Thursday, December 05, 2013

Sunday afternoon project

Spent a couple hours on Sunday putting this together for a Christmas party for work.  We needed wall decor so I think this plus some up lighting are just the ticket.  It is a wreath made out of rolled paper that is attached to a simple cardboard donut.  Not a quick project but clean, simple and modern.  Just what I needed.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bizarre Places to Pitch Your Tent

The Weather Channel published one of my stunts from a couple years ago. Fun times!

http://www.weather.com/sports-rec/camping-parks/extreme-camping-strange-places-pitch-your-tent-20130819?pageno=2

Geoff Lawton's PRI Zaytuna Farm Tour - Apr/May 2012

If I had land in a warm climate, this is what I would do with it.

Vertical farms solve land problem

I would love to see these scattered all over the urban sprawl of Oahu!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Vertical Tower Planter Using Soda Bottles

Don't let a small grow space keep you from eating the fresh veggies, greens and herbs you love.

The design I've come up with is the result of combining the best of what I've seen on the web while using readily available materials.  I've literally spent dozens of hours looking for a vertical tower garden that would work for my space and have consistently came up empty.  I needed something that was built with the following goals in mind:

1.  Minimal Maintenance
2.  Minimal Cost
3.  Elegant (Doesn't Look Horribly Cheap)
4.  Maximizes the Limited Space in my Backyard
5.  Flexibility to Grow Multiple Different Crops

So far I think I've met all the above.  Here's how I did it...



List of Materials:

- 1/4 inch polyethylene irrigation tubing (I get mine from Lowes $7/100 feet. Required length will vary with height of tower and location of water reservoir)
- 1 each - Adjustable Irrigation Dripper (I used DIG brand 0-10 gph dripper from Home Depot - $3/5 pack)
- 1 each covered water reservoir (I used a 5 gallon food safe bucket with lid from Lowes $7/ea)
- 1 roll 4ft. x 50 ft. 14-gauge (2 x 4 inch) Welded Wire Galvanized Fencing (I picked mine up at Home Depot for $40.  This is enough for 8 towers.  I wish they sold it in smaller lengths...but it also works good as improvised tomato cages or trellis)
- 1 roll landscape fabric (I bought Commercial Polyester fabric but any outdoor fabric that blocks some light and looks decent will work. $10-$30/roll)
- 1 each stake/pole to attach the tower to.  (I used a 7 foot metal fencing stake pounded in the ground 18 inches, but you can use whatever you have available $0 - $10).
- Zip Ties to secure tower to stake/pole ($1 - $5 depending on brand)
- 24 ounce soda bottles (FREE - I used Mountain Dew bottles since they are readily available around my house.)
- sharp knife
- sharp scissors

Steps To Make:

Tower:
Safety Spot - Always wear gloves when dealing with galvanized metal fencing.  It's sharp and flesh is easy to poke or scratch...and you can work longer with gloves on so DO IT.

I unrolled approximately 6 feet (32 rectangles) of fencing (the height of your tower) and cut from the roll.  I spent a little time flattening it at this point so it was easier to work with.  I used approximately 9 inches as the desired diameter (9 inches is about 8 rectangles wide).  Form the piece of fencing into a long tube and overlap by one full block.  At this point you can either use zip ties to secure the fencing together (easiest) or use extra wire to secure the two ends together.


Notice how the 4 inch side of the rectangle will be horizontal when the tower is set up.  Voila, a vertical tower.

Planters/Soda Bottles:
As mentioned in the parts listing, I used 24 ounce bottles.  This is important because the length of a 24 ounce bottle will reach about 3/4 across the diameter of the tower.  If you use 20 ounce, they will be too short.  If you do not have access to 24 ounce bottles in your area and have to use 20 ounce bottles, I would suggest changing your tower diameter to approximately 6-7 inches.  You may have to experiment a little to get the size right.

This is a picture of a finished soda bottle planter.  A couple items to take note of.  First, the neck of the bottle is angled back towards the doors.  Second, the doors are left on to make inserting your bottles into the tower easier, keep the dirt from getting scraped out, guides the dripping water into the planter, and allow you to smush down the soil to pack the dirt into the container for better water wicking action.  The installed orientation of the planter will be similar to what is shown in the picture.  The water will be dripping into the planter from above the doors on the left.  The plant will grow out of the opening on the right.

