Clay Pot Irrigation – Part 1

I was recently perusing one of my favorite websites, Little Homestead in the City, and came across a blog post about ollas, or clay pot irrigation.  The whole concept, which has evidently been around for a few thousand years (leave it to me to just be finding out about this), is fascinating. 

The idea is that a porous clay pot is planted in the ground or raised bed and filled with water. Plants are planted around the pot and the roots grow to the source of water.  The water wicks out of the pot through the pores and waters the plants directly to the root system.   A rock (or something like a scrap piece of broken pot) is placed over the hole to keep mosquitoes out.  The pot is refilled as needed depending on temperatures, rainfall, etc. 

According to the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, there are a lot of good things about the method including 50-70% water savings, guards against water stress, does not over irrigate, less frequent watering is required, less weeding since weeds do not prosper as the soil surface remains dry throughout the growing season (interesting!), saves on fertilizer if it is applied as part of the water used to fill the pots (can you put liquid worm fertilizer in there?  must research this!), the soil of the seedbed does not get sealed due to water impact but remains loose and well aerated, and last but not least, clay pots can be installed on undulating ground where surface water runoff might be a problem. 

The Aussies also site some disadvantages such as potential for winter breakage if left in the ground in areas with a winter freeze – definitely a possibility here in Oklahoma and prolonged use is likely to decrease porosity of the clay pot if used in heavy soil. 

Here are a couple of very helpful charts that were on the Australian site.

Sounds to me like the pros outweigh the cons.  As much as I would LOVE to buy the cute ollas found at Peddler’s Wagon, they are a bit out of my price range.  I have three raised bed and will need 4-5 for each.  So after a search for DIY ollas, I made a trip to my local Home Depot for pots.  Let’s just say, I’ll be buying my next round at a local garden shop where I found them the next day for about 1/2 the price!  Here is what I bought for about $45.

Standard UNGLAZED clay pots, saucers, silicone and white paint.   The paint is to seal the part of the pot that sticks up out of the ground to keep water from wicking out the top.  That was a tip I got from someone’s blog that said they learned the hard way.  Sounds like me. 

They were not cheap.  Each pot was $4, saucers were $3.  But I figure if I can get 5 years use out of each pot and with money (and heat stroke) saved from reduced watering, the upfront investment will be worth it.  I also discovered a couple of used pots in the garage that I can clean and use.  One thing to watch out for when buying the pots: I found that a lot of the saucers had what appeared to be hairline cracks and some of the pots did, too.  Don’t know how that would affect the process or the strength of the pot, but just kept looking until I found five pots with no cracks.  Anyway, if I’m paying four bucks apiece, they need to be intact, thank you very much. 

The first step is to seal the saucer and pot together to make one unit.  It takes one bead of silicone on the lip of the pot, squish down, and then a bead around the seam on the outside.  Let dry according to the directions on the silicone.  Mine said 12 hours which was overnight and then some.

It’s not pretty but this part will be underground.  Next came a leakage test.  I didn’t do the test on each pot.  I figured if one sealed, they all did.  Hope I’m right.

No leaks!

Next I painted about 2″ down from the top on each pot as well as the top (which of course is really the bottom of the pot).  The pots will be planted with the saucer down and water filled through the hole.

You can see the water wicking through the sides of my test pot. Pretty cool.

So, this is as far as I’ve gotten.  The weather has been cold and cloudy and the weatherman says we may have one more overnight freeze this week.  I should have already had my onions and lettuce and spinach out, but I’m always slow getting started in the spring.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to get the pots in the ground Thursday this week and can show you Part 2. 

Until then, keep it simple, ya’ll.

Permaculture Dreams

We’ve had some lovely days here the past week or so, and some really cold, foggy ones, too.  But its obvious spring is fighting to make headway and I’m cheering her on.  I’m mentally more than ready to start planting in the raised beds.  I need to add some manure when the weather warms a bit more and really work it in good.  I’ve got my watering system all worked out – I think.  I won’t really know until I get it all in place.  It will mean having some hoses stretched out in the yard all the time, which will be an issue with the One Who Mows, but in my opinion, its worth having to go out and hold some things out of the way.  Actually, what I’d REALLY like to do is get the backyard full of raised beds so there is no need to mow because there is no grass!  I’d also like to take down the tree in the front – how many times have you read that here – and plant fruit trees. 

