What does pottery have to do with local foods? If you don’t know Mark and Suzanne Rittman, owners of The Maverick Potter, this might be a good question. But those of you who DO know them, have already experienced the great contributions they make to our foodshed and the local economy.
For starters, Mark has thrown several hundred bowls for Central Colorado Foodshed Alliance’s annual ShedFest over the past few years. Mark also opens his studio for the public to decorate these bowls once they have been fired.
This spring, Mark and Suzanne are offering a unique contribution we thought CCFA members would want to know about: ollas.
Pronounced “oy-yah,” these unglazed pots are planted in the garden, then filled with water. The water gradually seeps through the pottery, giving the soil a nice subterranean soak.
Suzanne calls this “technology so smart, it has to be ancient.” Though ollas are thought to have been brought to the Americas from North Africa by the Spanish, research has found evidence of ollas in China up to 400 years ago.
Ollas are best used for herbaceous plants, grasses, vegetables and perennials. Some wood plant roots may break the olla as the woody roots enlarge over time. Different sized ollas are used for different plants or groups of plants.
Small plants or shallow rooted plants need a smaller olla and plants with deeper roots or which need more water need a larger olla.
After the olla is buried and filled with water, a rock, cap, or cork can be placed over the top to prevent insects and dirt from falling in the pot. A drip system can also be set up to fill the olla automatically.
If you’d like to try using ollas in your garden this year, stop by the Maverick Potter. Mark said he was taking a fresh “batch” of ollas out of the kiln last week.
Photos courtesy of the Rittmans.