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Spring 2022

Save Water by Irrigating with Ancient Ollas

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By Janice Winsby

Along with everyone else in California these past few years, I am looking for ways to use less water in my garden. As a School Garden Educator in Concord, I am also starting a new spring planting bed where I work. This bed is situated far away from an irrigation source.

Running a hose from two buildings away to hand water every day just wasn’t a feasible option for me. Then a fellow Master Gardener told me about ollas. I had not heard of them, but after a little research, I realized they might be a perfect solution! An olla (pronounced “oy-ah”) is an unglazed clay pot which is buried in the garden bed and filled from the top with water. The neck of the pot is exposed to make filling easy and covered to prevent evaporation (as well as keep out dirt, mosquitos, and other bugs).

Ollas have been in use as a watering tool for thousands of years— mostly in Africa and Asia. They came to ‘The Americas’ via the Conquistadors—hence their name, which is basically Spanish for pot. The way ollas work is simple. Water will only flow from the olla when the surrounding soil loses moisture. Learn more about this ancient method of Olla irigation