Let the Sunshine Feed You

The warm gentle rays wake you as the sun peeks above the Sandia Mountains. You peek through your window and see a beautiful sunrise, crawl out of bed and start the tea kettle. You don’t want to use your fuel today for lunch or dinner, so why not let the sun feed you?

Albuquerque is sunny about 278 days out of the year! This means you could potentially make 278 solar meals annually, as New Mexico has the second highest solar potential in the country. Solar ovens are a great way to have the sun cook a meal while you’re at school or work. You save time, money, and help out the environment by not using gas or electricity.

Solar ovens, also called solar cookers, come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. The three most popular solar cooking devices are the parabolic cooker, the box cooker, and the panel cooker.

The parabolic cooker
These cookers are extremely powerful and can get as hot as 400 degrees Fahrenheit due to the reflector. This means you can fry foods and cook something faster than in a box or panel cooker. The only downside is that the parabolic cookers are not automated; you have to be around in order to move the oven toward the sun and make sure nothing is burning. Decent parabolic cookers made in the US are priced from $100 to about $350. This guy made his own parabolic cooker!

The Box Cooker
This solar oven is comparable to a kitchen oven. It is an insulated box made to collect and trap heat, and can reach about 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The great thing about box cookers is that you can cook something while at school or work! There are many designs for box cookers. You can buy them, but it is much more affordable to build them out of salvaged materials. The Solar Wall Oven Plans originally designed by Barbara Kerr, and provided by The Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center, are the best plans for a long lasting box cooker.

The Panel Cooker
Panel cookers are the cheapest and most portable cooker. They can be made with simple materials and you don’t need handsaws or cut glass! This cooker can get to about 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Fancy panel cookers can cost about $150, but there are several cheap designs you can make with aluminum foil and cardboard or even windshield car shades.

Parabolic solar cooker at the Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center. Photo by: Paloma Sanchez

Parabolic solar cooker at the Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center. Photo by: Paloma

The Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center in Cerrillos, NM, is home to Amanda and Andy Bramble, two amazing, hard working people with enormous hearts, a love for ecological systems and cats. They have 15 years of experience with solar cooking and use the sun almost everyday to cook their meals. In the past I have baked peach kuchen in their solar wall oven and parabolic cooker and have decided it is now time for me to build my own solar cooking structure.

My Solar Experience
The solar funnel cooker is a very simple design; these guidelines give you all the information you need. What I used for my solar funnel cooker was a box that was roughly 2 feet by 4 feet when flattened, recycled aluminum foil, wheat paste, yarn, and a small wooden square for insulation.

Materials for solar funnel oven. Photo by: Paloma Sanchez

Materials for solar funnel oven. Photo by: Paloma

Amanda Bramble’s blog is filled with wonderful DIY information; one of my favorites is her post about solar stew. I was so inspired by this that I decided to try to make my own solar vegetable stew, so I ran to La Montañita Co-op to get the ingredients.

Recipe:
-About two cups of water
- One Radish from Cornelio Candelaria Organics
- One Beet from Agri-Cultura Network
- One yellow potato from White Mountain Farms
- One organic carrot
- Five organic Crimini mushrooms
- ¼ of a large organic red onion
- Two tablespoons of diced Hatch green chile
- A pinch of sea salt and rosemary

Cooking in the solar funnel oven! Image by: Paloma

Cooking in the solar funnel oven! Image by: Paloma

All the ingredients are set into a small cooking pot and into the center of the funnel oven at around 9:30 AM. When I checked on it again at noon, the pot was very hot to the touch and the stew was steaming. At 3:00 PM the stew was ready! Yum! There’s a really strong broth that is produced from the slow cooking. The stew would have been ready much faster if the cooking pot was completely black and covered by an oven bag. But, the reason I did not do either was because I wanted to use materials that were on hand, instead of going to the store and purchasing them. All in all it was a great first time solo solar cooking experience!

