What is an olla pot?
Generally pronounced as OI-yah, or OY-ya, but also as AW-yah, and olla in English as OH-lah, Olla pots have been in use for centuries. Olla pots are, sometimes spelled as “oya” because of the Spanish based origin of the word where a double “L” makes the “y” sound as in tortilla (tor-TEE-yah). Used from ancient Rome, Spain and the American southwest, olla was a handmade clay vessel used for storage.
An olla pot is an unglazed ceramic pot or jar, used for storing food and water. More modern versions of ollas may be glazed and can include lids to look more like casserole dishes. Often short and wide, ollas are terra cotta pots or clay urns made in many different sizes and shapes.
Clay Pot Irrigation System
Until recently, ollas have been used more for decoration than utilitarian in North America. Now, many in the natural gardening and permaculture movements are reintroducing the ancient olla irrigation method for garden irrigation using earthen pot water jars. The olla pot irrigation is a practice that’s especially beneficial in arid climates like the southwestern united states.
Advantages of an Olla Water Pot
- No drip irrigation system to install and monitor
- Disseminates moisture directly to the plant roots in drip irrigation fashion as water seeps through the porous clay walls to the plant roots
- Lasts a long time in the ground
- Can be stored in the ground, unlike soaker hose and drip irrigation hose systems*
- Takes less time to install than most hose sprinkler systems
- Only needs filling 1-2 times a week
- Steady, moisture release directly to plant roots
- Reduces weeds since the soil surface is not kept watered
- Simulates natural moisture release to the soil and roots, similar to the nurturing dew of more humid climates.
- Saves water—no water loss due to evaporation—thus perfect for dry, arid climates with high water restrictions
- Takes less time to water; less time to set up than some other systems
- They just look super cool!
- Higher produce yield 1)https://sustainablescientist.net/2010/09/04/potatoes-by-olla-or-not-here-is-the-answer/
- Lasts several years
- Can be used as a potted plant watering system for indoors or out
*NOTE: If used in colder climates, you may need to dig them up and bring them in for winter. SOooo… best for hot dry climates, which is where these systems originated.
Disadvantages of an Olla Pot Watering System
- Takes time to dig and install the pots, however all the best watering systems do
- Takes up space in the soil that could be used for plants
- May need to be removed for maintenance, such as being scrubbed with a 1:1 ratio of water vinegar solution 2)http://www.drippingspringsollas.com/faq/
- Does not work for trees, shrubs and plants with woody roots that can pierce and destroy the clay pot walls
- Hard to know the water level of the pots, however you can use moisture sensors to help
There are clearly more advantages to using an olla irrigation system than disadvantages. If you have personal experience with olla watering systems, please let us know your experience, and we can add it to this article to help others decide if it’s for them.
Clay Pot Irrigation Explained
If you’re intrigued by the concept of ollas, but would like to do less in the way of weekly watering, there’s an innovative invention that may offer the best of both worlds.
A Self Watering Olla Irrigation System
You can find olla pots for sale at your local garden center. Amazon also has quite a nice collection of ollas. For the EasiOyYa drip irrigation system and source of the illustration above you can visit the EasiOyYa company website.
Or you can make your own!
If you’re a DIYer, then perhaps you’d like to save some money and make your own clay pot watering system. A GardensAll community member has done just that and shared it with us so we can share it with you!
Below is how Lauren River makes olla pots.
How to Make an Olla Pot System
Contributor, Lauren River, Easy Country Gardens-n-Chickens
Easy Country Gardens -n- Chickens is all about making things as easy as possible.
I like gardens that all but take care of themselves, which is why I like the olla pot irrigation system. But they can be expensive, so I made my own!
- 2 unglazed terra cotta pots
- aquarium caulking
- small plastic pot
- utility knife
- Take two unglazed Terra Cotta pots and adhered them together by using aquarium caulking. I like aquarium caulking because it’s non-toxic.
- Cut a hole in the bottom of a small plastic planter: Place the clay pot against the bottom of the plastic pot. Mark the circle with pencil, chalk or sharpie; (something that you can see). This is for sealing the bottom hole in one of the Terra Cotta pots. Use the caulking and the small round piece of plastic. You can leave the hole in the other pot open.
- Once the caulk has dried, test the seal to make sure it’s not leaking water. Then bury the pot in the soil up to about the last top 1″ to 1/2 ” of the pot rim.
- Fill around the outside of the olla with soil; then fill the olla with water. The water will slowly begin to seep out of the surface ares of the olla, keep the roots watered and moist.
I only have to fill the olla about once or twice a week depending on the amount of rain we get. If the soil is moist, water won’t seep out because there is enough moisture in the soil already. When the soil starts to dry out, the olla will once again seep water into the soil.
This ancient irrigation method is perfect for raised garden beds and planters as well as plants that are in the ground.
For a planter, you will probably only need one olla, and you might use smaller pots. For a 4’x4′ raised bed, 4 ollas would be best.
A Visual Guide on How to Make an Olla from Clay Pots
Thanks to Lauren River for sharing her DIY clay watering pot system! You can visit Lauren’s Easy Country Gardens-n-Chickens Facebook page here.
One thing that we’d probably add to Lauren’s instructions is to cut out another plastic plug to “cap off” the top olla hole to help prevent mosquitos and other bugs from taking up residence there. Either that or a rubber tub stopper type cap.
Meanwhile, if you’d prefer to explore other options, here are articles on other irrigation methods we mentioned earlier and that we’re using. Our primary watering systems are the soaker hose method as well as a drip irrigation system.
And… a few more TIPS from the GardensAll and Planting for Retirement Facebook Communities:
Jay Jackson in Texas says:
“Just screen them to keep the Skeeters down.” Also, “Mulch, mulch, mulch!”
Great points, Jay!
Melissa Hodge of Stress Free Threads, MD says:
“I also suggest setting up a rain barrel (several perhaps), so next time you don’t have to use so much water in a drought.”
I’m LeAura Alderson, entrepreneur, ideator, media publisher, writer and editor of GardensAll.com. Pursuits in recent years have been more planting seeds of ideas for business growth more than gardening. However, I’ve always been interested in medicinal herbs and getting nutrition and healing from food over pharmacy. As a family we’re eager to dig more deeply into gardening and edible landscape for the love of fresh organic foods and self sustainability. We thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the creative ingenuity of the GardensAll community.
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