Safety Spot - This portion uses a sharp knife and scissors.  I recommend you take all precautions necessary to prevent injury such as cutting on a cutting board and ensuring you are using a sharp knife.  Using a dull knife is the quickest way to injure yourself.


Here's the visual of the steps.  I first cut off the top, then use a Gatorade cap or other circular object to trace the growth opening angled towards the door opening.  For my planters, I made 3 inch by 3 inch doors by cutting along the blue "I" as shown.  One last step is to cut the drain hole opposite of the doors.  On my Mountain Dew bottle, there are little legs on the bottom of the bottle that provide a nice lip to cut off.  You can see this hole on the bottom of the right bottle.








In this last photo with the five bottles, you can see the little square of landscape fabric I use to keep the drain clear of soil.  I hold it in place while I pack in the soil and then the soil holds it in place from there.










Here is a shot of the bottles inserted into the fencing.  This is a necessary step to ensure everything lines up correctly.  You don't need to put dirt n the planters yet, but I did for illustrative purposes and testing.







Here is a shot of the tower attached to the post and the bottles inserted into the fencing.














Here is a shot from the top to illustrate the irrigation dripper and how the bottles line up.  The first bottle gets saturated and then drips down into the second until it gets saturated and so on and so forth.

I ended up adding a small piece of fencing to the top of the tower.  I attached the dripper directly above the first bottle...the location is similar to what is shown here.






The last step is to cover the tower with landscape fabric.  This serves multiple purposes.  First, it shades the bottom of the bottles from the sun and minimizes evaporation.  Second, it blocks the wind so the drips keep going straight down while also minimizing evaporation.  Last, it dresses up the tower and hides the inner workings.

First, ensure you secure the drip irrigation where it will be located.  Next, remove all the bottles.  Cover the top and sides with fabric. I tied up everything so the seam was along the post...so I didn't have to see it.  Finally, cut holes where you will be placing the bottles and re-insert the bottles with dirt in them.  Ensure everything is lined up and plant your seeds.

If you are using transplants, just plant them in the bottles before re-inserting into the fencing.  Before long, your plants will completely cover the tower and you'll be enjoying the fruits of your labor.

Reservoir/Water Source:



I am lucky in that I live in a townhouse with a balcony that overlooks this area.  My water reservoir (5-gallon bucket) is located on that balcony and the 1/4 inch irrigation tubing is then run down the side of the house and then up the tower.

You only need the water level in the bucket to be above the dripper for this system to work properly.  The concept is pretty simple and is illustrated in this drawing.

The irrigation line is inserted into the side of the bucket about 1 inch above the bottom by drilling a 15/32" hole.  1/4" hole will also work, but I wanted to prevent any leaks and made the hole really snug.

You can also hook the irrigation line up to the faucet, but you'll have to keep in mind how to fertilize the plants at some point as well as always wonder if the hoses will leak.  THIS is why I have gone away from drip irrigation on timers completely.  Too many blown hoses and dead batteries.

UPDATES:

Priming/Adjusting the System:

When you first set up a single water source tower like this, you're going to have to get everything flowing from top to bottom.  This is where the adjustable dripper and accessible top compartment are of utmost importance.  You can speed up this process by presoaking the bottles, letting them drain, and then re-installing them wet.  When priming the system, I usually start the dripper at about 1 drip every second.  This gives the soil time to absorb some water without wasting too much time.  I'll let this run until the bottom bottle is saturated and dripping regularly out of the drain hole.  It may take several hours depending on your soil composition.  Once the bottom bottle is saturated, slow down the drip until the bottom bottle is barely dripping.  This ensures all the bottles are getting what they need.  In my setup, approximately 1 drip every seven seconds was the magic number.  As the plants grow and use more water, you may have to open up the dripper some to ensure the bottom bottle keeps saturated.  On average, the three towers I have hooked up to my 5-gallon bucket EACH use about 1/4 gallon per day at seven seconds between drops.  Your mileage may vary, but suffice to say that this is a very efficient system.  When I go on vacation, I simply hook up a 20-30 gallon rain barrel (read trash can) and travel worry free for many days.