Please get outside and let the sun feed you!

Solar vegetable stew. Photo by: Paloma

Solar vegetable stew. Photo by: Paloma

Additional resources so you can make your own solar cooker!
-This website has plans for a variety of cookers that can be made without breaking the bank!
- I did not mention this tire oven but it’s worth a try!

-Posted by Paloma

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Eating Local Species

If you have ever had a garden, or landscaped a front yard, you know that weeds sprout up everywhere, and it takes a good deal of work to remove them. Some of these unwanted plants, such as the goathead, are a real pain (literally), and not nice to have around. However, some of these “weeds” that are deemed “bad” and sprayed with herbicides, can actually be incorporated into our diets. Some are held sacred by other cultures, but unknown to us. Why do we pull out amaranth plants from around the Swiss chard in our gardens, when both are edible and can make similar dishes? In a time of growing food insecurity, and rethinking of our food systems, it makes sense to learn more about the plants of our bioregion, the desert Southwest. So, without further ado:

3 “Weeds” that are edible and delicious:

  1. Verdolaga, aka Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

This plant is very common in the Southwest and grows in sandy, marginal, and disturbed soil. It has a creeping form, with leafy tendrils lying on the ground, outward from a central point. Its stems are brown to maroon, leaves are oblong to egg shaped. The plant produces uncharismatic yellow flowers, and tiny black seeds. Verdolaga’s leaves and stems are succulent, meaning they have a hard waxy surface and a fleshy watery inside. The plant’s fleshiness makes it great for sautéing with onions, garlic, and other vegetables, and adds a lemony flavor to any dish, such as a fresh Greek salad with verdolagas and tomatoes. Verdolagas contain various nutrients similar to eating other leafy green vegetables such as spinach or arugula, but also contain a high amount of Omega-3 fatty acids.

  1. Lambsquarters, Goosefoot, quelites (Chenopodium album):

Another delicious green, lambsquarters, is an upright annual herb, that has one central stalk with whorled branches, and pointed leaves somewhat resembling… you guessed it: a goose’s foot. Leaves have a silvery whitish look, especially when young. Tufts of white seeds form at the top of the plant, and at the end of its prominent branches.

Lambsquarter is in the same genus as quinoa, the sacred grain of the Incan empire, and is related to beets and spinach. It is best harvested young, before the leaves get too tough. The stems and branches are woody and tough, and are somewhat bitter. One of my favorite ways to cook goosefoot is to sauté it with other greens in olive oil, and a splash of balsamic vinegar, or you could even eat it for breakfast.

  1. Amaranth, aka pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus, possibly other Amaranthus species):

Amaranth is a large genus native to several continents, with numerous cultivars and domesticated varieties. Amaranth was a sacred grain to the Aztecs of Mexico, but was banned by the conquistadores because of its association with pagan rituals.

One of the common species growing as a weed around town is Amaranthus retroflexus, which has small spiky flowers and sometimes red lines on the stems. It has a similar growth pattern to goosefoot with an upright central stem, and a large prominent seed plume at the top, which sometimes flops over on itself. Its leaves are narrow and pointed at the tip, usually have prominent veins.

Culinary recommendations are almost identical to goosefoot. Stems are too woody, so young plants are tastier than old plants. Seeds are edible, but a lot of work to harvest. Some plants I have eaten have a very bitter flavor, so add a little bit to a dish, or use lots of seasoning, such as in this traditional curry recipe from India.

By choosing to incorporate plants that are not found in the grocery store into your diet, there is personal responsibility with finding and eating these weeds. Here are a few words of caution:

  • The above listed plants are often unwanted by property owners and thus could be sprayed with herbicides.
  • Plants growing on the edges of major roads or railroad tracks could have pollution and dust on them.
  • The use of inorganic fertilizers has caused some of these plants to uptake harmful levels of nitrates if grown an area affected by fertilizer runoff.
  • Properly identify plants, and do not eat unknown plants.

