Observations and Conclusions on the Ollas

Ollas are the name for unglazed terracotta pots that you bury in the ground with only the neck exposed. I’ve written on them here before but it seems like so long ago I thought I would explain more without having to dig back through old posts.

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This last spring was the first time I tried using ollas.

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The ones that I selected were from Dripping Springs Ollas.  They are larger than most, locally available to me, have a lid that fits perfectly, and have a mouth that is wider than most, making it easier to fill with a long watering wand.  Actually it didn’t take long before I could use my wand to pry up the edge of the lid, fill the olla, and replace the lid without having to bend down and pick the lid up.

Saved a lot of lower back pain.

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I had nine ollas that I used all together.  They are on the expensive side, I believe about $30 each.  Which was actually a lot cheaper than others because they were locally available and I didn’t have to pay shipping.  Still $30 x 9 = ouch.

I buried three ollas per 4 foot x 8 foot planting bed and then planted heavily around them.

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Two of the beds contained peppers (and are still using the ollas), and one bed was planted with tomatillos, squash, zucchini, beans, and watermelons.

I’ve since removed the ollas from the one bed because they are not good to overwinter in the ground since they COULD freeze in a hard frost.  Granted those are pretty rare around here, but at $30 a piece I really didn’t want to take the chance.

Observations

Filling the ollas was a lot faster than watering a whole bed.  I did fill them every day, which I’m sure helped, but still it was definitely faster.  Faster watering means less water.  I still watered the perimeter of the bed and the corners, only because I had planted very densely and wanted to make sure that everything was well saturated.

I like to let the chickens out when I fill the ollas because I’ve found that a wide assortment of bugs enjoy the moist environment.  Crickets, ear wigs, and roaches are pretty typical, with the occasional scorpion.  Either way, my one smart chicken figured this game out pretty quick and would hop in the beds and wait for me to fill the pots so she could grab a bug or two.  It worked out pretty well.

I did find that the plants in the bed did not wilt as quickly in the heat of the afternoon, in fact frequently they did not wilt at all.  Similar plants, especially the squash and zucchini, in other beds looked pretty sick when the mercury hit 110+.  My peppers in my pots look good, but are not as big as the peppers in the beds with the ollas.  They also weather the afternoon sun better, even though they aren’t shaded like the potted peppers.

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When I removed the three ollas out of the one bed I was able to confirm what I had been told previously, that the roots of the plants would weave their way around the olla, making the watering even more efficient.  Sure enough what I found was a complete encasement of the ball of the olla in a thick mat of roots.  It was impressive!  The roots did not penetrate the olla and I found that the surface of the terracotta was in good condition, giving me confidence that they will last for several years to come.

In all, the ollas definitely lived up to the hype.  They worked efficiently and made watering easier.  I cannot gage whether or not I actually used less water, since this year I drastically expanded my garden with six additional 4×8 beds, but I can easily say, just by gaging the time, that I used less water on the beds with ollas than I did on the ones without.

Are they worth the investment? Well, that’s depends.  My water is not that expensive, so it would probably take two – three years to recoup the investment.  I will definitely keep the ones I have and use them again, but I’m trying to garden more cheaply, so I will probably not buy any more next spring.

Have you ever tried ollas?

-Keith

Posted in the Homestead Barn Hop on the Prairie Homestead.

Posted in Dripping Springs Ollas, ollas | Tagged | 10 Comments

What God Taught Me in the Garden This Week…

Weeds.

They are terrible things. Deep roots, spreading for miles it would seem.  They spring up everywhere, almost as if they were planted.  There are always a few to pull.

A momentary stroll through the garden beds can turn into hours of pulling, digging, and uncovering.  They love to hide in places that are just out of sight.

Sin is a weed. It grows while the garden is not being tended. It thrives in soil that has not seen the gardener’s feet for some time. It starts small, a mere leaf peaking its head through the moist soil, but as soon as you turn your back it grows into a hearty plant. It sucks the nutrients out of the soil and chokes the good plants until they can produce no fruit at all.

Our enemy sows sin. He plants it when we are not paying attention. It grows while we are not minding our fields and our soil. It can be difficult to spot because it starts small. Like a blade of bermuda at first it looks like just another leaf, but soon it is obviously much more than surface deep. It steals our energy, our spirit, it robs our nutrients.  It makes us unfruitful.

Expose it early.  Pull the tender shoot up and expose the roots.  Confess. Repent. Cast it into the hot sun and let it wither and die.  Be mindful and inspect your soil often.  Be diligent to purge the weeds and the plants will bear more fruit.

