but I think they will last longer than plastic. This seems the absolute best way to recycle them!

Watering a sweet potato plant. This one is thriving
compared to the sweet potato plants in the garden.

An observation—the smaller (12 oz) bottle empties as soon as I put it in the ground. But the sweet potato is thriving, so I won't complain. The larger (750 ml) bottle delivers slowly. It was empty about 24 hours later. Both of these have made a wonderful difference for those poor plants.

Like the olla, this idea certainly makes watering easier and more effective. With both, water is delivered directly to the roots, so there is no surface water loss through evaporation. Compared to the olla, the bottles are quicker and easier to install; no digging required. That would make them preferable for perennials or other plants with established root systems. It would also be great for potted plants, which always dry out too quickly. On the other hand, the olla holds more water.

Be sure to read the comments as folks are sharing a lot more good ideas. I'm definitely going to expand on all of them!


Caroline M said...

You can buy terracotta spikes that are designed for wine bottles to drop in to, you get the seepage from the terracotta with the ease of filling with a recycled bottle. They would be easier to move than the olla.

Leigh said...

Caroline, I've not seen those before, but what a great idea. The bottles are definitely easier to move, and like I said, with no digging required they're better to use with perennials or plants with established root systems.

Ulvmor said...

Old man has developed this further in his greenhouse, he has cut bottoms off and added a tight pipe in to the mouth of the bottle so no need to pick up bottles, you can fill them easily. Bottles are fixed to poles so they stand upright. They've been in use at least 20 years, I think he has changed maybe third of bottles so far.
This requires a bit more planning than I tend to do while gardening...

Leigh said...

Ulvmor, yes, it would require more planning, but I think it would be worth it, especially for something like my sweet potato bed this year. My poor sweets are stunted from our hot dry weather, and that would definitely make it easier. I don't know if I'll manage to round up all the materials this summer, but it's an idea to work toward.

daisy g said...

I like the idea and it's so easy. The only drawback is if hail visits. But I'm sure there's an idea out there to deal with that too! ;0D

Cockeyed Jo said...

I was wondering how your keyhole garden was doing. I've used plastic bottles for this purpose for many years.

Kathy said...

Leigh, I can’t find in any of the sited posts if you need a cap of some sort on the mouth end of the bottle, or just leave them open and quickly turn upside down. ???

Living Alone in Your 60's said...

Great idea, I will save the wine bottles over the next few months to try it out.

Ed said...

Never done such a thing but after reading this, I would probably try using regular canning jars and old used canning lids with a hole poked in them. We have lots of those all year long.

Leigh said...

Daisy, yes, very easy and with better results than watering from the top. I guess hail could be a problem if it was big enough! I suppose hail could break the ollas as well, which goes back to adapting methods for one's own climate.

Jo, I had poor germination in the keyhole garden, which was disappointing. Hopefully, a fall planting will do well.

Kathy, good to hear from you! I did find a site that recommended caps, let me see if I can find it again.
Here it is https://www.hunker.com/13425597/how-to-make-your-own-self-watering-plant-spikes.

I'm experimenting with both caps with holes and no caps. I'm refilling the quart-size no cap bottles last every morning. I'll have to let you know about the ones with nail holes in the caps.

Frugal, it's a great way to repurpose bottles and keep them out of the landfill!

Ed, that would be a great way to use those old metal canning lids. Good idea. Actually, any lidded jar could be used. I'll have to dig through my recyclables and see what I can find!

wyomingheart said...

Gonna try this out for sure! We have been so warm and sunny here, that each afternoon when I look at the garden, it seems to be screaming at me! I have taken to watering after the sun goes down to give the plants some refreshments. Seems to be helping the squash and cucumbers. My improvised keyhole garden has tomatoes and I must tell you that I have never had such terrific looking plants, that are loaded with green tomatoes! I am so thrilled with this project, that I am wanting to build several more for next year. Thanks Leigh !

Rain said...

That's a super idea Leigh. I have glass bottles to spare since I'm a wine drinker. It gets so sunny and hot here that I see the water evaporating nearly half an hour after I water sometimes. I'm trying to water in the late afternoon now when the sun moves across to the other side of the house. The roots definitely need more water and I don't think my plants are getting enough!

Michelle said...

Leigh, do you put caps on the glass bottles? We have a bottle bill here in Oregon so I rarely have large glass bottles (I return them for 10¢ each). But my experimental sweet potatoes under black plastic could really benefit from this idea!

Leigh said...

Wyomingheart, a thirsty garden is a heartbreaking sight, isn't it?