Planting the Bottles:

I have done seeds and transplants using this setup.  I recently transplanted strawberries and have been extremely satisfied with their progress and flavor improvement over their previous potted existence.  Planting seeds is a little trickier because you have to ensure the seeds will have head clearance when they emerge.  My first planting of green and purple pod beans had three bean plants that I had to assist emerging from the neck of the bottle.  The fix to that has been to slightly enlarge the top of the opening and plant the seeds closer to the tip of the opening.  I haven't had any problems since I've made the adjustments.

A Word About Potting Mix:

I use a custom blended soil-less potting mix that drains extremely fast, but you can use any high quality, fast draining "Potting Mix".  One of the more common commercially available mixes is called Pro-Mix HP.  It may seem a little pricey, but because you'll be using so little of it, spend the money or invest the time now so you can avoid the problems later.  The mix I use is a combination of 5 parts "small" orchid bark, 1 part perlite, and 1 part sphagnum peat moss with a little Osmocote controlled release fertilizer thrown in for good measure.  If you search for "Tapla 5-1-1" you'll find a plethora of information about the mix I use and quickly understand why I use it.  Another good option is to use hydroton expanded clay pellets that are available at any hydroponics grow shop.  I recommend you do not use garden soil as it does not drain fast enough for this setup.

Fertilizing the System:

I hate messing with a bunch of different bottles and pellets of fertilizer, so for this, and most all my plantings, I use Dyna-Gro Foliage Pro Concentrate.  I mix 1/4 Tbsp per gallon of water and let it run.  Foliage Pro is a full-spectrum fertilizer with all the macro- and micro-nutrients.  It ain't the cheapest, but what can I say...spend the money and avoid the problems down the road.  Another name brand that is readily available includes the General Hydroponics line.  More good options are available at your local hydroponics shops or online.  If you're willing to experiment, I've seen good success with full spectrum granular fertilizer when used sparingly.  You may have to put it at the very top of the mix so as to not burn your roots.  The constant moisture will eventually break down the granules and the plant will quickly find it.

Don't let a small grow space keep you from eating the fresh veggies, greens and herbs you love.

The design I've come up with is the result of combining the best of what I've seen on the web while using readily available materials.  I've literally spent dozens of hours looking for a vertical tower garden that would work for my space and have consistently came up empty.  I needed something that was built with the following goals in mind:

1.  Minimal Maintenance
2.  Minimal Cost
3.  Elegant (Doesn't Look Horribly Cheap)
4.  Maximizes the Limited Space in my Backyard
5.  Flexibility to Grow Multiple Different Crops

So far I think I've met all the above.  Here's how I did it...



List of Materials:

- 1/4 inch polyethylene irrigation tubing (I get mine from Lowes $7/100 feet. Required length will vary with height of tower and location of water reservoir)
- 1 each - Adjustable Irrigation Dripper (I used DIG brand 0-10 gph dripper from Home Depot - $3/5 pack)
- 1 each covered water reservoir (I used a 5 gallon food safe bucket with lid from Lowes $7/ea)
- 1 roll 4ft. x 50 ft. 14-gauge (2 x 4 inch) Welded Wire Galvanized Fencing (I picked mine up at Home Depot for $40.  This is enough for 8 towers.  I wish they sold it in smaller lengths...but it also works good as improvised tomato cages or trellis)
- 1 roll landscape fabric (I bought Commercial Polyester fabric but any outdoor fabric that blocks some light and looks decent will work. $10-$30/roll)
- 1 each stake/pole to attach the tower to.  (I used a 7 foot metal fencing stake pounded in the ground 18 inches, but you can use whatever you have available $0 - $10).
- Zip Ties to secure tower to stake/pole ($1 - $5 depending on brand)
- 24 ounce soda bottles (FREE - I used Mountain Dew bottles since they are readily available around my house.)
- sharp knife
- sharp scissors

Steps To Make:

Tower:
Safety Spot - Always wear gloves when dealing with galvanized metal fencing.  It's sharp and flesh is easy to poke or scratch...and you can work longer with gloves on so DO IT.

I unrolled approximately 6 feet (32 rectangles) of fencing (the height of your tower) and cut from the roll.  I spent a little time flattening it at this point so it was easier to work with.  I used approximately 9 inches as the desired diameter (9 inches is about 8 rectangles wide).  Form the piece of fencing into a long tube and overlap by one full block.  At this point you can either use zip ties to secure the fencing together (easiest) or use extra wire to secure the two ends together.