My advice would be to not collect from a place you don’t know the history of, and don’t collect sickly plants. Better yet, collect seeds of these plants and grown them in your own backyard.

Even if you never get enthusiastic enough over eating local plants to sow your own verdolaga patch, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way. So next time you are noticing the baby goosefoot sprouting along your driveway, at least have a little sympathy for these uninvited guests; they’re not as malicious as you think!

For further reading, check out:
Cajete, Gregory (1999). A People’s Ecology: Explorations in Sustainable Living. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishing.

Emery, Carla. “The Goosefoot Greens”. Encyclopedia of County Living Weblog.

Special thanks to UNM’s Cheo Torres for corroborating information as well!

-Posted by Tom

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Food Trucks in ABQ

An idealistic concept without much success (yet)
There are multiple reasons for aspiring business owners to be lured into the food truck industry – from the autonomy it provides and the thrills of an ever-changing menu, to the low start up costs. A report from the National League of Cities states that the US industry revenue was $650 million in 2012 and is expected to reach approximately $2.7 billion by 2017. Food trucks are considered to have smaller environmental footprints than standard brick-and-mortar restaurants, as the gas and electricity used to power air conditioning/heating and lighting, paired with the fuel used for food service deliveries outweighs the fuel use and on-demand power use of a truck. Many successful trucks have pledged to use local produce to cut their environmental footprints, further support local business, and shorten their supply chain. But those who have tried in Albuquerque haven’t been quite so successful.

Food trucks in Albuquerque that have attempted to be more eco-friendly by incorporating responsible packaging, and/or shorter supply chains into their business models have encountered troubles that have most often resulted in them going out of business. The main reasons for these environmentally sustainable business models being economically unsustainable are:

Costs of local and organic produce, and sustainable packaging
Tim, of the ABQ Food Truck co-op, says that as much as trucks would like to buy local/organic produce, they can’t afford it. “They have to go with the highest quality and lowest prices in order to stay viable in the business.” He gives an example of food containers, which range from foam containers (cheapest), to non-recyclable paper containers with petroleum based plastic linings (about double the price), to containers that can be recycled (about three times the price), to compostable containers (about five to six times the price of foam), as an analogy of the linear price increase with quality of food. Shawn Weed, the head chef at La Posada (UNM’s dining hall) provided information on price discrepancies between two conventional vs. organically farmed staple ingredients: tomatoes and sliced turkey.

Infographic conventional vs organic

Lack of customer willingness to pay fair prices
As Monte of Skarsgard Farms and formerly the Harvest Truck says, “supporting local food is not a matter of accessibility but rather having the means and desire to buy local foods.” While educating children about pesticides, GMOs, subsidised fuel, and health impacts of various diets may open their eyes to the benefits of local/organic food, it will not change the fact that sometimes the only viable option for a meal seems to be one from the dollar menu. The expense of food is a sentiment common to many residents of New Mexico, a state whose average per income capita is 43rd in the US. If the bulk of people in Albuquerque think they can’t afford to buy local/organic produce themselves then they are highly unlikely to purchase prepared food that uses this fresher and more nutritionally rich, yet more expensive produce.

Climate
The drought-prone, desert conditions of New Mexico don’t provide the best growing conditions for fresh produce. Kimberly, the previous owner of The Seasonal Palate food truck, says that she used healthy, seasonal produce in her menu because that’s the way she likes to eat, but “finding suppliers with a regular product [was a problem]. Because we are so limited here in New Mexico, I have to go outside of the state to get regular items.”

