Sunday, March 22, 2015

The closing note at

It's been a lot of fun over the years, but it's time to say the final goodbye to the blog.  I've left the most popular posts up just so Google doesn't call to complain.  Eventually, they too will pass on into the ether.

Best wishes to you all.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Olla Irrigation Part 2: Q & A

In my first olla irrigation post, I covered the initial set-up I used for watering my container garden.  In the year since initially starting this project, I've seriously pursued researching and experimenting most every aspect of the use of ollas.  I've found some things I liked and other things I've disliked.  This post will be a summary of my findings and where I am at now.

I'll start with some questions I frequently get asked and then go from there.

Q.  Why would you go through so much effort to water your plants?  Why not just use drip irrigation?
A.  Because I am lazy!  Seriously, though, I guess I'm lazy in the respect that I wanted to set up something that would perform even when I forgot about it.  Drip irrigation requires batteries or electronics and those require testing and/or remembering to check/replace batteries and to verify that the timer is still working.  I still have a timer system that is being phased-out, but am constantly worrying about it coming on as scheduled.  

Q.  How has your system held up? Have you had any leaks, if so where (at the hose fitting, between the two pots, at the plug)? 
A.  My system has been leak-free since day one at all epoxied connections.  There have been no cracks or separation anywhere; even after multiple crops and replants.  I had found a few pots with internal wall voids that extended to the surface that did allow drips, but it's not a regular issue.  I've since been able to spot these problem pots before purchasing them at the garden supply center.  They simply look like pin holes with irregular clay or small rocks on the opposite side.  I'll have to take pictures and add that to the guide.  I am actually considering making an e-book about the this whole process and subsequent fertilization process since it has a lot of details to consider.  

Q.  Have you changed your design since you posted? 
A.  I have changed a few things over the past few months.  I no longer use vents on my ollas and just install one fitting for the supply line.  The opposite hole is simply epoxied shut.  The ollas do seem to self-vent fairly well over time.  I've documented the new process, just haven't made time to post about it.  I've also switched to 1.5" pots instead of 4 inch pots.  I now use either 1, 2, or 3 mini-ollas per planter depending on water needs and planter size.  There really wasn't a performance issue, the switch was simply to cut costs while adding the ability to plant smaller, low-water-use plants and planters.  The smaller pots are also more consistent in quality, so assembly is significantly quicker (literally under 5 minutes per olla now...including sanding!) and there are fewer rejected pots at the store.

Q.  Would you do anything differently in the future?
A.  Going forward, I'm absolutely confident in my epoxy choice (West Systems G/Flex), pot size (1.5 inch), components (single, two-way 1/4" barb connector), construction method (sanding the connection joints), and fertilizer choice (Dyna-Grow Foliage Pro).  There is always room for improvements in soil composition, olla installed height in the soil column, water levels in the reservoir, pot types and sizes, and sun exposure...but the ollas are here to stay for me.   I'm completely sold on the concept.  

Q.  Can you ship me some ollas so I can just try them?
A.  Quite possibly.  Send me an email and tell me what you are looking to do and we can work out the details.

Recent Pictures:

Friday, July 20, 2012

Olla Irrigation -- Oh Yeah!

I, like most people, got tired of constantly watering my plants and knew there was a better way out there somewhere.  While surfing for ideas on self-watering containers, I ran across the Olla Concept on Global Buckets.  (Olla simply means "pot" in Spanish)., an organization centered around using buckets as planters, showed better results with the ollas than their wick I figured it was worth my time to research more about it.

One of my first stops took me to Urban Homestead where they have a good history and brief overview... plus they sell the actual ollas.  The next thing I noticed is how expensive they would be for someone in Hawaii to ship!  Onward I went to Arizona Pottery, who also sells them, but they actually make them on site!  I am all for supporting a business like this...but, the shipping to Hawaii is just too much to justify.  However, if you are on the mainland, I urge you to check them out...after you exhaust all local suppliers, of course.  Can I find ollas locally to cut the shipping cost?  Potentially, but I quickly found other options.

Off to YouTube I went in search of olla irrigation and voila, there it was.  Baphomet8me posted two videos on how to make your own ollas using clay pots.  Ok, so seeing someone else do it made me jump off the couch and go buy the basic supplies and try it for myself.  I already had silicone from other household projects so all I needed was Gorilla Glue and pots.  After gathering my supplies and making the first olla per instructions, I realized that the plans were not up to my standard.  Gorilla Glue and Silicone are just not the best choices for this project.  Plus, I had concerns about the long-term integrity of the joints (which translates into water-tightness and efficiency of the vessel).