Notice how the 4 inch side of the rectangle will be horizontal when the tower is set up.  Voila, a vertical tower.

Planters/Soda Bottles:
As mentioned in the parts listing, I used 24 ounce bottles.  This is important because the length of a 24 ounce bottle will reach about 3/4 across the diameter of the tower.  If you use 20 ounce, they will be too short.  If you do not have access to 24 ounce bottles in your area and have to use 20 ounce bottles, I would suggest changing your tower diameter to approximately 6-7 inches.  You may have to experiment a little to get the size right.

This is a picture of a finished soda bottle planter.  A couple items to take note of.  First, the neck of the bottle is angled back towards the doors.  Second, the doors are left on to make inserting your bottles into the tower easier, keep the dirt from getting scraped out, guides the dripping water into the planter, and allow you to smush down the soil to pack the dirt into the container for better water wicking action.  The installed orientation of the planter will be similar to what is shown in the picture.  The water will be dripping into the planter from above the doors on the left.  The plant will grow out of the opening on the right.

Safety Spot - This portion uses a sharp knife and scissors.  I recommend you take all precautions necessary to prevent injury such as cutting on a cutting board and ensuring you are using a sharp knife.  Using a dull knife is the quickest way to injure yourself.


Here's the visual of the steps.  I first cut off the top, then use a Gatorade cap or other circular object to trace the growth opening angled towards the door opening.  For my planters, I made 3 inch by 3 inch doors by cutting along the blue "I" as shown.  One last step is to cut the drain hole opposite of the doors.  On my Mountain Dew bottle, there are little legs on the bottom of the bottle that provide a nice lip to cut off.  You can see this hole on the bottom of the right bottle.








In this last photo with the five bottles, you can see the little square of landscape fabric I use to keep the drain clear of soil.  I hold it in place while I pack in the soil and then the soil holds it in place from there.










Here is a shot of the bottles inserted into the fencing.  This is a necessary step to ensure everything lines up correctly.  You don't need to put dirt n the planters yet, but I did for illustrative purposes and testing.







Here is a shot of the tower attached to the post and the bottles inserted into the fencing.














Here is a shot from the top to illustrate the irrigation dripper and how the bottles line up.  The first bottle gets saturated and then drips down into the second until it gets saturated and so on and so forth.

I ended up adding a small piece of fencing to the top of the tower.  I attached the dripper directly above the first bottle...the location is similar to what is shown here.






The last step is to cover the tower with landscape fabric.  This serves multiple purposes.  First, it shades the bottom of the bottles from the sun and minimizes evaporation.  Second, it blocks the wind so the drips keep going straight down while also minimizing evaporation.  Last, it dresses up the tower and hides the inner workings.

First, ensure you secure the drip irrigation where it will be located.  Next, remove all the bottles.  Cover the top and sides with fabric. I tied up everything so the seam was along the post...so I didn't have to see it.  Finally, cut holes where you will be placing the bottles and re-insert the bottles with dirt in them.  Ensure everything is lined up and plant your seeds.

If you are using transplants, just plant them in the bottles before re-inserting into the fencing.  Before long, your plants will completely cover the tower and you'll be enjoying the fruits of your labor.

Reservoir/Water Source:



I am lucky in that I live in a townhouse with a balcony that overlooks this area.  My water reservoir (5-gallon bucket) is located on that balcony and the 1/4 inch irrigation tubing is then run down the side of the house and then up the tower.

You only need the water level in the bucket to be above the dripper for this system to work properly.  The concept is pretty simple and is illustrated in this drawing.

The irrigation line is inserted into the side of the bucket about 1 inch above the bottom by drilling a 15/32" hole.  1/4" hole will also work, but I wanted to prevent any leaks and made the hole really snug.




Priming/Adjusting the System:

When you first set up a single water source tower like this, you're going to have to get everything flowing from top to bottom.  This is where the adjustable dripper and accessible top compartment are of utmost importance.  You can speed up this process by presoaking the bottles, letting them drain, and then re-installing them wet.  When priming the system, I usually start the dripper at about 1 drip every second.  This gives the soil time to absorb some water without wasting too much time.  I'll let this run until the bottom bottle is saturated and dripping regularly out of the drain hole.  It may take several hours depending on your soil composition.  Once the bottom bottle is saturated, slow down the drip until the bottom bottle is barely dripping.  This ensures all the bottles are getting what they need.  In my setup, approximately 1 drip every seven seconds was the magic number.  As the plants grow and use more water, you may have to open up the dripper some to ensure the bottom bottle keeps saturated.  On average, the three towers I have hooked up to my 5-gallon bucket EACH use about 1/4 gallon per day at seven seconds between drops.  Your mileage may vary, but suffice to say that this is a very efficient system.  When I go on vacation, I simply hook up a 20-30 gallon rain barrel (read trash can) and travel worry free for many days.