My problem is that I don’t want to put a huge amount of effort into this place when there is a very real possibility that we may be moving in a couple of years.  I really really really really really want a little land – a couple or three acres to go hog wild with the permaculture thing.  Graywater system, fruit trees, water catchment, worm composting – and so much more I don’t even have a clue about.   When the Kid graduates from college and is hopefully settled for a while, we can make the decision about whether to sell our suburban home and move out a ways or maybe even leave the state.  I’d so love to live someplace within driving distance of some actual scenery of the mountain variety.   But that means a totally different growing climate and pretty much reinventing ourselves – which I’m okay with.  

I found a couple of new websites I’d like to share and a couple of old ones to inspire you to do the small things every day to live more simply, eat better, do more for your neighbor and get in touch with nature.

urbanorganicgardener.com

naturalhomemagazine.com (evidently they’ve been around for years)

bulgarbugle.com (our local food cooperative founder/also a permaculture guy – need to talk to him…….)

southernplate.com – yummy deep south cooking!

thepioneerwoman.com – Oklahoma girl on the farm

and just to inspire you once again – urbanhomestead.org – the be all and end all for urban organic gardeners wanting to live real

another inspiration – dailyacts.org – the younger generation may be getting it right after all!

This one is really cool – hope to able to use their stuff one day soon!  oksolar.com –

Keep it simple, ya’ll

TEDx Manhattan Webinar – Changing the Way We Eat

I spent the whole day today – and I mean the WHOLE day – sitting in front of my computer watching a webinar all about sustainable food; the current food system in the US, the problems, the solutions, the people involved in small and not so small ways.  I was totally inspired.  One huge plus was the ongoing chat with over 100 people through Facebook.  There are a lot of people in this country striving every day to put locally grown, healthy REAL food back on our tables and in our kids’ school lunches. 

I must say I’m pretty brain dead from all the information, but I took some great notes and have lots of websites to visit.  I was proud to be able to tell my chat friends about the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.  Its been a model for other states in setting up distribution systems that connect farmers with consumers.  We have over 3000 members now and it continues to grow every month.  

From what I read, the whole conference should be available on the TED livestream site in about a month.  Write it on your calendars and take a look if you’re even remotely interested in local food production – I’m going to go plan my garden for this year!  There may still be snow on the ground, but I can almost taste that organically grown tomato from my backyard, the sweet cantalopes and the crunchy okra! 

Our Regional Food Bank has what is called Plant-a-Row, where individual gardeners can donate fresh produce to partner food pantries in their area.  I’ve signed up and can’t wait to help feed the hungry in my community with healthy veggies.   Go online and see if there is a program like this in your area.  We who are blessed with the space to grow food should pass that blessing along!

Have a great weekend everyone.

A Ridiculously Long Time

Yes, its been a ridiculously LONG time since I’ve posted anything new here.  June 3rd, to be exact. 

A lot has happened in the last 2-plus months.  The garden has been growing exponentially on a daily basis.  Okra! Okra! Okra!  The tomato plants are big and green but VERY few tomatoes have made it to the table.  What’s up with that?  We’ve gotten 5 very nice cantalopes and have a few more on the vine.  My late season onions did nicely.  I will plant all three beds in the spring and try to sell them.  The squash bloomed magnificently but failed to produce a single fruit – or vege.  Fruit sounds more poetic, don’t you think?  Anyway, we ain’t got no squash.    Some random vine keeps trying to overtake my spirea (sp?) and I have to remove it daily.  The “ever-bearing” strawberries blessed us bountifully in June (just like the “June bearing” variety) and haven’t been seen since.  The heat has just about killed them.  I really need to get out there and thin out the bed, but its so dang hot.  Day after day after day of temps over 100 degrees.  It makes it really hard to water.  I try to wait until the sun goes behind the trees about 8 p.m., but as soon as the water hose comes out, so do the mosquitoes.  I refuse to spray myself with the chemical stuff and instead use a locally produced natural ingredient repellent, but if you miss even one small spot with the stuff, the little biters find it and attack and its repellent properties are only good for about 15 minutes.  Whine whine whine….. My Mom was right about the blackeye peas.  You need to plant A LOT of them to get enough to eat.  Out of the whole bed I planted, only 3 plants came up (soil too cold and the seed rotted), but the vines of those 3 amigos have grown wild. Even so, they haven’t produced enough for a single meal even at this point.  So, note for next year:  no blackeye peas; plant okra in a straight line, not in a bed.  Too itchy and scratchy reaching in to pick.  Plant tomatoes in a different spot.  One bed for cantalope and one for squash.  