Being a bit of research junkie, I set forth to pick the best glue for the job.  It must be able to join ABS plastic and/or polyethylene to unglazed ceramic as well as unglazed ceramic to unglazed ceramic.  It must also flow around components and self-level.  Long story short I found West Systems G/Flex.  This two-part epoxy is reasonably flexible, way stronger than it needs to be, flows beautifully around components and is head and shoulders above silicone, Gorilla Glue and any other adhesive that I've personally used and read about others using online for this particular task.  It's readily available from West Marine Stores, and many other retailers.  I bought the 8 ounce size for $20 locally and have done a dozen complete pots and only used about an ounce so very economical.  Here's how I do my pots.

Supplies List Available from Home Depot or Lowes (Hawaii Prices):

+ 2 - 4 inch pots ($.90/ ea)
+ 1 - 1/4 inch tubing Barbed Tee ($1.70/ 5)
+ 1 - 1/4 inch tubing Barb Connector ($1.50/ 10)
+ 7 feet of 1/4 inch polyethylene/vinyl irrigation tubing (polyethylene preferred) cut into two 2 foot lengths and one 3 foot length ($4/ 50 feet)
+ 60-80 grit quality sandpaper ($1/ sheet)
+ West Systems G/Flex two-part epoxy ($22/ 8 oz)
+ Popsicle stick for mixing and application (freebie)
+ Toothpick, skewer or other pointed object (freebie)
+ Waxed paper for epoxy mixing surface (freebie)
+ Cigarette lighter or matches (freebie)
+ Acetone or Denatured Alcohol ($7.50/ qt)
+ Duct Tape (freebie)
+ Permanent Marker (freebie)
+ 5 gallon bucket ($3 /ea)

Total Cost for first 5 ollas = $45

The most expensive parts are the glue and Acetone/alcohol but remember those items are bulk purchases.  If you have the Acetone/Alcohol your actual cost is $37.50 for 5 or $7.50 each.  I bought all the Tees and other components in bulk packs which cut my cost per unit in half.  I believe I am just under the $3.50 range per olla compared to $20 and up for the purpose built ollas not including shipping and not including the automatic irrigation setup.  Overall, for the money, this is a deal even compared to drip irrigation.

Now the process in pictures:

Here's the basic supplies all nice and neat.

Here's a closer look at the epoxy I am using.  West Systems G/Flex 2 part epoxy.

First step is to sand the top of the pots flat.  This should take about 5 minutes per pot depending on your sandpaper quality.  Place the sandpaper on a flat surface and just move the pot in a circular motion or whatever works.  The object is to get a level, flat rim on the pot.

This is a before and after photo of what you are trying to achieve with the sandpaper.  Notice the nice, wide, flat surface on the right.  Do this to both pots and you'll have a great mating surface to create a strong bond between pots.

The next step can best be described as finding a mate.  Each pot is made a little different.  You are looking for two pots whose rims line up fairly close to each other.  You may have to try several different pots before finding two that line up.  This step is also best done before you purchase the pots at the store and then again now after done sanding.  Take the marker and make an alignment mark so that on the final step you can quickly realign and seal the pots together.

On to prepping the barb connectors.  The purpose of this step is to lightly oxidize the plastic for best adhesion with the epoxy.  LIGHTLY pass the flame of the lighter under the ends of the connectors, being careful NOT to melt the ends.  This is only required on the ends that will be covered in epoxy, not the ends that get the tubing attached.

After the ends are heat treated, wipe off the heat-treated ends with a rag dampened with acetone/alcohol and set aside to dry.

Now turn the pots upside down and cover the drainage hole with duct tape on the OUTSIDE.

Here's what will go through the duct tape.  This picture shows three ollas ready to be made.

Take the toothpick/skewer and poke a hole directly into the center of the drainage hole, through the duct tape.

Insert the Two-Way connector through the hole FROM THE INSIDE of the pot until the center flange contacts the duct tape.  Stick the tape to the flange with a little direct pressure from your fingernail.

Moving on to the THREE-WAY connector.  It's easiest to connect the two 2 foot tubing lengths to the two ends as shown before inserting the third end through the tape.

Insert the Three-Way connector through the hole on the OUTSIDE of the second pot.

Flip the pots right side up and block the bottom, allowing room for the hose and connector to hang slightly.  The object is to allow a small gap between the pot and hose in case you ever need to replace the tubing down the road.

Next step is to mix up the epoxy per manufacturer's directions and flood the drainage hole carefully.  I just scrape up a big gob of epoxy and let it drip around the barbed connector end.  BE CAREFUL so you DO NOT GET EPOXY IN THE CONNECTOR END.  It's a little tedious but not too bad.

