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Make Your Own Ollas

August 9, 2010
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I first read about ollas (pronounced oh-yah) over at Little Homestead in the City. Basically it’s an ancient irrigation method that uses unglazed, porous clay pots buried within the root zones of plants. Water poured into the exposed necks of the pots (or pitchers) naturally seeps into the soil, providing a continuous supply of water to the plants.

I’m intrigued by any method of watering that reduces consumption and is more natural. Ollas seem like the perfect answer, but premade ones can be expensive if you’re using them to irrigate everything.

Then I found a gardener named Matt who posted an excellent how-to for making your own ollas using nothing more than inexpensive terra cotta pots.

I followed Matt’s tutorial, and here’s how it went:

STEP ONE: ACQUIRE INEXPENSIVE POTS

Step 1: acquire pots

This time of year they’re easy to find, and I bought these 15-inch pots for $1 each at Job Lot.

STEP TWO: SEAL ONE END OF THE OLLA

Step 2: seal one end

You don’t want water flowing out of the bottom of your finished product. Before gluing and stacking the pots, I sealed one drain hole using a 2×2 inch tile left over from a remodeling project.

I should mention here that my adhesive of choice was Gorilla Glue. I debated buying silicone, but wanted to keep the experiment cheap, so I used what I already had. According to their Web site, Gorilla Glue is waterproof.

STEP THREE: GLUE THE EDGES OF THE POTS AND STICK THEM TOGETHER

step 3: glue pots together

It really couldn’t have been easier. The pots are stable in the center. With Gorilla Glue you have to put pressure on the adhesive while it cures. The best I could do was tape and rocks. It worked.

As you can see, the glue expands when it dries, creating a water-tight seal.

water tight seal

STEP FOUR: DIG HOLE, INSERT OLLA

dig hole, insert olla

I chose to place this one near my young pumpkins. If the plants weren’t established, I would have planted seeds closer to the olla. However, digging around these delicate young plants was precarious, so I kept my distance.

STEP FIVE: BURY OLLA

bury olla

STEP SIX: VISIT YOUR RAIN BARREL AND GET A BUCKET OF WATER

fill olla

These ollas will hold approximately 3/4 of a gallon, so fill ’em up!

You’ll need to keep something over the hole to prevent insects, rodents, and debris from getting inside. If you live in the Northeast, you probably have a handy rock collection.

handy rock collection

STEP SEVEN: ADD A ROCK (FOR EXTRA BEAUTY)

a rock on top

That’s it! It took me 24-hours to make five ollas, with most of the time spent letting the glue cure overnight.

Here are a few notes and considerations:

  • In climates with deep freezes, ollas probably won’t survive the winter. It’s best to remove them in the fall.
  • I’m still experimenting with placement and numbers. I will monitor the moisture in the soil to see how far it penetrates.
  • Just because the olla is empty doesn’t mean it needs to be refilled. Again, monitor the moisture of the soil.
28 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathy Moretti permalink
    September 7, 2010 1:25 am

    So that`s why you had upside down pots in the Garden LOL I meant to ask you why.. Maybe we need to make these for watering our Garden next year

  2. darl permalink
    July 1, 2011 1:38 pm

    How are these working out for you? I live in the drought in Texas and this may work for me. What size would you suggest for tomato plants?

  3. July 5, 2011 9:56 am

    I’m not using them this year because my garden has fallen by the wayside; pregnancy took over. I would suggest going big, and keeping them close to the plants. The ones I made were relatively small. Also, don’t forget to mulch. Grass clipping, hay, etc. will keep moisture in the soil. Good luck!

  4. kobi permalink
    April 22, 2012 5:49 am

    A question: can the roots of the plant, as they grow stronger, break the olla pot?
    vegetables probably don’t have such roots, but trees or certain bushes do?
    I plan to bury them under the ground, entirely shut, with a small plastic pipe/hose for irrigation from a central reservoir. if one of the pot breaks, all the water will flood that spot.
    Have you noticed such a problem? will roots go around the pot or break it as they thicken?
    Thanks!

  5. June 23, 2012 5:40 am

    I have been doing some research kobi and what I have found out is that larger, more stronger roots can break the pots. Also I read that the pots should not be allowed to drop below 50% water because of salt build up or something of that nature don’t remember where I found it or what it said just know that it said don’t let it drop below that mark. FYI also found a site that claims that milk jugs work just the same by poking holes in them? Kinda curious if that works too. I think I may try both just to see.

  6. July 17, 2012 1:43 pm

    I use ollas, but I made mine with one pot and siliconed the matching saucer to the top. They’re smaller, but they work!

  7. Vicki Boldon permalink
    August 22, 2012 10:30 pm

    I love this idea. Maybe it is the drought that we are in that is making me more thoughtful about ideas like this.(or maybe it is the $200.00 water bill) Vicki

  8. August 22, 2012 11:13 pm

    A friend taught me how to do this cheaply. Take a soda bottle, cut holes in the bottom and bury. Fill the bottle as need arises. Boom. Moisture-happy plants.

  9. Christina permalink
    July 14, 2013 3:07 pm

    Really helpful post and a good idea. I have considered commissioning a local potter to make classic ollas, but this sounds a lot cheaper.

