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Hola to Ollas: Saving Water in Your Desert Garden

Posted by maikeru, 30 May 2009 · 361 views

For those living in hot and arid climates, maintaining a garden and watering it efficiently and effectively can sometimes be a big problem. Here in Utah, we have 40-43 C days during July and August combined with the dry desert air. And increasingly like other places around the world, we are suffering from drought and water shortages, making water conservation more and more important. Every day I see ads on TV asking us to conserve water, and rightly so with such a precious, commonly overlooked commodity.

During my internet browsing this morning, I stumbled across something that might be useful for those of us living in desert and drought-prone regions, like the American Southwest or Australia.

Say hola to the olla:


But in this case the waterwise gardener does not use the jar or clay vessel for cooking, but for watering those thirsty plants. This seems to have been introduced to the American Southwest and other desert areas by the Spanish, and it's an old, old technique.






I've already noticed from using a lot of terra cotta pots that they wick water and allow for superb airflow to the roots of plants. My plants growing in terra cotta (with biochar) are often bigger, leafier, and healthier than plants not. But the same porosity that accounts for these marvellous properties of terra cotta or unglazed clay also allows water to slowly and gradually seep straight to the roots of the plants. I think that's absolutely fabulous. (And perhaps the porosity of terra cotta or unglazed clay is one of the reasons why it was included in original Amazonian terra preta. If it holds water and air so well and wicks the water straight to plant roots, this is very beneficial for the plant. Terra cotta sherds, in a sense, can act as an "underground water reservoirs," catching and gradually releasing water from irrigation, rain, or other sources. By holding air and allowing airflow, they prevent root rot without drying out roots. Roots need oxygen or else...) Apparently, using ollas with small necks and openings reduces evaporation and runoff to negligible amounts. I might include this in my forest garden, but it'll require more digging, and I thought I was done with the digging. I'll probably have to improvise cheap terra cotta pots into ollas as shown in one of the links.

Another plus is that if you break any ollas or terra cotta by accident, the sherds can be recycled into your terra preta/biochar mix. :hyper:

To avoid build up of mosquitoes or other possible pests in the water, I suggest dropping in mosquito dunks which contain Bacillus thuringiensis, sometimes known as the BT bacterium. I'm not advocating sticking BT in the water, but putting in this naturally occuring bacterium should help to avoid water problems in the future. I've been using mosquito-dunk water to kill fungus gnats living in indoor pots, and it seems to work well, although it takes some time. Standing water should never be allowed to become a health hazard to you or your neighbors. :bow_flowers:

Have fun gardening. :hyper:

I have a drawing of an "improvised olla" I will make tomorrow. Maybe a few of them. Pardon my art skills. I was not born an artist. :ud:

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