Here's a close-up of a drainage hole with epoxy flooded around the connector.  Once this dries, you'll have a strong, resilient plug that will allow a tiny bit of flex and should outlast the usefulness of the pot itself.  The epoxy will need to set for a minimum of several hours without being disturbed.  It's best to just let it cure fully, which is about 24 hours.

After the drainage holes are plugged and cured, line up the alignment marks you made earlier and double check the mating surfaces for cleanliness.  Mix up a small batch of epoxy and put a good line of sealant on the edge of the top pot.  If you are a bit OCD like me, it doesn't hurt to put a thin line on each pot edge, but one will suffice as the epoxy will flow nicely from gravity once you place the two pots together.  Just be sure to line up your marks for the best fit.  One additional step I do is to take the popsicle stick and smooth the epoxy around the seam.  This ensures the seam is fully coated in sealant and leaves a nice edge.

When it's all done, the finished olla will look like what you see below.  Note that I installed the final 3 foot length on the top of the olla as a vent line.

The concept of operations for this design is to feed water from the bottom and vent air from the top.  The three-way connection on the bottom allows multiple ollas to be used in series.  The last olla in a series gets fed from one side and a plug on the other.  Here is the olla installed in a nursery pot without soil to illustrate the layout.

This shows the vent line wrapped around a stake that is inserted into the side of the pot.  The vent line opening will be raised to a level that is higher than the water level in the reservoir.  During initial filling I usually lower the vent line below the water level in the reservoir but higher than the top of the olla.  This ensures the olla is filled before I secure the vent to its highest position.  In the event you ever want to verify/troubleshoot that your olla has water in it, just lower the vent line.  If water trickles out, it's working!

I am currently using a 5 gallon bucket as a water reservoir.  I drilled a 7/32 inch hole about 2 inches from the bottom and simply pushed the 1/4 inch tubing into the hole.  Leak free and simple!  Notice the lid to keep out debris.  This particular lid does not have a rubber gasket so it can vent as the water level drops, but it is dirt/bug proof.  If I wanted to automate the bucket filling, I would install a Kerrick Water Valve at the top of the bucket and attach a garden hose to it.  As the water level drops, the valve opens and refills the bucket.  Great for busy people or when you're gone on vacation.

The plumbing diagram is simple.  Locate your water bucket in the shade unless you want to heat up your water.  The bottom of the bucket should be higher than any of the connected ollas to ensure there is positive water pressure to the ollas.   Connect the tubing between the reservoir and first olla, then connect any additional ollas in series.  Add a plug on the last olla and that's it for set-up.  If you've done everything correctly, your olla will look like this (assuming you could see through the dirt in the nursery pot).

Here's the payoff...tomatoes, strawberries and zucchini grown exclusively using Olla Irrigation.  This tomato was grown in a 10 gallon pot.  The zucchini in the bottom left is now my standard, a 15-gallon large-veggie pot.  The strawberries are hiding in the bottom-middle in a 3-gallon pot.

Here is a 15-gallon tomato pot turned upside down after harvest season.  You can see the water inlet line on the top left.  You can also see a very healthy root mass throughout the pot and then the heavy matting on the bottom where water would collect due to only having side drainage holes.  This was a very heavy producing cherry tomato.

Here is the tomato root ball split open and olla exposed.  I have cut the root mass and layed it out.   You can see that very fine roots created a cocoon around the pot to absorb as much water as possible.  You will also note that the roots did not split or damage the olla in any way.  Just a quick spray with a hose and a dip in bleach water and this pot is ready for another season!

Note 1: 27 inches of water above the ollas will equal 1 psi of head pressure.  I found anywhere between 1/2 and 1 psi to work fine for my veggies.

Note 2:  I usually use single 4 inch ollas (pot plus saucer) in 5 gallon pots, double 4 inch ollas (as shown) in 10 gallon pots and double 6 inch ollas in 15/20 gallon pots.  You may need to experiment with your soil and planting style.

Note 3:  I situate my plants as close to "on top" of the ollas as possible so they have quick access to water when they are young.  This also encourages rapid root growth as the plant grows.  No portion of my ollas are visible once planted.  This conserves water and minimizes evaporation.

Note 4:  After about 6 weeks of growth, I'll add a complete water soluble fertilizer (currently Dyna-Grow Foliage Pro) to the reservoir to supplement what's in the potting mix.  This provides the plant with quick access to all the nutrients it needs.