Other challenges include:
-        Limited buying power due to small size of business

-        Additional costs of conforming to the same rules, regulations and licensing as brick-and-mortar restaurants

-        Irregular location reduces consistency of customer base

-        Restrictions on where the food trucks can do business

-        Owners must collect their produce rather than have it delivered

-        Weather affects customer desire to eat outside

-        Associations with old “roach coach” stereotype

The Street Food Institute
The Street Food Institute is a new training program that has partnered with CNM in order to transform the prospects of Albuquerque’s food truck industry. They have started collaborating with local food trucks and engaged in partnerships with financial institutions, other small business development groups, local farms and future food hubs for the students to participate in. Program director David Sellers says: “A big part of our long term goal is to make local farm stuffs available to local residents who right now cannot afford it, again keeping our dollars local, and everyone benefiting from healthy produce.”

Street Food Institute

What you can do
-        If you’re a farmer, try to make a connection with a food truck owner/operator

-        Support your local food trucks. Get menu and location updates at ABQ Food Trucks or follow your favourite truck through their own social media.

-         Ask if there’s any organic and preferably local produce in any of the menu items at your favourite food truck and order that!

-        Vote with your dollar – buy local and sustainably produced foods everywhere you shop!

ABQ Food Trucks

-Posted by Lena

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Get Healthy and Preserve Culture

“I was once told it takes 20 generations for a species to adapt fully to a place genetically,” says Roxanne Swentzell of The Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute in Northern New Mexico. Roxanne has started a study group of Pueblo People who are participating in The Pueblo Diet/Food Experience in which only foods that were available to the Pueblos pre-European contact are eaten. This diet consists of strawberries, currants, spinach, corn, squash, beans, turkey, and other crops naturally supported by the New Mexican environment. Blood tests before and after have shown great health improvements in people who had been eating the typical highly processed American diet and then participated in this Pueblo Food Experience. Dylan McLaughlin made a video of the first test group in which you can witness the health transformations for yourself.

currants

Currants

As a seed saver, Roxanne has observed the genetic adaptation of the seeds to the Northern New Mexican climate. However, it is not just the seeds that have adapted genetically to the climate, it is the people as well. The Pueblo people have lived here and eaten traditional foods for at least 20 generations. “Their genes fit the sunlight, the food, the cold and the hotness of [this] place… this is why we get all different human races on Earth,” says Roxanne. Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel is full of examples on how environment shapes the evolution of “civilization.” Diamond explains that the evolution of food production is a major factor in the way the world came to be what it is today. The varying climates and environments played a large part in the food and types of nutrition available to different groups of people. These groups spent thousands of years surviving off of whole, unprocessed foods found in their particular geographic areas.

Today in America we have access to foods produced all over the world and a majority of our nutrition — or more often lack of nutrition — comes from highly processed foods high in sodium, carbohydrates, and sugars. In Michael Pollan’s article “Unhappy Meals,” he explains that recently (during the last 80 years or 3 generations) the majority of our diets has consisted of processed food, as opposed to the entirely whole food diets humans had been eating for the past 200,000 years. Pollan uses the term “whole foods” to mean food that has not been processed, for example everything in the produce section of the market. In the last 80 years, along with the rise in processed foods we have seen an increase in health issues like obesity, high blood pressure, and hormonal imbalances.

The Pueblo Food Experience is an inspirational experiment that is showing significant results in the health of the participants. When I use the term health I use it in an all encompassing way, meaning both mind and body health. The Pueblo Food Experience is just that — an experience — not just with food, but with community and the environment. It is exciting to look into what foods might benefit your physiology. What foods did your family form a symbiotic relationship with? What diet would make you feel the best you could feel? I write this to encourage you to find out what that diet might look like.

Roxanne

Roxanne

When I asked Roxanne how the Pueblo Food Experience has influenced her life she said, “The Pueblo Food Experience has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I knew it would be interesting but I had no idea how profound it would be in a cultural sense. It’s hard to put into words, but maybe I would say that no ceremony or activity connected me with my ancestors like the diet did. I see things slightly differently now…..the story got clearer….we have gotten so far from our source and the diet helped me connect to who we were and still could be as Pueblo people.”

