Low Tech Irrigation From a Rainbarrel. Barrel of Water Can Last a Week or More.




About: I am a stone mason. My hobby is making new solar cooking and gardening stuff. I have used solar heat to cook soil for a couple of years. In mother earth news in January, i read that their compost expert does...

Rainbarrels have a fantastic capacity to irrigate and they also have huge potential as a buffer against big downpours flooding the city infrastructrue. But they only act as a buffer if they are not full.  Irrigation is better if it is slow and constant and at least semiautomatic.
If  we can combine a rain barrel with this type of slow irrigation we can have a far better "system" with a healthier city environment.
Now we can with the TCMTECH dripper irrigation system!

Step 1: How It Works.

If you just poke a hole in the bottom of a barrel, the water will quickly run out at first and then slow right down or the hole will block and it will stop completely.  We need something with even and very slow flow.  There are several ways to achieve even flow but I am convinced that this method is the simplest and easiest and will prove to be the most reliable.  You simply have a float in the water in the barrelm the float is attached to or is a container,  there is a little hole in the container and there is a plastic tube leading from the float to an outlet from the barrel  This means that the barrel will empty at a constant rate as the float simply drops as the water empties slowly from the barrel.   The picture shows a float which is a glass pot lid. The water is leaking through the steam exit hole and the tube goes through the hole that I left when I removed the handle.

Step 2: Proof of Concept Device.

Here are pictures of my first TCMTECH dripper. It is running great!

Step 3: Improvements

Well, a glass lid is not much of a float!  It will eventually sink!  when it tips a bit near the bottom of the barrel.   So it will have to either be something lighter or it will need foam or inserts to keep it floating always.  It will need a dome over it to keep out rain and dirt and it will need something as a filter for the inlet water.  Also the tube leading away from the float should probably be more than 1/4 inch diameter to prevent airlocks. A L joint attaching to the outlet tube near the bung is probably a good idea too.

Step 4: Multiple Floats in One Barrel? (and Other Strange Stuff).

I think you could easily fit 3 floats in a rain barrel.  And they could each be going at different speeds to water different plants or gardens.  And in the previous version of dripper irrigation I had a strange refill mechanism for when it rains. maybe it could be modified to let out gushes of water at intervals  (after the water exits the barrel). It is a plastic bottle version of the bamboo things that empty when they fill to a certain height in Chinese water features. (except that the water goes too different ways).

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    8 Discussions

    Has anyone tried this yet? It is kind of critical to have feedback before next years spring gardening starts. People are not going to believe based just on my experience with it. You can easily try it indoors if you have a drywall or paint bucket and some silicone tubing. Thanks Brian Sunday 4th November 2012


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I like it.Even if I were using city water, this could be good.The lid offers built in weight, but i would like to use something more commonly available-any ideas?

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Yes indeed, this is just a first step. If you are using city water, you must prevent back contamination of city waterlines and this is hard to do in a simple system. You could just quarter fill your rainbarrels every day or 2 and then if it rains, you get 3/4 rainbarrel capacity right away. The float needs to always FLOAT! so glass is out! I think it also needs a cover on top to prevent debris getting in and blocking things. The tube in the middle is just 3/16 inch diameter internally. This must be bigger! I think the first 6 inches needs to point straight down and be at least 3/8 inch diameter. I can draw up a "mark 2" design but it would be nicer if the community did it instead. Thanks for your input

    It is really strange (to me) that nobody has tried this. (In 9 months!) But whatever. I now believe that most humans are useless from the neck up. Not even capable of monkey see, monkey do! In the facebook group Lets teach them ti fish, Marneth Weaver has this to say:
    "I tried Brian White's rainwater trickle method shown in a previous post. I found a glass lid at a resale shop in Stillwater, went to Lowe's to find polyethylene tubing to fit the lid hole exactly, then came home, drilled a hole for the tubing in a water barrel. Works wonderfully to feed water to the underground irrigation system I put in earlier this year."


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Hello, gaiatechnician. I would like to add one improvement idea to your design. You could make the floater out of a plastic bottle, with two holes in it, one at the very bottom, and the other somewhere in the lower bottom, fill it more than half with water, and then put the cap on tight.
    This way you create an air chamber inside, which will make it float, and you keep your drip line from clogging with debris.

    I made a drywall bucket version. First I used ordinary tubing (unhappy with it because it is just too stiff). but now I am trying blue silicone airline for aquariums. Very flexible. First "float" is a round margarine container. It is not working as well as the glass lid because it simply does not have enough weight. Next, I will go down to the dollar store and try to find cheap frisbees or throwing disks and also funnels. I think a funnel might well work. I now have a decent simple way to regulate the inlet water to the float. (doesn't involve grass stems). Thanks Brian


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Tx/Rx labs, the hackerspace in Houston, just moved into a new space with a yard. I will bring this design up when it comes time to discuss rainwater capture and usage in our gardens.

    1 reply

    Thanks. Go for it. Remember, you can have up to at least 3 drippers in a rain barrel. And they can all be going at different speeds.