Friday, May 22, 2009
What's An Olla?
What's an olla? Pronounced oh-ya. It's a large unglazed earthenware pot or jar typically with a bulbous body and narrow neck. Olla were traditionally used to carry, store, and cool water by evaporation. The olla would sweat and thus cool the interior water. (I really want to try this to see how cold the water will get). Many times an olla was made with an indented bottom making it easier to carry the olla on the head.
Ollas were also used in the Southwestern United States to irrigate plants, an ancient drip system if you will. The practice of using an olla to water plants was brought by Spanish settlers and was later adapted by Native Americans. For example the Kwaaymii in the Laguna Mountains east of San Diego made olla from clay they dug (scroll down linked page for a description).
The olla is buried beside a plant or group of plants, leaving part of the neck above ground. The olla is then filled with water. The water slowly seeps out through the pores of the olla and waters the plant. Keeping the water underground is more efficient since there is less evaporation. The plant roots slowly wrap around the olla absorbing the moisture before it can seep into adjacent soil beyond the plant's reach. Ollas can be used in the ground, in raised beds, or even for potted plants (a pot within a pot). Ollas are an excellent way to conserve water especially in water restricted areas.
Ollas are best used for herbaceous plants, grasses, vegetables and perennials. Some wood plant roots may break the olla as the woody roots enlarge over time. Different sized ollas are used for different plants or groups of plants. Small plants or shallow rooted plants need a smaller olla and plants with deeper roots or which need more water need a larger olla. After the olla is buried and filled with water a rock, cap, or cork can be placed over the top to prevent insects and dirt from falling in the pot. A drip system can also be set up to fill the olla automatically.
The flowers are Pandorea jasminoides, or Bower vine, evergreen vines blooming in my garden right now. One has a pale yellow center and the other a ruby center. They bloom sporadically all season long but need a moist, well draining soil and a nearly frost-free climate. The flower is named after Pandora, the first woman, giver of all, of Greek mythology who released all the evils of mankind. Apparently the Greek pithos, large storage jar, was translated to Latin pyxis, box. So Pandora should have released the evils by opening a large storage jar, (perhaps an olla).
Have a relaxing Memorial Day (Decoration Day) weekend. I give these flowers, in rememberance, as if strewn across the graves of those who have fallen, that our nation might be free.