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Water saving ollas

When you're saving water, the first step is to get the water where it's needed in the most direct way possible.

No sprinkler heads rising like swans in a ballet to spew water 18-inches above the ground, splashing sidewalks and gutters. No sprinklers nodding back and forth sending sprays of water as tall as a child. Nope, it's irrigation dripping directly at the base of a stem or water bubbling at dirt-level.

You can't get much more direct than an olla (pronounced oy-ya). In the irrigation world, an olla is a clay pot, usually with a round bottom and a longish thin neck that is planted in the dirt next to plants that need water.  The dirt is mounded around the pot so that only the end of the neck shows. Water is poured into the opening to fill the buried pot. The clay absorbs water that in turn is absorbed by the dry earth surrounding it.  The plant gets a slow steady supply of water. Because the pot is buried, there's little exposure to the air and evaporation.


Of course, below ground there's nothing stopping the continuous flow of water in a radius around the olla.

Our first experiment with an olla involved making one. Conceptually, it's easy. Get two pots and two saucers. Invert one of the pots and glue it to the top of the second pot.  Glue the second pot to one of the saucers. Smear a heavy layer of caulking around the seam where the two pots were glued and around the seam where the pot was glued to the saucer. Let it dry. Fill the pots with water and watch for leaks.  If there are leaks, break out the caulking and try again.  If there aren't any, plant your olla.  Cover the top hole that sticks above ground with the second saucer to slow down any evaporation.

Karen has been concerned that too much water is coming out of the olla; it has to be filled frequently. That could be a leak  -- or it could be that the ground is so dry and so sandy that the water just drains out of it.

Her current experiment is fill wine bottles and bury the neck in the dirt. We have something similar with a potted plant on her patio.  That plant, however, has a clay plant nanny that helps keep the water in the bottle from draining through the pot.  It works well enough that the bottle only needs to be filled about once a week.

I have my doubts about the planted wine bottles. But, as usual, we'll see.  I do have some spare plant nannies, so we have a Plan B.

Follow-up: The water isn't rushing out of the wine bottles, but it's also not having an appreciable effect on the hydration of the plants. We haven't moved to the plant nannies yet.

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