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Gardening with Ollas

I, like most gardeners, like to try new things in my garden.  This year Mt. Garfield Greenhouse carried a new product that represented old-school technology–the Olla (pronounced oy-ya)–from Dripping Springs Ollas.  Ollas have been used by native cultures for decades as a way to farm crops in dry areas.  The idea is to bury an unglazed terra cotta vessel, fill it with water, and let that water move through the vessel into the soil to water plants around it.

I don’t have irrigation water, so I must use domestic water in order to garden.  My husband set up a mini-soaker hose system in our raised beds, operated on a timer to water the garden 3 days a week, once in the early morning, and again in the late evening.  The system works great to conserve water, and is enough for great plant growth and productivity.  However, in the scorching summer heat, the soil doesn’t stay as evenly moist as tomatoes would like, resulting in blossom end rot on the fruit.  This year, I wanted to see if ollas could help with maintaining soil moisture through the hot season.  So, at the start of the season, I purchased four ollas for the two 8×4 raised beds I planned for tomatoes this year–two ollas per bed.

I buried them up to their necks about a foot and a half in from the ends and centered from the sides, filled them with water and replaced their lids.

plant up to neck

Tomatoes and marigolds were planted around them.

plant around it

2 in a 4x8 garden

The hardest part about using ollas, was that my plants got so huge it was hard to find the ollas to fill them!  At the end of the season, I pulled the plants and uncovered the ollas.

uncover

Check out the roots growing around the neck of this olla–all the ollas had roots growing to them like this–the plants LOVED having this water source!

roots at top

Here’s a look at the roots surrounding the bottom of the olla.

roots at bottom

Roots had actually become attached to the ollas, and stayed on them after I pulled them out.

clinging roots

I let the ollas sun-dry on my deck for a few days, and I’m storing them in the garage for the winter to prevent freezing and cracking.

drying out

The result?  Blossom end rot almost non-existant!  Hurray!  I’m buying more ollas for the rest of my garden beds next spring.  Ollas help me keep soil moist and plants happy even on the hottest days.  I had a great tomato crop this year, with minimal loss due to blossom end rot–the only rot happened when the ollas dried out when I was out of town for a couple weeks.  Because my gardens are on a watering system, I filled the ollas every other week or so.  If you plan to use ollas as your only watering source–something that really works–you’ll need to fill them more often.  Soil composition and drainage as well as soil and air temperature will affect how often you’ll need to fill them.  Ollas can also be used in large container gardens!

See Mt. Garfield Greenhouse for ollas for YOUR gardens next spring!

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Filed under drought, General gardening, soil, tomatoes, water-wise landscaping