Have you seen an olla before? The are these cool underground clay jars that hold water and water your garden. Kind of like a giant underground plant nanny. Here are a few really beautiful ones that I saw on Rock-Oak-Deer, which is a gardening blog out of San Antonio, Texas.

I would love to have some clay ollas, but they are kind of expensive and not readily available around here.

So, since I have plenty of plastic milk bottles (i.e., 1-gallon jugs), I decided to give that a try. If you spend some time looking this up on the internet, you will find many blog posts about doing this. Basically, you poke small holes in your bottle, bury it in the garden, and fill it up with water. So that’s basically what I did, with a few tweaks.

To make it easier to make small holes in the bottles, I filled them with water (most of the way) and froze them. After the water was frozen, I used a small nail and a hammer to poke small holes in the sides and bottom of the bottles. I tried to make the holes really small, as I thought that this would help slow the flow of water out of the bottles.

For each bottle, I dug a fairly deep hole in my garden and added a layer of compost in the bottom. I placed the bottle in the hole, on top of the compost, and then filled in around the bottle with more compost. Since I have clay soil, I thought that the compost might help in transferring the water from the bottle to the soil.

Then I planted my tomatoes and peppers. This is what this garden looks like.


I probably planted too much in this garden, but I just couldn’t bring myself to throw out the extra plants. I will probably have to pull up a lot of the plants, so that the few that I have will grow better and I won’t have to water as much. Next year, I will try and be better about this problem.

Anyway, you can see that this bed is about 2.5-feet wide, and I planted three DIY ollas (i.e., the pin-cushion milk bottles) from the far end, to about the middle of the garden.

The garden has three types of tomatoes and two types of peppers:

  1. two dry-farmed brandywine tomatoes (purchased seed) planted at each end of the garden;
  2. two volunteer tomatoes, from tomatoes that I grew last year;
  3. several small paste tomatoes (very meaty) from seeds that I saved last Fall, from some tomatoes that I purchased at the Farmer’s Market;
  4. purple bell peppers (purchased seed); and
  5. sweet banana peppers (not hot at all), from seeds that I saved last year, from some sweet banana peppers we purchased from some Mennonite farmers at the Farmer’s Market.

Additionally, I added common chives (were growing in a pot), basil and oregano (to deter pests), and buckwheat, to act as a cover crop. Here’s a closer look at the “ollas” with tomatoes and peppers around them.


When I filled the plastic bottles, I hoped that the water would leak out slowly. It didn’t work out that way. The water ran out of the bottles within a few minutes, even with the lids on. See the bubbles below?


I was a little sad that this didn’t work as I wanted. But oh well.

I still think that this is a good way to water the garden without spraying. Watering in the milk bottles has a few advantages over using a water sprinkler or water sprayer, namely:

  1. the water is placed into the ground and not on the soil surface, which stimulates deeper root growth and requires less water; and
  2. the plants are kept dry, which helps prevent disease, especially fungal disease.

So, maybe this wasn’t a total bust.

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