Oyas: The Smart and Efficient Way to Water Your Plants

GardenBy Jul 11, 2024

Origins of Oyas

Oyas are irrigation jars with lids. The word “oya” comes from the Spanish word “olla,” which means “pot.” However, the use of oyas for watering small arid gardens dates back at least two millennia, with origins in China, North Africa, or even the Roman Empire not precisely determined.

After World War II, intensive agriculture in the Western world led to the systematic use of pesticides and generous aerial watering practices without any concern for water consumption. It wasn’t until the 1970s that permaculture took an interest in this watering system, which aligns with its principles of responsible and equitable use of natural resources, as well as respect for human beings.

In recent years, thanks to the growing interest in permaculture and increasingly dry summers that have raised awareness about water resources, oyas have become ubiquitous in discussions about different watering systems. This is unsurprising, considering the backlash against farmers who continue with intensive and water-consuming cultivation practices instead of changing their approaches and crops.

How Oyas Work

Oyas are made of porous terracotta clay, designed to be buried in the soil with only the opening visible. The surrounding soil absorbs the moisture that seeps from the pot as it dries out, providing plants with a micro-irrigation system that prevents water waste and limits evaporation.

Available in various sizes, from less than a liter for indoor plants to 10 liters for use in vegetable gardens, oyas offer a significant reduction in water consumption compared to traditional drip or micro-irrigation methods. The installation of oyas does not eliminate the need for mulching to limit evaporation and preserve soil moisture under the scorching sun.

Advantages of Using Oyas to Water Your Garden

The advantages of using oyas for watering your garden are undeniable. Not only do they help conserve water by reducing consumption by 30 to 40% compared to traditional methods, but they also minimize weed growth by preventing surface seeds from receiving water. Additionally, the limited moisture on plants’ surfaces and in the soil helps reduce the development of fungal diseases.

Plants watered with oyas do not experience water stress since they receive a continuous supply through capillary action. This means less frequent watering, typically only requiring weekly refilling, depending on factors such as soil type, weather conditions, and the specific water needs of different plants.

Oyas are particularly useful for watering summer vegetables that thrive under intense sun and high water demands, such as tomatoes, eggplants, zucchinis, peppers, and beans. However, they may not be suitable for root vegetables like carrots, turnips, beets, leeks, and onions that are not typically associated with the summer season.

Drawbacks of Using Oyas as a Watering Technique

Oyas made of porous terracotta or ceramic can be aesthetically pleasing, but they also come with a price tag (ranging from €10 to €35 depending on size) that matches their aesthetics. Additionally, they are fragile and can break if dropped or mishandled.

For large gardens, a significant number of oyas would be required, making them more suitable for smaller areas such as vegetable beds. It is advisable to start with a small-scale experiment, using oyas for potted indoor plants before considering larger installations.

DIY Oyas: An Affordable Alternative

For those looking for a more affordable alternative, making homemade oyas is possible. All you need are two basic terracotta pots of the same size, with their dimensions chosen according to the water needs of the plants they will irrigate.

Seal one pot’s drainage hole tightly using clay or silicone designed for use on brick surfaces, resistant to moisture and vibrations. Then, turn the second pot upside down and place it over the sealed pot so that their edges are aligned, creating a seal between them. Allow the sealant to dry according to the instructions on the tube.

Once dry, bury the oya in the soil, leaving only the opening exposed. Fill it through the exposed opening, either by using an attached funnel or by adding a small pot on top to act as a funnel. To prevent evaporation, use a cork or an upside-down saucer as a cover for the oya.

An easier alternative is to plug the drainage hole of a terracotta pot and bury it almost to the top, placing an upside-down saucer on top as a cover. However, this will result in a shallower oya with less capacity.

Whether using store-bought oyas or making DIY versions, embracing this efficient watering technique can help you save water, reduce maintenance, and promote healthier plants in your garden.

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I'm Jennifer. My hands are often covered in soil, and my heart is full of passion for nature. Through my writings, I share my personal gardening journeys, tips, and the joy of cultivating both plants and a community of fellow garden lovers. Every plant I grow adds a story to my life, and I love sharing those tales with my readers.