In this part of Nicaragua it doesn’t rain for six whole months.

That can be a challenge for farmers who have planted, say, a couple hundred small trees given to them in a reforestation and farm diversification project.  A few farmers have irrigation systems already installed, most have to work for hours bringing water to the trees every other day.

As us gardeners know, dumping a liter of water at the base of a plant from a bucket is not the same as a liter of water falling from the sky during a gentle rainfall.  Hence the invention of drip irrigation and soaker hoses – plants need constant humidity, and soil which remains humid maintains humidity.  Once soil has dried out to rock hard, it is a struggle to get it moist again.  Instead, water runs off and never reaches the roots.  The is one of the reasons that the negative effects of deforestation are so difficult to reverse.  Once the shade and root structures of living plants are cleared away, soil bakes into a hard clay, and establishing roots and loose humid soil again is a long slow process.

Enter: the old plastic bottle, saved from the trash.

SosteNica/CEPRODEL’s reforestation project  project encourages farmers to use 3 liter plastic bottles to create plant specific drip irrigation systems.  Drip hoses are expensive, and in order to use them from a well or river you need a pump to create pressure.  These bottles pulled from the trash become a low tech gravity fed drip irrigation that is widely available.  There’s one hitch – you or your family has to drink a lot of soda.

The bottle is hung upside-down from a stake next to the sapling.  In this case i is a mango sapling.  An opening is made in the bottom of the bottle.  Now, instead of dumping water from your bucket onto the ground all at once, fill the bottle.  Unscrew the cap just enough until water drips out.  The system has easily adjustable water flow – unscrew the cap more and the water flows out faster.

In the hot tropics, even more water is conserved by adding mulch at the bast of the plant to prevent evaporation, and filling the bottles in the afternoon so they drip during the night while the sun is down.  The farmers add dried cow manure under the mulch, adding some nitrogen fertilizer to the water as it slowly seeps down to the roots.

The participants in the project began installing these systems in November at the end of the rains, but they soon drained their own houses, their families, and even their neighbors of all plastic bottles, and didn’t have enough for the hundreds of trees the project distributed.  So Carlos Caceres and Luis Rivas, project coordinators and micro finance experts, because top bottle recycling heroes.

Luis Rivas told the garbage men in Chichigalpa where he lives: 1 cordoba ($0.05) per bottle, and the garbageman produced this sack of 262 bottles for our project.  The bottles will be distributed to the clients who are still struggling to water their citrus, mango, and avacado trees.

And so the remnants of ‘trashy’ consumerist culture become a tool for a greener future.