Contributing Monkie Caroline Deveau
Published on November 5, 2011
Here’s a handy project to keep you busy during the cold months. I first read about ollas (pronounced oh-yah) over at Little Homestead in the City. Basically it’s an ancient irrigation method that uses unglazed, porous clay pots buried within the root zones of plants. Water poured into the exposed necks of the pots (or pitchers) naturally seeps into the soil, providing a continuous supply of water to the plants.
I’m intrigued by any method of watering that reduces consumption and is more natural. Ollas seem like the perfect answer, but premade ones can be expensive if you’re using them to irrigate everything. Then I found a gardener named Matt who posted an excellent how-to for making your own ollas using nothing more than inexpensive terra cotta pots. Matt’s site is closertothedirt.com. I followed Matt’s tutorial, and here’s how it went:
I am going to break down this project kind of like a recipe. First you need a few ingredients. Two unglazed clay pots for each Olla you plan to make. A tube of water proof glue or silicone and a piece of 2×2 tile for each Olla.
Step One: Acquiring Inexpensive Pots. In August they’re easy to find, and I bought these 15-inch pots for $1 each at Job Lot. You may be challenged to come by these in the winter if you don’t already have them hanging around.
Step Two: Sealing One End Of The Olla. You don’t want water flowing out of the bottom of your finished product. Before gluing and stacking the pots, I sealed one drain hole using a 2×2 inch tile left over from a remodeling project.
I should mention here that my adhesive of choice was Gorilla Glue. I debated buying silicone, but wanted to keep the experiment cheap, so I used what I already had. According to their Web site, Gorilla Glue is waterproof.
Step Three: Glue the edges of the post and stick them together. It really couldn’t have been easier. The pots are stable in the center. With Gorilla Glue you have to put pressure on the adhesive while it cures. The best I could do was tape and rocks. It worked.
As you can see, the glue expands when it dries, creating a water-tight seal.
Step Four: Digging your holes for your new Olla. I chose to place this one near my young pumpkins. If the plants weren’t established, I would have planted seeds closer to the olla. However, digging around these delicate young plants was precarious, so I kept my distance.
Step Five: This one is a no brainer. Cover them up with dirt… a.k.a. burying the Ollas.
Step Six: Visit your rain barrel and get a bucket of water. These ollas will hold approximately 3/4 of a gallon, so fill ‘em up!
Step Seven: Add a rock for extra beauty. You’ll need to keep something over the hole to prevent insects, rodents, and debris from getting inside. If you live in the Northeast, you probably have a handy rock collection.
That’s it! It took me 24-hours to make five ollas, with most of the time spent letting the glue cure overnight. Here are a few notes and considerations: In climates with deep freezes, ollas probably won’t survive the winter. It’s best to remove them in the fall. I’m still experimenting with placement and numbers. I will monitor the moisture in the soil to see how far it penetrates. Just because the olla is empty doesn’t mean it needs to be refilled. Again, monitor the moisture of the soil.