  10. Flo permalink
    October 23, 2013 9:26 am

    maybe a stupid question?????????how does the water get from the pots to the plants

  11. rnchuck permalink
    November 3, 2013 11:15 pm

    Not a stupid question Flo. I’m learning myself and I found that Terracotta is very porous and will ‘ooze’ water but the pores are not large enough to let the roots grow into the terracotta.

  12. Katee permalink
    August 8, 2014 10:07 am

    I, too, had seen them at the city homestead place. Theirs are out of our price range right now. Also, we live where the ground freezes. They will have to be taken out for the winter. We did something similar to what you did, but only used one pot, sealed at the bottom. We fill it and then have a quart sized bottle we fill and simply turn upside down into the pot with a couple small rocks in the bottom of the pot. It works on a water cooler principle, seeping out slowly. This is our first year using it, but it seems to work well. It will be easy to remove for the winter, and it is easy to know when it is out of water.

  13. Penny permalink
    February 3, 2015 11:26 pm

    Assuming these are lead-free pots so as not to leach that stuff into your veggie garden, is there another type of adhsive that wouldn’t break down and into the soill if one is concentrating on growing organic?

  14. March 14, 2015 3:02 pm

    Reblogged this on Homestead On Main Street and commented:
    Anyone ever made these? I thought about it last year, but never got around to it… My hugelkultur beds already cut down on watering quite a bit, but I might throw a few of these in too!

  15. Heather permalink
    March 15, 2015 3:22 am

    Awesome project! Summers can be droughty at times depending on how mother nature is feeling that season and these would be super stellar!
    Another great place to find cheap pots are thrift stores. I have quite a collection cuz you just never know…or maybe it’s an addiction….

  16. Penny permalink
    March 15, 2015 4:25 am

    This seems like a fantastic idea for a flower garden, however, I am gearing up for a large organic veggie garden. How did you determine if these particular pots would not leach out lead, and how harmful are the effects of Gorilla glue disintergrating into the soil? I’ve been saving my BPA-free gallon milk jugs to do the same thing as the hollas, but you do have to poke a few small holes into the bottom part of the jug before filling and burying. Plus they have a handy cap that prevents junk from getting inside the container.

  17. kobi permalink
    March 15, 2015 1:31 pm

    hi homesteadonmainstreet,
    I tried those. I used silicon instead of glue. and pipes connecting the ollas to a main bucket or tank. (you just need to add water to the tank and it would level)
    They work really well, and the plants growing next to them are happy. but there are some problems.
    The setting I use is that I glue with silicon a 16mm pipe on the top with a T, so there is open air right above it (one T side connects to the pipe, the other 2 sides are up and down). Since I use gravity from a small tank (water level should be the same)
    you need to put those openings along the way too (every few meters for a 16mm pipe), unless you use a large pipe. the size of the pipe affects the flow (if i understand correctly the density is less when there is air contact) I’m not sure of the physics but those were my findings (I once tried and failed with a 150 meters pipe, since there were no openings along the way :-). you can consult Pascal’s law (pressure formula).

    The problems I find are:
    1. Transparency: if something happens for example the pot cracks, it’s hard to determine where it happens. I had an idea to put a little flag – a skewer attached to a cork inside, and colors or a flag outside so you can visually watch the water level inside the pot. but I hadn’t tried it.
    2. Quite fragile: I used silicon for connecting, it’s fragile because you connect them with inner T, and connecting requires some movements.
    Perhaps a better idea is to base them on a siphon. then you just need to attach two pipes to the bottom (or use something heavy) of the pot.
    3. green scum in the bucket or tank may reach the plant roots through the pots. If you want to clean the tank, you cannot use anything that would harm the plants.
    In my settings the tank (a large bucket) was fixed in place (dug in the ground) so I couldn’t take it out to clean or the entire system breaks. A siphon design would probably avoid that problem.
    But siphon’s water pressure can break. so there is still some maintanence to do. (if you imagine it on a large scale, it means checking every pot’s siphon connection)
    4. No digging: if you want to change a crop you cannot do that.
    This should be for groundcovers (think stinging nettles etc), perennials, large bushes or trees.

    By the way, it seems that the size of the pot doesn’t make that much a difference.
    I thought the moisture radius would change. but it’s all related to the soil density, so if it costs less, you can use small pots.

    Hope this information helps
    kobi

  18. March 15, 2015 11:43 pm

    Great tips and ideas, thanks! I might start small and see how it goes. I really haven’t had to water much with the set up I have, but it’s always nice to add more ways to use water efficiently!

  19. Shawn Weisser permalink
    May 18, 2015 8:39 pm

    Reblogged this on Watch My Garden Growing and commented:
    Great idea to focus water on the root systems.

  20. stephen permalink
    July 1, 2015 12:05 pm

    I used tiny pots – sold for crafts, weddings etc, with patio planters with great success – no watering even on hot days. (I give them a weekly liquid feed seperately though. Larger pots in the garden beds, fed with 6mm piping from a bucket, works too, but the plants need to get established first. Works well with french beans , mange tout, lettuce etc in pots, not so good with high demand plants like toms or cucumbers. A great aid to the daily grind of watering (which I no longer do) but I do feed pot plants with liquid fertiliser once a week and give them a good soaking then.

Trackbacks

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