“To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt
But sometimes, low-tech solutions deliver the most elegant, beautiful solution to a problem.
Take my garden for example.
Summers are pretty brutal here in Perth. Water is scarce, so quite rightly, we have water restrictions. Even the most sophisticated, drip reticulation system can only be switched on twice or thrice a week. And if we get a total sprinkler ban, then reticulation becomes impotent.
I can’t afford the $5000 or so for a bore, or equivalent for a grey water system right now. Retrofitting watertanks to this house would also be $$$, I collect as much of the rainfall as I can, but it’s gone all to soon.
Luckily for me, farmers have been facing very low rainfall, average soils and warm climates for millennia. And a few years ago, I found Urban Homestead. The Durvaes family have been using ollas in their raised beds in their Pasadena, California garden for many years, with great success. Their plants thrive and their water use is minimal. It was the first time I had ever encountered ollas and I was immediately smitten. Ollas are an ancient form of irrigation. Apparently, ollas have been in use in various agricultural centred cultures for over 4000 years.
They are traditionally rounded terracotta pots with a narrow neck. Ollas are submerged into the soil, with just the neck protruding. Once filled with water, the olla seeps water into the surrounding soil, directly to the roots, right where it is needed. Obviously, no water is lost to runoff or evaporation. You can use them in pots and the garden bed. I rotate my beds around, so the ollas can be moved easily enough too. Plus, ollas are perfect if you are renting. You can dig them up and take them with you.
Great idea right?
Indeed yes! But, getting them shipped from the US equated to about $100 an olla! Ouch.
For a while, I couldn’t find them in Australia. But quick google search for “ollas + Australia” will produce a few results for suppliers in Australia.
But ouch. Again! While much cheaper than the US sites, Aussie-ollas are still pricy. I wouldn’t get much change from $200.00 to get a dozen ollas delivered to my door.
Fortunately, a much simpler solution showed up in my Pinterest feed. It’s one of those things that when you look at it, you feel instantly silly for not thinking of it yourself sooner.
Homemade ollas using terracotta pots!
This week, when I resolved to finally getting them constructed, I found the perfect pot size, on sale for just $1.00 each. Woohoo!
So for the much more budget-friendly price of $24.00 I made myself a dozen ollas. That’s $2.00 each!
Here’s how I constructed mine…
How to Make Awesome Two-Dollar Ollas
You will need..
Two equal sized unglazed terracotta pots.
One tube of weatherproof silicone sealer*.
Optional: old pieces of pipe or hose to fit the drainage hole of the pot.
*I made twelve large ollas and three smallish ones. One tube of silicone sealer was enough to do the lot, with some to spare. I also used a food safe grade silicone, the kind used for watertanks and indoor plumbing.
I laid out a big tarpaulin and set up a production line.
First, I sealed the drainage hole in the bottom of the pots with silicone, both inside and out, to make doubly sure it won’t drain when filled with water. I just cut out pieces of milk bottle plastic to stick on the inside of the pot to act as a plug.
Then I was going to add a hose neck to the top pot. But my old bit of garden house was too wide and I couldn’t manage to secure it properly to the top of the pot. Instead, I covered the top of the pot with silicone. I will look for some pipe to fit, but in the meantime, if I have to submerge them with the top at soil level, at least water will not evaporate through the top. To stop debris from falling in the pot, I will cover the hole with a recycled bottlecap.
When both halves were dry, I placed one on top of the other like so. I piped the silicone around the rim of the bottom pot, placed the top one on top and smoothed the silicone around the seam using a plastic spatula. Some pots needed extra silicone around the rim to get a good, thick seal.
I had to leave mine to dry for 24 hours for the silicone to cure.
Once they had dried, I filled them up with water for a test run to ensure there were no leaks. They held their water. My large ollas hold a generous 3 litre drink. I’m thrilled with how they turned out. I’ll be making more this week in preparation for a hot summer ahead.
In part two of this post, I’ll show you how to use ollas in the garden beds, so stay tuned. In the meantime, start looking for unsealed terracotta pots on sale!
Do you use ollas? Do you think you might give them a go? If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to leave me a comment below.