Discipline is a word that is seldom discussed and even less frequently implemented. It’s difficult. It involves inspecting our soil often. Rooting out the evil that would master us. Praying that God would expose the weeds that we can’t see. Convicting us of our sin.

We have to learn how to tend the garden.

We’ll never get it totally right. Just like we will never have a weed free, problem free, bountiful harvest. But we must always be diligent.

Discipline in weeding. Discipline in life.

A little random but true.  Have a blessed weekend.

-Keith

Posted in Lessons from the Garden | 3 Comments

Glorious October

As I’ve mentioned before, we have two seasons here in the desert of Arizona.  The first season just finished, it is known as Why do we live here? (WDWLH?), and the second, and more wonderful season, is Everybody wants to live here.

It’s no secret which one I prefer.

The Why do we live here? season was a very busy one this year.  Personally, professionally, and even in the garden.

Fortunately things have settled down on one front.

I’ve started to get a grip on things in the garden.

The grapevine grew amazingly this WDWLH?  but did not produce any grapes.   I will prune and train it appropriately this year and next summer should be good.  The third year is supposed to be the first good year for grapes in AZ.

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All of the clay pots have been emptied and four out of six of the beds have been cleaned out.

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The watermelons went crazy, even as the beans and artichokes died off.  The result was a jungle and a mess.

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But even that has been cleaned out now.

The only thing left from WDWLH? season are the peppers.  October and November are the best time for peppers in Arizona and they are just starting to really fill out in volume.

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The days are still warm, normally into the 90s, but the nights have cooled off nicely, down into the 60s.  We’ve even had several storms with heavy amounts of rain.  It may not seem like much to some, but areas around the valley received more than four inches of rain, roughly half of a YEAR’s worth in one day. It wasn’t quite so bad here, but it was still significant.

We are supposed to get another storm tomorrow.  Fortunately a lot of my planting is already finished.

Have a blessed day!

Keith

Posted in artichoke, beans, desert garden, Desert King Watermelon, peppers | 3 Comments

Mid-August Update

I disappeared for a while and now I appear to be back.  🙂

Maybe.

We are in a part of the crazy where… it’s not so crazy.  So I’m taking advantage of it while I can.

Plus I need to get all garden jazzed for the fall planting which starts September 1st!  I know, that’s wild to even think about.  I would like to have the fall garden MOSTLY planted out by the end of September.  I will leave some of the melons and certainly the peppers through October at least.  The Fall pepper harvest is the BEST part of the peppers.  The plants are mature but not tormented by the heat.  The peppers grow nice and big and plentiful.  It’s exactly what I’m looking for.

But as of now… tomatoes are gone.  The trellises that supported the tomatoes are out.  This whole system just didn’t work great this year for the larger tomatoes.  The small tomatoes loved it and we loved them, but need to figure out something better for the big tasty tomatoes.

All of the yellow squash plants are done.  We’re still getting random zucchinis that are good but even the smaller yellow squash are instantly dark colored and hard.  It’s almost like they are ripening immediately.

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The one on the bottom there practically required a chainsaw just to cut it up for chicken feed.

This bed was full of yellow squash but they got pulled and filled up an entire wheel barrel.

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I fought against the squash bugs all summer.  Squish, squish, squish!  It’s kind of twisted, but the smell of squash bugs in the morning is taking on a similar “get your day going” kind of feel that fresh coffee has.  Yah, that’s not good.  I think I’ll actually miss that smell.

Cucumbers are rolling in.  I planted pickling and salad cucumbers this year and both have done really well, but the salad ones are going nuts.  I love it.

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We’ve made 10 jars of relish this year.  I tried making some dills, but the results were kind of mushy.  Not bad, just… not great.

melon chaos

All of the melons have gone crazy.  They know nothing of boundaries or personal space.  That dead, small tree looking thing on the left is our artichoke plant.  Again, no personal space.  The white thing on the right side in the middle is a stool I’ve been using to stand on and poke around with a stick to try and find melons.  Yah… it would be nice to have more space.  Anybody have a couple of acres they would like to turn into a garden?  I’ve got a great plan for that.  🙂

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Most of the beds are still a jungle and need lots of clean up in the next couple of weeks, but fortunately we got a really good rain last night and this morning.  You see in Arizona the whole city stops for rain.  People don’t know how to drive in it.  Some crazy people take pictures of it… If you have friends on FB that live in AZ it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll read about it.  I’m guilty.  I love it.  It’s SO RARE here.  Gotta enjoy it while it lasts.

