It turns out that the most efficient watering system originates in ancient China.
Our June issue features an olla (pronounced oy-yah)—an unglazed clay pot—up to its neck into a planting bed. I checked in with Lori Haynes of Dripping Springs Ollas to learn more.
Q: Where does the concept of an olla come from?
A: The Fan Sheng-chih Shu (the first agricultural extension book) describes the use of buried clay pot irrigation in China more than 2,000 years ago. It is likely buried clay pot irrigation had been used for many decades or centuries before this description was published. Current practices remain much the same.
This paper argues that irrigation with an olla is more efficient than even a drip system.
Q: How far will the water reach?
A: The spacing of the clay pots depends on the crop and size of the pot. In general they will be 9 feet apart for vine crops and 3 to 5 feet apart for corn and other plants that grow up more than out.
I suggest that people plant within a 36 inch diameter. Depending on the type of crop this can mean 4 large plants at the edge of several smaller within.
Q: Can I use it in a container?
A: They work wonderful in containers! Our current model, designed with the in-ground or raised beds in mind, requires a large container but soon we’ll have a couple of smaller sizes.
Q: How’d you get bit by the olla bug?
A: We built a house a few years ago and decided to go with rainwater collection as our only source of water out of an interest in water conservation. That meant very little to no water for irrigation if we wanted to shower.
I was researching irrigation methods for my vegetable garden and found clay pot irrigation but could not find a source, which led to talking to local potters, etc. During my research I realized the wider need for ollas—primarily for the water conservation aspect. I started looking at larger factories and found a wonderful place in Tecate, Mexico that agreed to work with me.
My motivation is for people to connect with the environment, be mindful of water usage, and grown some healthy food. We have donated 100’s of OLLAS to school and community gardens and have shared hundreds of ollas with Ron Finley from Los Angeles.
Watch Lori explain how to use an olla below, and find out how to get your own here.