Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Garden Olla Project, Part 2

As you may remember, I reported recently on the first phase of my "garden olla project".  I had made several pots of porous red clay in an experiment with this traditional irrigation method.  The other day I finally "planted" the pots out in the garden near a few plants I wish to keep a little moister by the age-old technique of allowing slow water seepage through the naturally slightly porous clay pot.  (Olla is the Spanish - also Italian - word for the standard cooking pot, repurposed over the centuries for garden irrigation.  As the technique was brought to the Americas by the Spanish, the Spanish word is the one in use here.)

To start with, I wanted to set one by Aquilegia desertorum.  This small columbine is native to Arizona, as well as New Mexico and Colorado.  But it is a plant from mountain slopes and is said to require "average" moisture, though known to survive well at lower elevations.  So the first pot went in beside the new Aquilegia.
In future, I will make longer necks for the ollas!  I would prefer to completely cover the shoulder of the pot to fully minimize water loss.  However, here we are for now...
Also, I will make lids for future ollas...   As it is, I am using the alternative method of laying a rock over the mouth of the pot.

The delicate aquilegia, rather smaller than some of its garden relations, had just put out its first bloom.  Definitely a plant to keep!
Aquilegia desertorum
Just to demonstrate the concept, I took pictures of the colour change that occurs as water seeps into the pores of the fired clay.  I did not check the time sequence, but this alteration did occur fairly rapidly, much the same as it would with a watered clay flower-pot - just without the drainage hole to release most of the extra water.  It takes longer for the water to actually begin seeping out into the soil.  That is a much slower process, allowing this to be a time-release watering system.
At this point the clay is darkened about halfway down the sides of the olla.  This is water coming from within the recently filled pot.
So, a little work with the spade, a quick fill with the hose, a rock  on top, and the job was done! garden olla project    
Garden olla project
As you can see, this one went directly beside the rose "Wollerton Old Hall".  The third is between Salvia greggii "Autumn Moon" and a little clump of Galtonia candicans which, being a summer bulb originating in South Africa, is not expected to be particularly drought-resistant.  I am afraid I will need to move that olla if it is to do any good.  It is too small to get the moisture to both plants, I suspect, and may prove to be the proverbial sitting between two stools...  At any rate, it is much easier to "transplant" than a plant would be!

As it is now about a week since I put the pots in the ground, I can report that 1) I need to watch the water level more closely as the water does indeed drain through the pot over time!, 2) these are too small to form a serious reservior for desert summer conditions, but 3) the surrounding soil is kept moister and therefore softer, surely creating better growing conditions for the plants.  This is certainly a technique to be pursued.  I just need to throw larger pots!

Here are Wollerton Old Hall, the rose above...
Rose "Wollerton Old Hall", English rose, David Austin rose
...and another picture of Aquilegia desertorum.
Aquilegia desertorum
Weather diary: Mostly clear, High: 84 F (28.9 C)/Low: 55 F (12.8 C)

8 comments:

  1. Beautiful columbine, I like the yellow "accents" on the otherwise-red flowers. I hope it thrives.

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    1. I really hope so too, Hollis! It only gets direct sun in the morning, and it is reportedly a fairly tolerant plant so I am hoping the best :)

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  2. I think it's a great idea, Amy, and I'll be interested to hear your updates. Just delivering the water below ground is an advantage. I recently pulled out some plastic tubes with small holes I got somewhere years ago and attached bottles of water to provide a way of delivering water drip by drip to the plant's root system. I suspect your method delivers water more uniformly.

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    1. Yes, I think it should be fairly uniform, and if I make them with longer necks, I'll be able to get it more completely under the surface. I never realized what a difference the below ground watering would make, but I could feel that the soil was softer where I had installed these. I'm hoping to try some new ones in the near(?) future now that I have a better idea of how the process works!

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  3. Fascinating Amy. You'll need a lot of pots!

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    1. One reason I need to make them bigger, Jessica :P

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  4. A method I am completely unfamiliar with but can fully understand the science (?) behind it all. If this turns out to be a success, it will be a godsend to your plants Amy I'm sure.
    Good luck with finalising the actual design, I look forward to future updates.

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    1. Probably not a useful method in your climate, Angie ;-) If all goes well, I will certainly keep everyone updated! Thanks a lot!

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