-Posted by Anastassia

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How to Bee-come a Beekeeper

1There has been a lot of buzz about the honey bee lately. People are often captivated and amazed by the small insects officially labeled a “super-organism.” The intricacies of their lives, the efficiency and precision with which they work, and the uncanny intuition of their actions, can make us truly appreciate the power of nature. Honeybees provide an indispensable service to our ecosystem. They pollinate the crops that we eat, making sure that all flowering plants from apple trees to squash can reproduce and bear fruit. The honeybees, and other pollinators, are entangled in a symbiotic relationship with the plants, the plants depend on them for reproduction, and the bees depend on the plants as a sole food source. It is quite a beautiful relationship.

The recent hubbub about bees however takes a more somber tone. Bees around the world are struggling. The condition commonly referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is killing off about a third of the bee population annually. Scientists and beekeepers are working together to find the root cause of this condition, and surprisingly there is no specific problem that can be identified. Rather, there are a multitude of factors that, combined together, create a seriously adverse environment for bees. Habitat loss, pesticide and herbicide use, invasive bacteria and pests, alongside more extreme weather create the perfect storm for the honey bee.

Instead of writing a blog about all the problems bees are facing, I decided not to dwell on all the negative information out there, but rather see what I could do to help our local bees. I attended a beekeeping demonstration, and the beekeeper leading the seminar said that the best thing to do for the bees was to get involved with them, learn about them, and give them a voice. It was then that I realized I should help the bees in the most hands on way possible… By Bee-Coming a Beekeeper!

2The first step that I had to take on my journey towards keeping bees was to educate myself and get connected to the community. I checked out the informative and eloquent book “Top Bar Beekeeping” written by the local beekeeping legend Les Crowder, who keeps about 150 hives in Northern New Mexico. The book was a great jumping off point, filled with vital and concise information alongside poetic and inspiring stories.

Albuquerque has a thriving and active beekeeping community. I found the website that connects them all called ABQBEEKS.ORG, and from there learned that there was a monthly meeting. If you are a beginning beekeeper, ABQ BEEKS will be your best resource for involvement. At this point I was well on my way to completing my first step, and I was going to the meeting prepared to take step two: finding a mentor.

The first time I attended an ABQ BEEKS monthly meeting, I walked into a room filled with more than a hundred people talking amongst themselves and having a good time. After a couple interesting lectures and demonstrations there was some time to meet and talk. Within minutes I had found myself the mentor I had been looking for, someone who was willing to show me the do’s and don’ts with beekeeping, and someone who could give me the fundamental knowledge to set me on my feet.

3

The author observing some honeycomb

Because bees are for the most part dormant over winter, my new mentor invited me to observe him open his hive for the first time in spring. This is an anxious moment for all beekeepers, as they get to see how (and if) the hive has survived over Winter. Over several Sunday meetings, I learned the basics hands-on, and gained a more intimate understanding of the nuances of keeping bees. No doubt, beekeeping is an art, but the basics are easy enough to grasp and really quite intuitive. There are however many options in the style of beekeeping you choose to practice. Here came the third step towards my beekeeping goal: Getting equipment and choosing a hive.

The type of hive you choose will determine what style of beekeeping you will practice. The two most popular hives are the Langstroth and the Top-Bar hives. Though the hive types differ immensely, they are both great ways of keeping bees, and each has pros and cons. I chose a Top-Bar hive because it was the preference of my mentor. Beyond the hive, the only equipment you will need is a hive tool (knife), a smoker, and a veil (to protect you from any bees that get a bit angry).

The two types of hives: Langstroth to the left, and Top-Bar to the right

The two types of hives: Langstroth to the left, and Top-Bar to the right

After all of the equipment is gathered, there is only one final step – getting bees!!! Finding bees in the Albuquerque area is relatively simple, as long as you have one of two things: money or patience. If you have a bit of spare cash lying around, you can buy packages of bees online or from local sellers for about $120-150. If you don’t have the cash, getting bees is still possible! The ABQBEEKS.ORG website has a swarm list, where you can wait to get a group of errant/wild bees that a beekeeper has removed from somebody’s yard, wall, or garden.