See Olla Irrigation Part 2 for an ever-expanding FAQ section

Additional Reading:

I hope this article inspires you to try olla irrigation for yourself.  Post a link to your project in my comments and let me know how it's going for you.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2009 Papier Mache Pumpkin Recap

The creative bug has hit me again and not a minute too soon. This year's papier mache pumpkins are a lot smaller than my previous attempt. I'm starting out with 8 gallon trash bags compared to 40 gallon bags, but most everything else is the same. Here's the photo play by play...

Take an 8-gallon trash bag and fill it up with shredded paper. I used all the junk mail, newspapers, and old bills I had laying around.

Loosely tie the bag shut and then slowly sit on it, removing most of the air in the bag. Tape the bag shut and reshape the bag into a roughly spherical shape. Take the tape and go around the bag. Now turn the bag 90 degrees and repeat. Do this two more times making 8 equal 'slices' or lobes for the pumpkin. Don't worry about making them perfect because pumpkins aren't perfect in nature.

Here you can see the finished trio of green pumpkins, ready for their coat of papier mache.

The papier mache mix has been simplified this year and incorporates a lot of the lessons learned from last year. Before I get to the mix, it's important to note that the shredded paper I used for the pumpkin forms (stuffing) is different from the actual coating. The stuffing is made using a standard and cheap crosscut shredder. The shredder used for the coating is from a confetti shredder. A good example of this shredder would be the Fellowes Powershred MS-450Cs. The typical shredded size is 5/64 x 5/16-inch, so they are quite small and make applying the coating very easy. I take a two-gallon bucket and fill it up with the dry confetti shreds. Next, I fill the bucket with water and set it aside to give the paper a chance to soak up the water. After 30 minutes or so, I dump the slurry into a colander and let the shreds dry for a bit. The slurry should not drip when you grab a handful. If it does, give it a light squeeze. Add about half of the slurry back into the 2-gallon bucket and add 3 cups of exterior grade wood glue. Mix until evenly coated and let sit for a bit.

Now it's time to apply the slurry. Hopefully this video will give you a better idea of how to do it...or at least how I do it. You can also get a good idea of the consistency you are looking for with your slurry mix. I've only covered the top half because gravity, plastic and slurry don't play nice together.


About half way thru the second pumpkin, you'll probably run out of mix. Just whip up another batch and you should be able to get through all three pumpkins with the initial two-gallon bucket of dry shreds.

Stage two of the 2009 papier mache pumpkin project involves flipping over the beautiful gourds and applying a coat to the bottom.

Here you can see the final step of the basic pumpkin shell. Ignore the seam between the old and new sections as I eventually filled this in. All you can do now is wait until it's all dry.....

...Next up, adding the face!

These two strips were added to even out what will become the face. I started sculpting a face and determined, in the end, that it was not a good candidate for the project so this sets the groundwork for option two. More to come..

Now that pumpkin has a flat face to work with, it's really simple to see how the face will look. I've picked a slightly more menacing look this year... We'll see how it comes out.

Cuttin and guttin... Cutting was courtesy of my brand new scroll saw. Just follow the lines and pull out the stuffing. Next up is adding the 3d relief for the face. this Seems to be the part that everyone always says is 'difficult' for some reason. I honestly just look at my picture and visualize how to create the shape and then make it. Not all that hard. we'll see...

All cut and trimmed...just awaiting clay relief for the features. The cutting tools I've used have been distilled down to the scroll saw and a rotozip cutting bit in a dremel. This is the perfect mix of speed and detail for an all clay pumpkin in my opinion. More to come...

Mix up the pre-wet and drained confetti shred paper with 50/50 glue/water and start sculpting...

A little at a time

...and Now we wait until the clay dries to a nice mustard yellow.

Normally, this is where I would post a picture of the dried mustard yellow pumpkin, but I seem to have missed that photo...oops! But just like last year, I let it dry, did a little minor clean-up and sanding....and then painted it black.

Here's the chubby fella with his base coat of black paint. I just used flat black spray paint this year and will probably not go back to brushing it on. this was just too quick and easy. Besides, the final coat of marine spar varnish will seal this bugger up tight.

Ghostly white accents and highlights accentuate the features and set up the next layer -- orange!

Orange acrylic...

Finished pumpkin...

I will eventually coat the inside and outside with marine spar varnish to protect it for many years to come...but first it has to make an appearance at a children's Halloween Party. One additional difference between this year and last year is that I won't be painting the inside. I'm just going to leave it natural white with a sealer coat.

Hope you enjoyed the photo recap of this year's go out and make one for yourself!