an irrigation tower for drylands gardening

One of the new farm day participants (but someone who has been following our work for a long time) has initiated a new project.

We began construction on Saturday.

At Rainshadow Farm, we have hand-watered from the get-go. We do not have eaves or downspouts on our California-built farmhouse for installing any rain barrels. Hand-watering is incredibly time-intensive, although it does tend to conserve water because you can gauge the needs of each plant, tree, or grouping as you go. If we were a production farm instead of an educational and research farm, I’m sure I’d already be using drip irrigation. If we decide to stay here for the long(er) haul, I’m sure I’ll install drip systems.

Meanwhile, my kids water by hand and have my undying love and respect for that.


Our new participant came in with an idea and a 55-gallon barrel.

Here’s what we’re doing.



I call it our water tower because after running the idea through several participants and after beginning the work itself, the idea went through several iterations to its best form. We decided to make a small water tower catchment and supplement system for a high desert garden. A number of the towers placed around the farm could feasible water the entire orchard and many vegetable beds, even the compost pile, but we are building a prototype that may be helpful for people with a simple household vegetable garden to water in the desert. We will pick which lucky garden bed gets to be our experimental subject at the next farm day.

Tower frame engineer.

Tower frame engineer.


We’ll build a strong wooden frame for our barrel, raising it about three feet from the ground. There will be a nozzle at the bottom of the tank, with a splitter attached, allowing the connection of multiple garden drip lines. We will anchor the “water tower” frame to the ground by sinking the bottom legs of the tower 18 inches or (better) 2 feet into the ground and cementing them in. This will help the barrel and tower withstand the astounding winds we get in the high desert year ’round. It will also create a permanent installation. If someone doesn’t want a permanent water collection device, they might wish to secure the tower contraption another way. I’ve mentioned one of those ideas below.


We are in a drought right now and we are also living in the desert, so making this completely self-sustaining isn’t entirely practical currently. Still, it is a water conserving system and the more water we can save in small-scale desert gardening, the better.


The barrel will sit about 3 feet off the ground and function from gravity, slowly leaking water to the plants. We currently have 1 gallon per hour emitters to install. If someone wanted a slower drip, they might install their barrel lower to the ground. We liked three feet up. That proposed height brought out all kinds of ideas involving cinder blocks and wooden tables with rope and cement stakes, which would allow the barrel to be moved. Finally someone suggested a min-water tower set up. Her idea was the best and the most practical. It is permanent but I like that idea because it also was the most secure installation idea.

Water catchement system designer.

Water catchement system designer.

When we get near the end of this project, we plan to install filters made of cheese cloth or paint strainers at certain joints, keeping the whole system unclogged and free of debris. People who use drip know that clogging is a factor we always have to deal with.

Another feature of the design is the possibility of adding more barrels in sequence.

We will continue work on this project at our next meeting. More photos to follow.

About rainshadowfarm

I teach anthropology, am an archaeologist, a drylands agroecologist, community educator, and a single mother of eight grown kids. I currently own and operate an educational and research farm in the southern Mojave Desert, Rainshadow Farm. I'm 100% West Virginia hillbilly. Not necessarily in that order.
This entry was posted in agroecology, community, dryland restoration, resilience, socioecological intelligence, sustainability education, sustainable agriculture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to an irrigation tower for drylands gardening

  1. rainshadowfarm says:

    Reblogged this on Rainshadow Farm Institute and commented:

    An update.

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