You can cover the small exposed portion of the olla with mulch.

Colleen Vanderlinden

I love gardening, but I hate watering. I just don't get quite the kick out of lugging a hose or watering can around that my kids seem to. I love soaker hoses because all I have to do is hook the hose up and walk away. But there's another trick I use for areas of my garden that either aren't equipped with soaker hoses yet or that I forget to water regularly (it happens...)

I make a cheap version of an olla, which is a terracotta vessel that people in traditionally arid climates use to water their gardens. The olla is buried in the garden, filled with water, and left to do its work. The water seeps out through the porous terracotta, keeping the soil in the garden moist and delivering water directly to the root zone. As an added bonus, no water is lost to evaporation.

My olla is nowhere near as pretty as some of the terracotta ones I've seen, but it is free and it reuses something I have in abundance in my recycling bin: plastic milk jugs.

How to Make Your Milk Jug Olla

You will need to put holes in your milk jug. Many, many little holes. The easiest way to do this is to fill your jug with water to within a few inches of the top, freeze it, and then get to work poking your holes. I used a hammer and a small finishing nail, but if you have a drill with a very thin drill bit, that would make the job a lot faster. Drill or poke a hole every inch or so across the entire surface of your milk jug. Don't poke any holes in the top two inches or so, because at least some of that will be above ground.

Once you've made all of your holes, it's time to place your olla in the garden. Dig a hole that is as deep as the jug, so that just an inch or two is above the soil. You want the olla to be near enough to your plants that the water reaches the roots, so putting it within a few inches of the base of any plants you're hoping to irrigate will work best. It's also a good idea to "plant" your olla at the very beginning of the gardening season, then plant your vegetables or annuals around it.

Once you've got your olla in place, fill it up, and put the cap back on. You're done. Check the olla every few days to see if it needs water, and top it up as necessary.

You can make these ollas any size you like, depending on where you want to use it. The gallon or half-gallon milk jugs work well for a garden bed, but you could also use this idea in a container garden. Try using a one-liter soda or water bottle in a large container, and a sixteen or twenty ounce bottle in a small container.

I love projects that not only reuse something, but make my life a little easier, too. These ollas are a perfect, easy, water-conserving solution.

Note: If you have a couple extra terracotta pots lying around (I hoard mine, otherwise I'd use this method) you canmake a more traditional olla from them.

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