Beekeeping is unbelievably rewarding and surprisingly accessible. As outlined above, it is super easy to get engaged and involved with your local super-organisms! If you have an interest please don’t be intimidated. I can act as the example of how someone with a mere interest in bees can become an active beekeeper in only a couple months. Go out there and save the bees!

-Posted by Sean Paul

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Why Raw Milk?

Have you ever heard of raw milk? Many people struggle to choose between raw milk and pasteurized milk due to their lack of knowledge between the two. There is misleading information about raw milk that causes controversy and confusion. Laws that ban the sale of raw milk in certain states or counties cause people to question whether it is safe or not.

Raw milk is milk produced from cows, sheep, goats or other animals that has not been pasteurized. The Raw Milk Institute states that, “Raw milk is a living whole food that contains: enzymes, a biodiversity of beneficial bacteria, sugars, proteins, fats, minerals, antibodies and other essential elements needed to nourish a growing baby.”

Pasteurization is a process named after the scientist Louis Pasteur. This method uses heat to destroy pathogens and germs found in food that may be harmful or deadly to humans after consumption. During pasteurization the milk is heated anywhere from 145 degrees to 280 degrees Fahrenheit. The most common method in the US heats the milk for 15 seconds or longer at a temperature of 161 degrees Fahrenheit. Pasteurization is a process of partial sterilization that kills the harmful pathogens, but also kills beneficial bacteria as well.

New Mexico laws allow raw milk to be sold in certain counties in the state as long as their bacteria levels are low. If these levels are within requirement, referred to as grade A, the dairy must label their product stating that “raw milk may cause illness or harmful disease.”

Only 1% of milk consumed in the U.S. is raw milk. Why so little? Raw milk has been proven to be safe and has caused very few illnesses to millions of people throughout history. When raw milk causes illnesses and diseases it is most likely to be caused from bad sanitization. If a farmer has sanitized his cows, has a very clean milking parlor, and the equipment in his creamery is always clean, there should be few harmful bacteria.

Many generations of my family have produced their own raw milk and have drank it with no negative health impacts. Buying local allows you to meet your farmer in person, see what kind of person he is, what methods he uses, and how clean his farm and creamery may be. Another important factor most people forget about is how the cow is being raised. Whether the cow is fed all natural food and grains is very important. Buying non local milk increases the risk of bacteria and disease because of the time it takes you to receive it, and the fact that multiple hands touch the product.

The dilemma labeling raw milk as “unsafe” is a dilemma that shouldn’t exist. Basic research shows raw milk is safe and even healthier than pasteurized milk.

Pasteurized milk has been the clear choice for the majority of people, but is it the right choice? Pasteurized milk is often assumed to be completely safe, but it also has been proven to cause some illnesses and to contain fewer beneficial proteins. Pasteurized milk is also absorbed by our bodies differently than raw milk. So is raw milk or pasteurized milk the way to go?

rawmilkAfter taking a trip to one of the New Mexico dairy farms in my local area, I was convinced raw milk is the way to go. I visited De Smet Dairy in Bosque Farms, which is only 20 minutes south of Albuquerque. During my visit I met Mike, who is one of the owners, and who earned the 2014 Young Farmer of the Year award.

Mike and the De Smet dairy farm have proudly produced and sold raw milk in New Mexico for the past six months, and have the USDA ranking of #1 for cleanest milk. Mike told me that this reward has come from hard work. He cleans and sanitizes his cows and all materials that come in contact with the milk. He uses stainless steel products because they have been proven to be the safest. He also cleans his material with 100 degree water and then again with 180 degree water with detergents and chlorine. His method of rotational grazing keeps his cows mobile and healthy.

