Commonly today referred to as the “Oya”, the traditional “Olla” or “Aulla”, an unglazed ceramic jar with a wide body and narrow neck, dates back to ancient Rome, where it was originally used for cooking and storage, and as a funeral urn. As Roman culture spread across Europe and co-mingled with other cultures, in Celtic Gaul the “Olla” found common usage in agriculture, and became a symbol of Sucellus, the God of agriculture. In later years “Ollas” found popular use as the required vessel for the preparation of localized foods in Spain and Catalonia.
Similar vessels became popular in the American southwest, and while they could have been introduced to the region by Spanish settlers it is more likely that Native American contemporaneously developed them on their own. In the New World they were used for storing water, cooking and serving, as well as for other uses.
But the primary use of the “Olla” was is irrigation, primarily among the Spanish and then Native Americans. As water slowly seeped through the unglazed ceramic walls of the Olla”, its use in agriculture become obvious, and widely used. “Ollas” would be buried in the earth with the necks sticking out above ground. Fruits and vegetables would be planted around the “Ollas”, and the “Ollas” were then filled with water. The slow seepage of water to the roots of the plants made for effective and efficient growth, with little waste through spillage or evaporation.
With today’s climate crisis and pervasive drought conditions, the use of the “Olla” is a water-saving and cost-saving effective way to garden for virtually anyone with a little plot of land where they wish to grow vegetables, fruit or decorative, flowering plants. Continue reading