We finally got to take a vacation in August.  DH and son had a great time hiking and rafting on the Rio Grande while I suffered mightily at a 3 day quilting retreat in Angel Fire, NM.  The torture consisted of uninterrupted creative sewing time, gourmet meals

Just one of the sumptuous desserts!

and reacquaintance with friends made at a Santa Fe retreat in ’07.  Such suffering!! 

Notice the deck and pine trees outside the windows!

 I got an entire quilt top finished in 2-1/2 days, got in some serious gift shopping for the neighbor caring for the critters, and was awed and amazed at the quantity and beauty of the local hummingbirds.  That’s something you just don’t see in Oklahoma.  The first night we were there it rained and thundered and was so chilly we had to put on sweaters.  Most of the women were from the Texas panhandle, as were our hostesses.  You know you’re around a bunch of true Texas women when the conversation during Meet and Greet turns to the prolificacy of rattlesnakes this year!  Then there were the “Albuquerque 3”.  They kept us laughing the whole weekend.  It was wonderful.

So, now we’re back home.  Laundry is semi caught up – okay, is laundry ever caught up?  And I’m SOOOOOO ready for the garden to stop producing for this year.  My Mom says, “Just pull it up!”, but there is something inside that won’t let me destroy plants that are still producing food for my table.  Especially the okra.  Its almost blasphemy to pull up plants that are still offering up those sweet pods that are so good fried just to the point of being burnt.  Crunch, crunch, yum……

A Slow Food Kind Of Day

My favorite day of the month is the third Thursday.  That’s the day Oklahoma slow food,  locally grown food from all over the state magically and miraculously makes its way from farm to table all in one day.  Of course, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make this one day happen, sterilizing coolers, freezing bottles, buying lots and lots and lots of dry ice, renting trucks – all to make the third Thursday happen.

I’ve sung the praises of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, the brainchild of slow food and permaculture guru Bob Waldrop, lots of times here.  Today was such a beautiful day weather-wise, a real blessing after hail and tornados, that it made this particular delivery/pickup day special.  So, I wanted to share some pics of what goes on at our pickup site.  Enjoy!

This small garden greets the volunteers.

The truck is here! All these coolers and bins hold the locally grown food for two pickup sites in Edmond and we need a third!

 

Tables are set up and numbered to match our members' ID numbers. Bins are full of bags of dry goods that go on the tables.

Coolers, coolers and more coolers! Frozen food on one side of the room, refrigerated produce and cheeses on the other and eggs along the back wall. Can't beat a good farm fresh egg from free range chickens!

Our members start arriving to pick up their food. Each member is given an invoice listing the food they ordered and cooler numbers. Just go around the room and gather your food, pay on the way out and see you next month!

 I’m exhausted by the end of my shift, but its a good tired.  My three hours of volunteer work will earn me $21 off my next month’s order.  I worked enough last month to pay for half of my order this month.  Can’t beat that with a stick!  

To fill in the weeks I run out of something I can always hit my local farmers market on Saturday mornings.  

Local food is so much fun and you’re supporting your local community that will come in handy when the oil stops flowing one of these days – but don’t get me started on that!

 

 

The Good Stuff

I had a great time last night, even though ibuprofen was required.

