I’m the first to admit, I’m a massive bit of a nerd. I love my technology. But sometimes, low-tech solutions deliver the most elegant, beautiful solution to a problem.
One of the biggest problems in my garden is water.
Summers are brutal here in Perth. Water is scarce, so we have water restrictions.
I can’t afford the $5000 or so for a bore, or equivalent for a greywater system right now. Retrofitting water tanks to this house would also be $$$, I collect as much of the rainfall as I can, but it’s gone all too soon.
Even the most sophisticated, drip reticulation system can only be switched on twice or thrice a week. And if we get a total sprinkler ban (it happens), then reticulation becomes completely redundant and we are only allowed to water by hand using a hose or watering can.
By the way, my new hobby is hydroponics. This way I harvest quite a large crop and I do not have to worry about watering the plants. The hydroponic systems I use can be found here: How do I choose a hydroponic system?
An ancient water-wise solution.
Luckily for me, farmers have been facing very low rainfall, average soils, and warm climates for millennia. And a few years ago, I found Urban Homestead. The Durvaes family have been using ollas in their raised beds in their Pasadena, California garden for many years, with great success. Their plants thrive and their water use is minimal. It was the first time I had ever encountered ollas and I was immediately smitten. Ollas are an ancient form of irrigation, used for over 4000 years.
Traditionally, ollas are rounded terracotta vessels with a narrow neck. They are submerged into the soil, with just the neck protruding. Once filled with water, the olla seeps water into the surrounding soil, directly to the roots, right where it is needed. Obviously, no water is lost to runoff or evaporation.
Ollas are easy to move!
You can use ollas in large pots and the garden bed. I rotate my beds around, so the ollas can be moved easily enough too.
Plus, ollas are perfect if you are renting. You can dig them up and take them with you.
Benefits of the Olla Watering System
- Water Efficiency: Ollas provide highly efficient water usage. By slowly releasing water directly to the plant roots, they minimize evaporation and runoff, making them ideal for arid climates and water conservation efforts.
- Time Saving and Low Maintenance: Once buried and filled, ollas require refilling only every few days to a week, depending on weather conditions and soil type. This reduces the time and effort needed for daily watering.
- Improved Plant Health: The steady, consistent supply of water promotes healthy plant growth. Plants can draw water as needed, reducing the stress caused by under or overwatering.
- Deep Watering: Ollas encourage deeper root growth as the water seeps into the lower soil layers, leading to stronger, more resilient plants.
- Reduced Weed Growth: Since the surface soil remains drier, weed growth is minimized, reducing the need for frequent weeding.
- Eco-Friendly and Sustainable: Ollas are a natural and sustainable watering method. They can be made from locally sourced materials and do not require electricity or complex irrigation systems.
- Adaptability: This system can be used for a wide variety of plants and adapted to different garden sizes and layouts.
- Soil Health Preservation: Unlike some irrigation methods that can disturb soil structure or cause erosion, ollas gently water the soil without disrupting its composition.
- Enhanced Soil Nutrition: By maintaining consistent moisture levels, ollas can help improve nutrient uptake in plants, leading to healthier growth.
Ollas are Expensive
Getting traditional ollas shipped from the US equated to about $100 an olla!
Ouch! For a while, I couldn’t find them in Australia. But a quick Google search for “ollas + Australia” will produce a few results for suppliers in Australia.
Again, ouch! While much cheaper than the US sites, Aussie-ollas are still pricy. I wouldn’t get much change from $200.00 to get a dozen ollas delivered to my door.
A DIY Economical Olla
Fortunately, a much simpler solution showed up in my Pinterest feed. It’s one of those things that when you look at it, you feel instantly silly for not thinking of it yourself sooner.
Homemade ollas using terracotta pots!
When I finally had the time to make them, I found the perfect pot size, on sale for just $1.00 each. Woohoo!
So for the much more budget-friendly price of $24.00 I made myself a dozen ollas. That’s $2.00 each!
How to Make Awesome Two-Dollar Ollas
You will need
- Two equal sized unglazed terracotta pots.
- One tube of weatherproof silicone sealer.
- Optional: old pieces of pipe or hose to fit the drainage hole of the pot.
I made twelve large ollas and three smallish ones. One tube of silicone sealer was enough to do the lot, with some to spare. I also used a food-safe grade silicone, the kind used for water tanks and indoor plumbing.
- I set up a production line on a tarpaulin.
- I sealed the drainage hole in the bottom of the pots with silicone, both inside and out, to make doubly sure it won’t drain when filled with water. I cut pieces of milk bottle plastic to stick on the inside of the pot to act as a plug.
- I planned to add a hose neck to refill the olla. But my old bit of garden house was too wide, I couldn’t manage to secure it properly to the top of the pot. Instead, I submerged the olla them with the top at soil level. A pot saucer acts a lid to prevent evaporation and debris from falling in the olla
- When both halves were dry, I placed one on top of the other (see below). I piped the silicone around the rim of the bottom pot, placed the top one on top and smoothed the silicone around the seam using a plastic spatula. Some pots needed extra silicone around the rim to get a good, thick seal.
- Leave for 24 hours for the silicone to cure and dry completely.
- Once they have dried, I filled them with water for a test run to ensure there were no leaks. They held their water! My large ollas hold a generous 3-litre drink.
I made a dozen ollas for less than $30!
I’m thrilled with how they turned out. I’ll be making more this week in preparation for a hot summer ahead. In part two of this post, I show you how to use ollas in your garden beds. Go check it out! you won’t believe the “before” and “after” results!
Do you use ollas? Do you think you might give them a go? If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to leave me a comment below.