Not only are Ollas simple, less expensive, and more reliable . . . they can cut water use 90% below surface irrigation, and 50% below drip irrigation!
Here is what David A. Bainbridge of the Dry Lands Research Institute at the University of California-Riverside had to say:
"Drip irrigation has helped increase water-use efficiency in gardens and farms, but drip systems are for the well-off. To work reliably, the drip emitters require regulated water pressure, pumps, electricity, automated controls, careful filtration, and regular maintenance. . . . I started off using drip systems in the desert but found that drip emitters were easily blocked with sediment and salt and that several insect species specialize in plugging the emitters. Worse yet, coyotes, rabbits, and other animals chewed on and destroyed my drip tubing even when it was dry and open water was available nearby."
He goes on to say, "In a study of repellents to discourage animals from eating my plants in the California desert, all the drip tubing was snipped off before the plants were touched. . . . These vulnerabilities frustrated me and often led to complete failure of drip systems in remote or less developed areas.
So . . . . Ollas may be more practical and robust, but how can they be so much (50%!) more efficient than drip?
It has to do with where the water goes. When you overhead water or water with drip systems, you are saturating entire areas of soil. Much of the water will never make it to plants' roots before it evaporates or runs off.
Ollas are different way of using water. Plants' roots seek out and will grow toward the Ollas. Strong root systems are encouraged as the roots go deep to gather around and under the Olla, eventually creating suction to pull water through the Olla's walls as needed, creating almost 100% water efficiency.
As David A Bainbridge says, "These simple, sturdy systems work well and add value. They can dramatically increase plant survival, improve plant growth, and increase crop yield under the most severe conditions. They reduce water demand and help develop more robust plants that better tolerate drought."
Give one a try . . . I think you are going to be amazed by these ancient, brilliant, simple pots!
This book!. . . . I have read and re-read and re-read it! And yet, each time I pick it up, I find something new!
A few nights ago it was this:
"The lower cost and improved production efficiency of these systems can be critical for gardeners and farmers with little water, limited land, and limited resources. Water use can often be cut 90 percent below surface irrigation and 50 percent below drip (irrigation).
.That was a big statement buried in the Intro chapter . . . and it is true. Ollas are both less expensive and more efficient than drip irrigation!
This is why:
Plants' roots seek out and grow toward the Ollas, and eventually create suction to PULL WATER THROUGH THE WALLS OF THE OLLA, as needed. In other words, while water will transfer through the walls of the Ollas to the surrounding soil, once the roots establish themselves around the Olla, the water doesn't even get this far. Very little water is wasted as the roots suck water through the walls of the Ollas. This makes them almost 100% efficient.
A lovely buyer recently shared this photo of the roots that developed around one of her Ollas. LOOK AT THOSE ROOTS! These simple, brilliant, affordable pots have enabled people to grow food in extremely dry places for 1000s of years. I just love them!
*** Thank you, Becky, for letting me use your photo!
*** I'm not connected to sales of this book, but here is a link, if anyone is interested: https://www.amazon.com/Gardening-Less-Water-Low-Tech-Techniques/dp/1612125824/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2CH9YXZZF7IL9&dchild=1&keywords=gardening+with+less+water&qid=1601143861&sprefix=Gardening+with+less+w%2Caps%2C204&sr=8-1
It goes without saying that Tomatoes love Ollas! They will thank you for the on-demand water source, and I think you will like the ease of filling them and water savings.
People often ask how to plant with Ollas . . . and especially how far apart to space them. The answer is, 'it depends on what you are planting' . . . but a good rule of thumb is to draw a circle about 36" in diameter and plant your Olla in the center. Then plant your plants and seedlings within the circle.
We planted our tomatoes yesterday, and I took some photos to show you what we do.
This year, we are planting tomatoes in rows, with 2 Tomatoes sharing one Olla. Last year we planted wider rows with 3 or 4 Tomatoes sharing one Olla. This worked well, but our Tomatoes got so thick that it became hard to find the Ollas to add water. So this year, we went back to planting single file rows.
We started by laying out the Ollas and Tomatoes . . . .
We planted our Tomatoes within the 36" circle, but really that is because our space is limited. Tomatoes can actually be planted a bit beyond the circle if you would like. Their roots will seek out the Ollas, even from a distance, and sort of create suction, pulling water through the walls of the Ollas as needed. (Once established, Ollas become almost 100% efficient . . . . this ancient technology is brilliant!)
Our Ollas are 12" tall . . . to bury them up to their necks takes a deeper hole than you might expect. You don't have to bury them this deep . . . but they will be more efficient this way.
Last, we add water and Tomato cages. We'll try to remember to post some photos later in the season . . . . as I said, last year we had trouble finding the Ollas as our Tomatoes grew in!
We'll overhead water until our little tomato plants establish their roots ( a few weeks). After that, we just fill the Ollas.
Happy Gardening Everybody!
