Pitcher Irrigation, also known as “Matka Irrigation” in South Asia, is a classic yet smart and eco-friendly method of watering plants. Here are ways to save water using this approach.
Matka (pitcher) is a clay pot that has been used for centuries for water storage. The clay pot used in pitcher irrigation may have a small hole at the bottom which is closed by a cotton thread to slowly release the water into the roots. This is an older version of the modern Drip Irrigation System but still be very useful. This relatively cheap and simple irrigation method is a lifesaver technique for farming in dry areas facing severe water shortages.
Subh-e-Nau was one of the pioneers to initiate a pilot project of Matka Irrigation at Karachi University many years ago.
Why adopt Matka Irrigation?
Firstly, water scarcity has become a serious global issue that requires everyone to conserve as much water as possible. The Matka/Pitcher Irrigation method uses a relatively smaller amount of water by reducing wastage as compared to conventional methods i.e. using a garden hose. You may also recycle water by filling the pitcher with water that has been used to wash fruits and vegetables and/or rain-harvested water etc. Secondly, this method optimizes the plant's water needs. As a result, you don’t need to water plants every day or sometimes even twice a day in the hottest months of dry summer when the evaporation rate is too high. So this ancient irrigation system is not only good for conserving water but it also saves your time and energy.
Remember! Every single drop of clean water you conserve may eventually help others facing severe water shortages.
How to do it?
Traditional clay pots (Matkas) are affordable and quite easy to obtain from any local clay pot shop. Always buy the unglazed ones as they are porous. A 10-liter capacity Matka should be sufficient to irrigate an average domestic garden.
You would need to fix the pitcher irrigation system before preparing your garden for plantation as doing it after that could damage the plants' roots. Fixing the Matka Irrigator is very simple; just dig the same size hole as of pitcher’s diameter and bury it up to the neck in the soil. An unglazed pot is porous, which means it keeps seeping out water into garden soil. So you may bury it as it is without making a small hole at the bottom.
Now fill it with water, put a lid on it and your pitcher-irrigated garden is ready. The saplings or seeds should be planted around the pitcher. One Matka (pitcher) is usually enough for 4 – 6 square feet area, depending on climate and soil. If it is too hot and dry, you may need to add more Matkas, but fewer if the climate is moderate with relatively moist soil. These pots need to be refilled as they run out of water. You can use harvested rainwater in Matka irrigation. You may also mix liquid fertilizer or organic pesticides in these pitchers as needed.
Always put a lid on Matka to reduce water loss by evaporation when temperatures are too high
Covering up pots also prevents them from becoming mosquito breeding sites.
Watch out for snakes which may be hiding in a pitcher in the hot summer months.
Do not fill water with chemical contaminants e.g. bleach, laundry detergent, and/or any kind of acidic or alkaline solution.
It is good to drain these pots during heavy monsoon rains to avoid waterlogging.