Home & Garden: Watering technology for gardeners | PostIndependent.com

Home & Garden: Watering technology for gardeners

Curt Swift
Free Press Gardening Columnist
Curt Swift's olla and basil.
Curt Swift |

I put three gallons of water into my olla, an unglazed round clay container with a short neck. I hadn’t watered for a week and a half, yet the basil growing in the pot where the olla is located is thriving. The soil surface is dry, but the soil is moist where the roots are located.

The olla is one of many techniques used to provide water for gardens and landscape areas. They are often used in cooking stews and soups, and for storage of water and dry goods. When used for irrigation, evaporation from the soil surface is minimized. Since the fat-bellied pot is unglazed, the water contained within slowly moves through the side moistening the soil.

Both Mount Garfield and Bookcliff Gardens have ollas for sale. Their ability to water for long periods of time after one fill up is a great option for travelers.


It seems there is no one perfect method to water your garden, landscape, or field crops. Even if you have a high-tech system in place, something is bound to go wrong. The extremely silty irrigation water resulting from high river conditions shut down many sprinkler systems after running only 15 or so minutes due to plugging the irrigation filter. Removing the nozzles and cleaning or replacing their filters is important to keep these systems running.

The silt and clay particles in the irrigation water has a negative affect on water movement through the soil even for producers using furrow irrigation. These fine particles plug the soil’s pores, reducing the movement of the water through the soil to the roots. For those growing container nursery stock, the extremely dirty water not only puts an unsightly film on the leaves but can also plug the soil in the container resulting in root rot. This excessively wet, poorly drained soil often develops a thick layer of algae on the soil surface, further compounding the problem by preventing oxygen from reaching the roots.

You might find your vegetable garden with a crusty layer of clay on the surface due to the dirty irrigation water. If you do have this problem, use a three-pronged cultivator or other implement to break this impenetrable layer so oxygen can penetrate to the roots.

I recently read an article indicating that each of us consumes over 1,000 gallons of water a day. While nobody drinks that much water in a day, 92 percent of that amount is used to produce the food we eat. On average 80 percent of the water consumed in the United States is used in agriculture. In California and other hot western states, approximately 90 percent is used for agriculture. That’s understandable when you stop to think California alone produces nearly half the fruits, nuts, and vegetables we eat. California is also a major producer of almonds, artichokes, grapes, and olives. While California is still a major producer, the drought has negatively impacted production; University of California-Davis reported 410,000 acres were not planted this year due to drought.

Moisture sensors and weather monitoring systems have been used to fine tune the irrigation of gardens, lawns, and landscapes for years. Now even large-scale agriculture is getting into the game. Producers not only have access to sensors that determine the rate of fertilizer to apply as they drive across their fields, sensors are being used to determine how much water should be applied to maximize yield down to the square yard. Some of these systems use satellite imagery to calculate water requirements of the plants as well as the moisture content of the soil.

All of these systems are designed to provide the optimum amount of water and nutrients to limit plant stress and increase yield. The more progressive growers are attempting to maximize yield from every drop of water applied.

GJ Free Press columnist Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.

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