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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.
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23 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.

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  15. 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.

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Trackbacks

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