De Smet dairy produces about 1000 gallons a week, and sells about 350 1/2 gallons daily. De Smet produces all their milk off of 20 cows. Their goal is to grow their herd to 100 cows in the future. At the rate De Smet is expanding and with their efforts to become more sustainable, they may become the biggest dairy farm in the Southwest.

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If you would like to visit to De Smet Dairy they are very welcoming and open daily from noon-5pm. They are located at 2405 McNew Road in Bosque Farms, New Mexico. I had a great experience there; the cows are tame, which gives a perfect family experience. I believe one day people will understand raw milk is not only the right choice but a more beneficial choice as well.

-Posted by Gordon

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Olla Use for Home Gardening

Image from: permacultureideas.blogspot.com

Image from: permacultureideas.blogspot.com

Olla is a latin word meaning earthenware jar. Its first use in writing is in a medieval collection of ideas from 1535 called De Proprietibus Rerum:

“A crocke hyghte Olla, for water boylethe therin whan fyre is there vnder, and vapour passeth vpward, and the boll that ryseth on the water, and durethe by substaunce of the wynde and ayre, hyghte Bulla.”

Before and simultaneous with use of metal, earthenware has been a primary material for the containment and preparation of food across the world. The right combination of clay and water, then fire, can create one of the harder substances on earth that doesn’t degrade, and that transfers heat without burning. According to Marguerita Abreu, its qualities are in these ways as incredible as advanced, modern day materials (ceramic has, for example, greater resistance to abrasion than steel) and yet its making is so simple that humans have done so for 10,000 years (concerning pottery, whereas ceramic figurines were being made 25,000 years ago). Simple ceramic vessels have been used as tools for agriculture since the beginning of its practice, arising also roughly 10,000 years ago.

A Sri Lankan man fills an olla used to water a tree. Image from: permaculturenews.org

A Sri Lankan man fills an olla used to water a tree. Image from: permaculturenews.org

Gardeners around the world, like John Dromgoole of Texas, use ollas to efficiently bring water to plants and reduce the frequency of watering. A particular benefit mentioned by many is that because the olla is buried in the soil, water is introduced deep initially rather than having to seep down from the top, where it is easily caught by roots closer to the surface. This tends to encourage deeper root growth and therefore more plant strength as well as general above ground growth. And compared to hand watering, an olla can be filled just once or twice a week, dispersing water in the interim.  Further, if an olla is used and handled carefully and put away during freezes it can last hundreds of years.

Ollas in rows at Growing Awareness Urban Farm in Albuquerque, NM. Photo from: permaculturenews.org

Ollas in rows at Growing Awareness Urban Farm in Albuquerque, NM. Image from: permaculturenews.org

An example of an interesting variation comes from permaculturist Tom Bowes in Michigan. He connects a rain catchment system with his ollas so they’re filled by water runoff. In this way plants are watered by rainfall and for days afterward.

Another possible idea could be to mix a drip-tape system with an olla system, with tape providing for row crops and large ollas for perennial trees or bushes. Invariably you can create any kind of system you’d like.

If you’re interested in implementing an olla type watering system in Albuquerque you can purchase pre-made vessels from Growing Awareness Urban Farm. Growing Awareness Urban Farm runs a mini-farm in the city, at the East Central Ministries Church, and makes their own ollas for sale as well as sells seeds and produce at markets.

Another popular, resourceful, and probably cheaper method is to seal two machined terracotta pots together, plugging the bottom drain-hole, and filling from the top hole with a funnel.

Image fom: globalbuckets.org

Image fom: globalbuckets.org

Lastly, you can make ollas yourself! To do this you’ll need full access to a ceramics facility and be able to throw simple vessels on the wheel or else build them as a sculpture.

Good luck! Feel free to contact me with any questions at tyryder@unm.edu. In my process to throw my own ollas and use them in my garden I might be able to offer some pointers. The above-mentioned Albuquerque producers are also excellent resources for information.

-Posted by Tyson

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