I'm so glad to hear your keyhole garden is thriving! I had trouble getting mine established, and until the plant roots are fairly deep, they don't seem to get the advantage of water from the keyhole's compost bin.

Rain, we water in the late afternoons too. At least the plants get the moisture overnight!

Michelle, I'd recommend caps with a nail hole punched into them. That seems to slow the trickle and lets the plants get what they need via capillary action.

Are you required by law to return all glass bottles? Or is it just the incentive of 10 cents each? In my thinking, that's a pretty cheap price to pay for water bottles for the garden!

www.self-sufficientsam.blogspot.com said...

Great post and such great info as always. I'll be trying this for sure as in this heat I could water twice a day! Thank you!

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Thanks for the additional idea Leigh! I have purchased the book you recommended and am looking forward to new ideas.

Leigh said...

Sam, thank you! I just got back from visiting your new blog. I'l sorry you had trouble with the old one, but the new one is great!

TB, I think I'm going to buy a personal copy as well. It's nice being able to check it out from the library, but it's got a lot of good ideas and will make a good reference book.

Tom and Sue said...

I have used this idea both in North Carolina and here in Hawaii. I use the plastic bottles and throw out the caps, Cut off the bottom and plant the bottle half-way in the soil. When the plants need water, just fill the bottle with water and if you think it needs more, fill it again.
No need to move them at all.
Another reason that we use this method is because the plants with large leafs (Pak Choy, Squash of all kinds ETC.) can block rain from watering the plant/bed. So when we are panting a new bed or pot, the first that goes in after the soil are the bottles.
Plants grow up around them and sometimes we have to move some leafs out of the way or prune some back.
With a hose or a watering can, they are easy to fill.

Henny Penny said...

Could not concentrate on what I was reading for wondering where I could find a bottle or two. Everything was just carried to the recycle center. Your lettuce and borage plants are beautiful. This hot dry weather is killing my garden.

Leigh said...

Tom, good point about leafy plants sometimes blocking the rain. By cutting off the bottoms, you'd have quick delivery of the water but much simpler filling.

Henny, that bottle has saved my borage and lettuce! I'm definitely expanding on this idea, although it will take awhile to collect the bottles. I figure I won't be taking them to the landfill for quite awhile!

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh, I am all about the reference books. In my case, I have found that most of the books I want the library never has, so I had to build my own.

Leigh said...

TB. I'm with you on that one. A good home reference library is worth its weight in gold!

Quinn said...

In the past few years, whenever I create a new small raised bed or mound, I start by setting a bucket with either a crack (got several 5-gallon buckets with cracked bottoms, who knows why) or small holes drilled, in the middle of the bed and then building the bed up around it, up to a couple of inches below the top edge of the bucket. Important tip: I learned to keep a branch in the bucket for a ladder so little animals can't get trapped and drown or die of starvation. The buckets do the job of collecting rainwater and releasing it slowly, well down amongst the roots of the bed. If we have a dry spell, I fill the buckets with the hose.
Of course, I'm still watering all the rows of vegetables, etc., but this "system" helps a bit. And gives those cracked buckets a real job :)

Leigh said...

Quinn, that's an excellent idea for cracked buckets. I have one or two of them myself, although I use them for hauling mulch typically. But to use them for water like you describe is brilliant. I'd probably keep a like on them, to keep mosquitoes out.

Jessie - Rabid Little Hippy said...

Back in the late 80's my parents went through a gardening period and they bought these orange drip things that a 2L fizzy bottle would screw into to help tghe drip irrigation. They looked like carrots (bright orange) and were about the size of a hefty carrot too.

Another great water saving option is an Aussie invention by a fellow called Bernie Odomeier. Lok up measured irrigation on youtube. It's good when you have mains or tank water and it's drip irrigation but with different sized drippers so you can water all your plants at the same time, from blueberry bushes to strawberries, different water needs etc and there's a fabulous evaporation tank set up to which helps deliver the water as it's genuinely needed. If it rains this evap tank fills and registers no need to water. It's super clever.

Leigh said...

Jessie, good to hear from you! More resources! Thank you! Most of the innovative water conservation ideas come out of Australia, I've noticed. Useful ideas, unlike here, where they just want to sell you something.

Sandi said...

This is a great idea!

Leigh said...

Sandi, these really help for crowded dry areas. I like the glass bottles better than the plastic, but wouldn't hesitate to use whatever I have to get the job done.

bemerson86@att.net said...

How about just turning glass bottles upside down and leaving about 3"
above the soil, the sun hitting the bottle would create condensation on the inside and slowly drip into the soil below. Has anybody tried this?

Leigh said...

Brian, I guess mine were kinda like that. Not really sure if it helped or not.