Planting the Bottles:

I have done seeds and transplants using this setup.  I recently transplanted strawberries and have been extremely satisfied with their progress and flavor improvement over their previous potted existence.  Planting seeds is a little trickier because you have to ensure the seeds will have head clearance when they emerge.  My first planting of green and purple pod beans had three bean plants that I had to assist emerging from the neck of the bottle.  The fix to that has been to slightly enlarge the top of the opening and plant the seeds closer to the tip of the opening.  I haven't had any problems since I've made the adjustments.

A Word About Potting Mix:

I use a custom blended soil-less potting mix that drains extremely fast, but you can use any high quality, fast draining "Potting Mix".  One of the more common commercially available mixes is called Pro-Mix HP.  It may seem a little pricey, but because you'll be using so little of it, spend the money or invest the time now so you can avoid the problems later.  The mix I use is a combination of 5 parts "small" orchid bark, 1 part perlite, and 1 part sphagnum peat moss with a little Osmocote controlled release fertilizer thrown in for good measure.  If you search for "Tapla 5-1-1" you'll find a plethora of information about the mix I use and quickly understand why I use it.  Another good option is to use hydroton expanded clay pellets that are available at any hydroponics grow shop.  I recommend you do not use garden soil as it does not drain fast enough for this setup.

Fertilizing the System:

I hate messing with a bunch of different bottles and pellets of fertilizer, so for this, and most all my plantings, I use Dyna-Gro Foliage Pro Concentrate.  I mix 1/4 Tbsp per gallon of water and let it run.  Foliage Pro is a full-spectrum fertilizer with all the macro- and micro-nutrients.  It ain't the cheapest, but what can I say...spend the money and avoid the problems down the road.  Another name brand that is readily available includes the General Hydroponics line.  More good options are available at your local hydroponics shops or online.  If you're willing to experiment, I've seen good success with full spectrum granular fertilizer when used sparingly.  You may have to put it at the very top of the mix so as to not burn your roots.  The constant moisture will eventually break down the granules and the plant will quickly find it.

System Dynamics:

The top bottles get the most water AND the most sun depending on how you orient them.  Using a fast draining potting mix prevents the top bottle from rotting roots while minimizing the amount of water used overall.  Keeping the plant openings as small as possible minimizes water lost to evaporation as the sun beats down on them.  Plant crops that need a lot of water at the top, like lettuce and basil, and position plants with lower water requirements near the bottom...like cilantro or rosemary.  Also keep in mind that as plants get bigger, they can shade the plants below them during parts of the day.  You can use this to your advantage by planting the top bottles with smaller plants to allow the sun pass through or larger plants up top to shelter delicate plants during the hottest parts of the day.  Don't stress too much about what is planted where though, because you can always...REARRANGE the bottles as you deem necessary at any point.  Flowers on top and herbs down below anyone?  Gotta love an elegant modular design!

Parting Thoughts:

If you set up a tower system like this or have seen one like it somewhere out there, please send me a link or a photo and I'll add it to the bottom of this post.  We're all here to share, learn, and give credit to those with great ideas.  Good gardening to ya!





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).  www.globalbuckets.org, an organization centered around using buckets as planters, showed better results with the ollas than their wick system...so 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, Amazon.com 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 far...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:
http://www.darrolshillingburg.com/GardenSite/PorousClayCapsuleIrrigation.html

http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-09062001-093813/unrestricted/08chapter7.pdf

http://www.oas.org/DSD/publications/Unit/oea59e/ch28.htm

http://permaculture.org.au/2010/09/16/ollas-unglazed-clay-pots-for-garden-irrigation/

http://www.productivegardens.com.au/watering-systems/

http://www.globalbuckets.org/p/olla-irrigation-clay-pot-system.html

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.