I’ve got my plan together for the fall garden, now I just have to execute and start some seeds… in doors… in the AC… since it’s still hitting 100 degrees.  Cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower don’t really like 100 degrees.

Have a blessed day!

-Keith

Posted in Arizona Garden | 12 Comments

You grew HOW MANY kinds of melons?

Nine.

Did I mention that I don’t have a lot of land here?  It’s part of a typical AZ backyard.  Not much to speak of.

But I like melons, which are the WORST thing to grow if you don’t have space because everyone knows the goal of any melon vine is TOTAL WORLD DOMINATION!!  (insert maniacal laughter here).

That’s only a mild exaggeration.

So here is the breakdown.

apple melon in my hand

Apple melons: These little things are… well… little.  Not much to them.  The flavor is interesting, especially if you eat the skin along with the flesh.  I ate them, but I have to say, I wasn’t a big fan.  Just not real sweet, although very interesting.  Won’t grow these again.

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Banana melons: I’m kind of torn on these.  They are really interesting looking fruit.  They grow relatively fast with good yields.  The flavor is unique for a musk type melon.  It has a little banana edge to it.  The sweetness and flavor are dramatically effected by the MOMENT of harvest however and quite frankly, I had trouble timing it right.  The last one I was really excited about was bored into by some type of insect.  I was… irritated by that.  In all… I don’t know.  Probably won’t grow again, but…

Crane:  I have nothing to show here.  Only one melon actually grew but it split before it fully ripened and so I didn’t get to eat it.  Very frustrating.  Considering it only produced one fruit… I probably won’t grow it again.

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Jenny Lind:  Okay, Jenny, I have one thing to say… RIPEN ALREADY!  For crying out loud these things took FOREVER to ripen and even then it tasted like I pulled it too soon.  COME ON!  Flavor was okay, sweetness was okay, but texture was NO BIEN because it was still NOT RIPE.  Okay, so maybe I don’t have the patience for Jenny Lind melons.  Won’t grow these again.

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Green Machine:  These were not bad melons.  Produced well.  Very small melons.  Bigger than the apple melons, but still very small.  Not much too them.  Not real sweet.  They weren’t bad, I just didn’t love them.  I probably won’t grow them again.

Old Time Tennessee Melons:  Oh my… These totally lived up to the description.  The vines produced well, I actually have four more in the garden right now.  A little tough to time, but once you realize that you check every day and AS SOON as you smell them, you pick it, you’ll get it just right.  Very sweet.  Very juicy.  Great texture.  LARGE melons.  Two of the ones in the garden right now are probably going to be between 5 and 8 pounds.  To top it off, they are BEAUTIFUL MELONS!  I mean, come on!  These things are just… pretty!

OTTM carnage OTTM halves

Needless to say, Old Time Tennessee melons are my musk melon/cantaloupe of choice moving forward.  I will DEFINITELY be growing these next year.

Now for the watermelons.

Orange Flesh Tendersweet:  Boo!  Okay, that’s all I have to say is BOO!  We got ONE.  One stinkin’ melon.  Really?  It was good sized, about 15 pounds.  Unfortunately about 14.5 pounds of it was RIND.

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Did I mention the seeds?  How could I leave that out.  I’ve never seen so many seeds in one watermelon.  Between the seeds and the rind there wasn’t much to EAT.  Not real sweet.  Not a great flavor.  It was definitely JUICY, but all in all a loser.  The last picture there is the orange flesh next to the Charleston Gray.  I will not be growing this one again.

First Charleston Gray

Charleston Gray:  This was an interesting melon.  Kind of delicate.  Long, thin, and relatively big (although the one in the picture is actually pretty small).  Unfortunately the shape means that there isn’t that much fruit.  A 15 pound Charleston has a LOT less flesh than a 13 pound Desert King.  Not bad melons.  Good flavor.  Sweet.  Juicy.  Just not a lot to them and kind of touchy.  I probably will not grow these again, but I’m not real firm on that.

Desert King:  These are the best.  We’ve only gotten one melon this year because of the limited number of plantings, but it was FANTASTIC.  Sweet.  Juicy.  Great flavor and texture.  Love these.  The kids love these.  They are awesome.  I will go back to more of these next year for sure.  I don’t have any pictures, but they look like the ones I’ve grown in years past.  You can take a look at some old posts if you want.  Great melons.

That’s it.  The conclusion.  Desert Kings are my watermelons and OTTMs are my cantaloupes.  I’ll focus on those two next year.

I hope your summer harvest is going good!  God bless!

 

 

Posted in charleston gray watermelon, Desert King Watermelon, Old Time Tennessee Melons | 12 Comments