Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Experimenting With Clay Pot Watering


 Back last July, Leigh over at Five Acres and a Dream had a rather lovely article about the use of Ollas, clay ports inserted in the ground to help with water conservation and management.  That lead to me purchasing and reviewing the book on which the idea is based, Gardening with Less Water  by David A. Bainbridge (which I still recommend).  

I was getting ready for the garden this year and - at least from what I have read - we are expecting a drier that normal summer this year.  What better time to try the experiment?

The materials are pretty easy to get:  clay pots (sadly, they only had the smallest size at my local Big Box Supply Store) including the base, rubber stoppers from my local home brew supply store (these are size "00"), and a digging implement (and water, of course).

Insert stopper into hole:



Locate plant in dirt (here, a new mint plant to replace everything that died in The Freeze):


Dig a hole and place pot into hole.  I dug it deep enough to get the lip of the pot almost even with the level of the dirt.  Fill with water.


Place base over the top, sealing the water in:


Digging down, now with the replacement rosemary bush (which also died):



Finished!


But did it work?


It is a little hard to tell from the picture, but in point of fact the soil was completely damp after a couple of days (and the pot needed to be refilled).  You will not I had to move the pot closer to the plant, which I think will have to be the standard using this method - the water will only flow so much.  You will also note I have added mulch to help retain water more.

The cost of this?  $3.00 plus tax per set up ($1.00 each for pot, base, and stopper).  Far less expensive that the irrigation system I was looking at.

Honestly, I am very pleased at the results.  And no-one is more surprised than I am when something works.












17 comments:

  1. Anonymous4:43 AM

    Cool. Appears to be a great way to give the plants an extended drink while gardener has other matters to attend to.

    Some years back, my Wife purchased some 'water globes' for house plants, but we began to forget to check the water level and we were back to square one. For indoor plants, for us it is easier for it to become habit for a half cup for every week.

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    1. Anonymous - Yes, just like the water globes, it does assume a regular watering schedule. I will be interested to see how long - my initial week or so indicates every two to three days.

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  2. It is hotter than the devil's armpit down here most summers. I'm gonna run this one as a test, too. Our dirt has some kind of wilt in it. I can't grow cucumbers, squash or pumpkins unless it's in a bucket. Thank you for this idea. Looks great!

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    1. STxAR, another suggest the author has in the book is getting on of the large pots and then using the same principle by putting a smaller pot in it using the same principle. Might work for buckets as well.

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  3. I've also seen this done with inverted soda bottles. Your idea looks easier to refill though.

    This is also a cautionary tale for people using terracotta pots for house plants and container gardening. As TB's experiment illustrates beautifully, these pots sweat like mad! More water evaporates than makes it to the plants! If you're going to use them, get the ones that are sealed on the inside, or line them yourself with plastic. Terracotta pots will also cook the roots of your plants if they're placed in the sun!

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    1. Pete, the soda bottle suggestion is another one that author presents.

      And yes, a good object lesson indeed on the need to be mindful of what you use to pot your plants inside.

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  4. We have chose the route of just not watering at all and planting enough so that in the years we have adequate moisture, we can preserve enough for the dry years. But if I were urban gardening with just a few judiciously selected plants, the olla seems the way to go.

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    1. This is a good way to go, but it won't work here in the Wild, Wild West. Aside from a few wet months in winter, there's NEVER enough moisture in the soil! The upside is that the soil here is REALLRY fertile! It just needs help from a hose to get anything out of it!

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  5. One other comment. On our clay pots, after years of use the pot develops stains/patina on the outside, I assume from the mineral content of the contents inside leeching through. I have wondered in time if the mineral content of the water will render them less effective as it plugs up the pores or perhaps will the seeping of the water erode the pores making them empty water faster. Perhaps you or Leigh will be able to answer that someday.

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    1. This one's easy-peasy. Take one of the "patnina'ed" pots and a new one of the same size, fill them with water, cover 'em up, and see if there's a difference in the rate of sweat. It'd be interesting to see which way it goes...

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    2. Ed, that's an excellent question, and I have no idea as to what the answer is. But I've not seen my above ground terra cotta posts stain like that. Peteforester has a good idea for checking. Or maybe just lift the pot like TB did to check the soil.

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    3. Ed - Possibly. I suspect it has to do with the nature of one's water. For example, ours is highly laden with calcium. I do wonder if a light vinegar wash might unclog the pores after time.

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    4. We have a lot of lime in the water here in the Wild, Wild West. Once it gets through the pot it turns the outside of it white.

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  6. Anonymous4:19 PM

    Nice DIY. Thank you and Leigh. Keith

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    1. Keith, thank Leigh. She did all the hard work. I just bought a book and tried based on her recommendations.

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  7. I'm not surprised you found this effective! I did too, for the same reasons. It makes so much sense to to water the roots under the soil, rather than lose a lot to evaporation on the surface of the soil. It also makes watering an easier job. I think the same book mentions that the roots of nearby plants will grow toward the olla to take advantage of the moisture. I like your idea of rubber stoppers too. We've been plugging ours with cement, but the stoppers seem simpler (and I like simpler).

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    1. Leigh, I am excited to try this for more of the garden as well. Hopefully I can find larger pots to experiment with watering times.

      The stoppers are ideal. And at $0.99 (probably a bit more for bigger stoppers), it is hard not to justify their use - if the pot breaks or becomes ineffective, I still have the stopper.

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