Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Olla Update

We have embarked on our olla adventure!

To go backwards a bit: A little while ago, we sat down with our "consumption history" (provided by our utility company) and looked at how much water we were using. This usage was lowest in the spring, when we had lots of rain, and spiked in the summer, when we had very little rain. We considered the low point our baseline--we probably watered the garden very little that month. For all the other months we subtracted that baseline and assumed that the extra water was used to water the garden. This is by no means an exact science, but certainly a reasonable approximation. We have planted year-round and there is rarely a time we don't water the garden (obviously needing to water less when temps are cooler and rain fall is higher). The grand total? Somewhere around $50-$60 for the year. Kind of shocking. What's worse, every time we use the city water, we're basically robbing ourselves of yield. The plants are very visibly happier with rain water. Armed with this information, we decided to spend about $100 this year upgrading our water collection/storage. This probably won't eliminate the need to sometimes water from the faucet, but will hopefully greatly reduce it.

Enter the olla. Since the olla continuously releases small amounts of water, and the roots of the plants grow to and around the olla, you aren't wasting water on all the soil in between the plants and you aren't watering the weeds too much. Since we'll need less water, we can make do with less rain water storage and use (and pay for) less city water. Unfortunately, the ollas I was able to find ranged from $18-$22, which just wasn't affordable for us. Instead, I decided to make our own ollas with some instructions I found online. We purchased 6 inch clay pots. They needed to be glued together top to top, then one hole plugged up. Silicone is the "glue" of choice in this instance. I've seen very little about if this might be a toxicity problem, but we were skeptical. Every tube of silicone we picked up at the home improvement store said, "not for aquarium use". Hmmmmmm. Why? So, I contacted an old friend that runs an aquarium club and learned that a lot of the silicone you buy is treated to prevent mold and mildew growth. This additive is toxic to fish (I've since found some sources saying it's actually arsenic that they use). Well, since the roots will surround the olla, I figure "toxic to the fishes, toxic to us". I opted to spend very slightly more to get aquarium silicone at the local pet shop. This does not have the additives and is apparently not a problem once it's fully cured.

I bought enough pots to make 8 "ollas". We will be trying this in one bed with tomato plants. If it goes well, we'll add more later. The pots were $1.25 a piece. The silicone cost about $6, but I didn't look around for the best price on that, it may have been available cheaper somewhere else.

To plug the bottom hole, I used random things that were around the house---outlet covers we weren't using, breastmilk storage container tops, and the tops of the plastic "gumballs" (that buddy buck points come in if you shop at HEB around here ;-). I ran a bead of silicone around the hole on the pot, push on the cover, then used my finger to be sure the silicone was spread all around the edge.

Next, two pots were joined (making sure there was one open and one closed hole!) by running a bead of silicone around the top of one pot, settling another pot on top, then adding silicone where needed and using my finger to be sure the silicone touched both pots all the way around.

After letting them sit so the silicone could cure, we filled one with water just to test it out. It held water just fine! The plan when we are ready to start using them is to soak them in water (to sort of "prime" the clay), then bury them so the top is just very slightly above the soil. The whole bed will be watered (again, to "prime" the soil) and the ollas will be filled. We'll need to cover the top with something to limit evaporation loss and prevent mosquito breeding, not sure what we'll use for that yet.

As far as the rest of the garden...
Potatoes: we were getting worried, but they have started to sprout. 15 are up now
Fruit Trees: the peach tree has 71 blooms on it now. One of the pear trees has started putting out leaves and blooms and we are seeing fig leaves now too.
Strawberries: are still putting out lots of blooms and we are leaving them now. We have several plants with 8-10 blooms/berries on them already
Seedlings: Most of the tomatoes have their first set of true leaves. Everything else is looking exactly like it should except for the bell peppers (which never sprouted and need to be re-planted). I suspect the bell pepper is simply a casualty of cheap, old seed.

And I noticed that Sedona has been a little short changed on the blog lately, so a few random pictures:

What? Your baby doesn't sit around in a diaper eating marshmallows?

Sedona and Max playing. Yes, her head is HUGE (97th percentile head on a 25th percentile body). Good thing she has adorable blond curls to distract from that a little bit...


Leslea said...

You can get silicon in Lowes or Home Depot that does not have the pesticide/fungicide in it. I think it's usually called Silicone II and is way cheaper than the aquarium one. I think I have a tube around here somewhere that I can give you so you can see the packaging on it :-)

The Hills said...

Literally, ALL of them at Lowe's said "not for aquarium use" when I looked. We have two different tubes of Silicone II here that we've used for household projects and they both have the anti-mold stuff. The small tube I got at petsmart did all 8 of my "ollas" and I still have over half a tube left though, so it still didn't break the bank ;-)

One Acre Homestead said...

You are a genius! I've looked at Ollas after finding them on the same website you mentioned, but thought the price was prohibitive. I never thought of making them. I'll be watching to see how yours work!

The Hills said...

Not a genius, I stole the idea!!! ;-) The link at the bottom of my last olla post is the one that talks about joining the two pots together!

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