People sometimes ask how quickly an Olla transfers water though the walls of the pot. . . .
. . . So yesterday I started an experiment. I've done this many times before, but this time I took photos!
I filled an Olla to the very rim, then watched it. Within about 1/2 hour the walls of the pot were saturated with water, and it looked like the water inside the Olla was down about a cup.
I left it for 24 hours, then came back to check on it. The Olla with water is on the right . . . the one on the left is bone dry for comparison.
The Olla was sweating, and I was easily able to add 4 cups of water to replace the amount of water that had transferred through the walls of the pot.
So . . . the Olla transferred about a quart of water in 24 hours, sitting on the counter in our basement on a warm, somewhat humid October day in Wisconsin.
But this is where it gets tricky . . . if it were a dry day it would have transferred water faster . . . and if it were raining (in our basement), it would have transferred slower.
It works the same way when Ollas are buried in soil. If the soil is dry, the Olla will transfer water quickly. If it is saturated, it will transfer water slowly. And, if soil is REALLY saturated, water will actually transfer from the soil back into the pot.
And, even more interesting is that plants' roots grow toward the Olla, and eventually create suction to pull water through the walls of the Olla as needed, creating almost 100% efficiency.
I love the simple brilliance of this ancient technology! The top of the soil stays dry (which discourages weeds), they save water, they save you time, and plants love them :)
Look at this photo sent by a lovely Etsy buyer!!
What a happy Orchid! I love this so much!
A few people (well, 3) have asked how I structure my days?. . . . I do whatever needs to be done for the Ollas in the mornings, then work on other orders and fun in the afternoons. This morning it was lids. 😊
A note for my potter friends: this is my standing wheel! It has saved my back and I love it. I don't think I would be working as a potter without it.
People often ask if they can leave their Ollas in the ground over the winter.
My general reply is, "If you live someplace where the ground freezes, NO, because they may crack."
Like terra cotta pots, Ollas absorb (and transfer) water . . . so leaving them in the ground through freeze-thaw weather cycles could cause cracking as the water in the walls of the Ollas freezes and expands.
But Ollas may be a little tougher than I though . . . I've left 3 Ollas buried in our gardens here in Wisconsin last winter, and all of them this winter, and they have all survived just fine.
One is pictured above. As you can see, it has heaved out of the soil a little this year, but it is not cracked.
We will likely dig them up and rebury them deeper this spring, and I would still recommend that you dig them up if your ground freezes in the winter . . but they may be more durable than I thought.
Matt and I are going on a road trip!
We will be delivering Ollas along the way and have room for more.
Contact me if you are along our route and would like one (or other pottery!) We can save you the expense of shipping.
A couple of years ago, there was some roadwork on our street and we all had our terraces torn up. When it was finished, it seemed we were all seeding and watering, trying to make the grass grow back.
One day our neighbor said, "Why are we all trying to grow grass? We should all be planting stuff we can eat." His idea was for us all to plant gardens at the street.
Naturally, Matt and I LOVED the idea!
Together with our neighbor we began talking the idea up. As it turned out, there was lots of interest, but only two of us planted gardens at our curb . .. our neighbor, and us . . . . hardly the neighborhood display we imagined.
And, Matt and I really didn't need more garden space. We are gardeners and already had gardens in both sideyards, and had dug up our entire back yard to convert to garden space (a little crazy, I know . . .)
So, I wasn't sure the curb garden would stay . . .
But, I have to tell you I LOVE the curb garden. It makes us unique. People have no trouble finding our house ("look for the house with the garden at the curb"), and we've gotten tons of appreciative comments and happy feed-back on it.
Occasionally, we'll put up signs inviting people to help themselves. Kids on bikes stop and eat cherry tomatoes, teenagers tell us it's cool, parents with young children stop and let them out of strollers to pick stuff. . . it's so fun to watch..
People have offered us money, veggies for trade, and left kind notes.
One of the coolest things that happened this summer was the morning we found a card and a bag of warm muffins on our front stoop. The card explained that the person who left it was new to our neighborhood, and was charmed by the garden. She had taken some oregano and tomatoes when she walked by with her dog . . . the muffins were in exchange.
Here it is:
How cool is this?
Shortly before the end of the season a man was 'power walking' as I brought in groceries. Without breaking stride as he walked by, he reached out, grabbed a cherry tomato, tossed it in the air and caught it in his mouth.
I love it!
So I went out to take some photos for our Etsy shop today, and stopped to snap a photo of our parsley. Admittedly, it has been a mild fall here in Wisconsin, but I am marveling at how great our Parsley still is - even in November!
How we planted it using an Olla: We dug a hole and planted the Olla. Next drew a circle around the olla about 2 feet in diameter and sprinkled Parsley seeds in it. We filled the Olla with water, and overhead watered for about 3 weeks. After that, we just kept refilling the Olla! I love our garden!