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Month: April, 2012

Olla Project

   I took about two dozen of the ollas to the Home Merchantile Annual Gardening Show in Nazareth, TX, yesterday. The response to them was very positive and I came home with only three! As a result, I think there is validity to the idea of making the olla a regular item in my pottery production.

   This morning I began recycling some more clay so that I can fill the olla orders that I took at the garden show. In my studio, I have clay that I bought years ago that is still in the plastic bags that it was shipped in. After years of sitting in the studio, it eventually dries out and I break it up and add water to make it useable again. The nice thing about clay is that it does not have an expiration date; afterall, it laid in the ground for a few million years before I ever ‘owned’ it.

   Thank you to everyone who bought an olla. Since I am thinking about being a local olla producer, I would encourage those who bought them to somehow get feedback to me and others, possibly on this blog in the “Comments” area, and let us know what you are doing with them. Tell us things like the size of your planting bed, is it new or established, raised or ground level, lasagna or traditional. Also include the number of plants, the kind of plants and the plant spacing. Perhaps,also, let us know what kind of exposure to wind and sun you have. Those were some of the questions that were being asked yesterday and it would be a nice thing if we had some kind of a forum that everyone could access and talk about their ollas.

   I’ll post a few photos of the clay recycling and look into starting an olla discussion. Thanks again to everyone at the garden show!

Making Lids for the Ollas

The five images below illustrate the lid making process.

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Olla Lid

Lids for the ollas are thrown on the potter’s wheel in a manner very similar to that described in an earlier post. There are basically three different types of lids in pottery; dome, inset, and cap. The very first lids I made were dome lids. You can see them in the post where they are in the Wayland Community Garden, installed among the tomatoes. I think we may have a problem with those. If a bird lands on the handle, he may displace it when he ‘launches’ into the air and then we have a situation where we get evaporation and mosquitoes laying their eggs inside the moist interior. I have not seen anyone making ollas with lids on the Internet and I wonder why?? Also, I think a cap lid covers the neck of the olla and prevents evaporation from that upper area of the vessel, making more water available to the plant. I’m also willing to think that the cap lid offers the olla itself a degree of protection from weeding implements such as garden hoes. The internet ollas have flared rims which are probably the first thing that will be broken.

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Lid set up to trim

Here is an untrimmed lid. Notice the flatness of the top and the squareness of the transition from top to the vertical sides. It was made like a cup, and is inverted to be used as a lid.

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Lid finished being trimmed

This is the lid, having been trimmed. The bottom is now the top, with nice rounded corners. The wads of clay hold the lid in the center of the wheel while it is spinning, kinda like a chuck in a lathe.

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Group of Olla Lids

Here are the lids for the Ollas. In the foreground, you notice two lids have handles. A customer wanted a one gallon olla to drink from. Because the Ollas are porous, water seeps through. The olla can be used below ground for irrigation or it can be used as a ‘refrigerator’ to cool your drinking water. Thousands of years ago, ollas were used to cool water and also used as a larger container, into which a smaller clay vessel was inserted. This smaller vessel was ‘glazed’ with terra sigillata, which means sealed earth, and would hold perishable foods like eggs, preventing the cooling water of the olla seeping into it.. Then it would be lowered into the cool water of the olla and the eggs would be fresh for several days. Ancient man had invented refrigeration long before modern man! The olla would then be placed in a shaded hallway in the home where outside air was drawn through the structure into a common courtyard. This courtyard would be in the central part of the structure, acting like a chimney, creating a cooling draft for the home and for the olla, further increasing its refrigerating efficiency. We see this type of home constructure in New Mexico, the Mediterranean Basin and other parts of the world.

Olla with Lid

Here is a bone dry, 1/2 gallon Olla with its lid. It should go in the kiln for firing this evening.

Pottery and Garden Making

   This really is a blog about pottery! In years past, potters were integral members of the agrarian community, making all of the items that people in the ‘village’ needed from water jars, cooking and food storage containers, chimney flues, sewer pipes, and Ollas. So, it’s a natural thing for me to ‘make a garden’ much in the same fashion as I would make a piece of pottery.

   Below you see the Wayland Community Garden being made ready for the 2012 growing season.

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Here you see where we are slowly coming across the garden with our lasagna bed building and drip irrigation installation. The new drip line will run from the cinderblock in the foreground to the cinderblock in the background. Then we will lay cardboard down on either side of the drip, allowing a narrow space into which we will plant. The cardboard should suppress weeds, help retain moisture, and add organic mater to the soil as it decays. Once the cardboard is down, then we heap on leaves and grass to finish the beds.

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This is our ‘foundation’ to the lasagna planting beds. We laid down cardboard, covered it with leaves that we gathered from the Math Departments’ fundraiser late last Fall. On top of the leaves, we heaped grass clippings that have been cold composting for a little over a year. The new crop that will be planted will add more organic materials to our beds.