It was a beautiful evening, light winds, spring temperatures and a husband who needed to be elsewhere until about 8:00.  The perfect opportunity to work in the garden.  I still had to work my way to the bottom of the compost pile to have stuff to work into last year’s beds.   I slowly sifted and refined the pile of leaves and decomposed matter.  I had just enough to make a 1-2″ layer on each bed.  Then, do my eyes deceive me?  What’s that dark brown stuff?  I don’t know why I was surprised, this is what’s supposed to happen.  At the bottom of the huge pile of mulched leaves and food scraps was a 6″ deep, luscious layer of new, sweet smelling earth with earth worms, rolly pollies and other bugs I couldn’t identify.  A whole ecosystem of goodness right there in front of me. 

I got the shovel and started digging.  It took about 3 loads with the wheelbarrow – keeping in mind I’m a woosy girl with no upper body strength – but I had enough of the good stuff to layer about 1″ deep on an old flower bed where I’m going to grow the squash this year.  I just put it down on top of the clay and went ahead and put in my seeds.  A beautiful sight to behold.  I might order some worm castings from the co-op and fertilize all the beds well once I get them planted. 

I got the leaf mixture spread on top of the other two beds, but ran out of steam, my back was killing me and the DH was due home and we were hungry!  So over to bed #1 to cut a little lettuce, spinach and cilantro for the first salad from our garden.

One more nice surprise was some small dill plants coming up volunteer from last year’s crop. 

I thought I had pulled it all up.  It was kinda overwhelming last year.  As with everything else, I planted way too much and had no clue what to do with it.  This year I’m going to pick it young and use it in salads, etc.   I had planted it to use in pickles, but since my cucumbers failed miserably, I was left with a lot of dill I didn’t know how to use.  But, from what is coming up on its own now, it should be just enough to use for the season.  God is in the details…..I love it.

Keep it simple. 

The Promise of Spring or Lessons Already Learned For Next Year

My third choice of a title was “How I Always Manage to Make Things Harder Then They Have to Be.” 

So, its a lovely day outside.  A nice quiet, actually NON-WINDY, Sunday afternoon.  I’m itching (not literally) to get my hands into that compost pile and get it worked into the future okra bed.

I’ve got my new and very expensive wheel barrow and my old, but loveable compost sifter ready to go.

Its nothing more than some pieces of old fencing with plastic chicken wire stapled to it.  Its kinda rickety, but works great. 

So now to the part about lessons already learned for next year.  Right off the bat I see my mistake.  In a fit of laziness and desire to just get last year’s dead garden cleaned up, I threw all the stalks and vines and stems from the okra and squash onto the compost pile.  Big mistake!  Now you veteran gardeners are rolling your eyes and laughing at me.  You know better.  Well some of us have to learn the hard way.  Just ask my mother.  Needless to say, the stalks and vines and stems did not decompose over the winter.  So now I have a tangled mass of – well, stalks and vines and stems –  mixed in with all the nice leaves and eggshells and decomposing veges.  My intentions to get out there and “get ‘er done” has instead left me hot and frustrated and taking a break at my computer.  I have completely filled one of our big green dumpster trash cans with – say it with me – stalks and vines and stems. 

 

But there is good news.  The lettuce and spinach is coming along nicely.  I even cancelled my lettuce order with the food co-op this month because mine is looking so good.  Even the cilantro is growing a little.  Only about 1/3 of it came up, but its very tasty.  So I planted onions in the left over spaces.

I was smart and utilized the lesson learned from LAST year.  I just planted two rows of lettuce, knowing that’s all we’ll eat.  I planted so much and had so much to give away last year that the neighbors and my coworkers turned around when they saw me with anything green in my hands :-).

Oh! And the strawberries are blooming!  Yee haa! 

So, things are looking good.  It will take me longer than planned to work my way to the bottom of the compost pile but the effort will be worth it.  Next year I will strip the leaves from the stalks before tossing into the pile.  More work this year but I will love myself for it next year.  That’s always a good thing. 

We bought the material and got a small start on the patio cover yesterday.  It will be so nice to sit outside and enjoy the backyard from the shade.  If I can talk Moe into it, I may even put some twinkle lights around the beams.  While we’re at it, how about an outdoor fan?  I am married to an electrician, after all :-).

Farmers Market opens next Saturday and the summer Saturday ritual begins again.  I love this time of year. 

Keep it simple.