Earth-friendly solutions for organic gardeners.

Tag Archives: Sunnyside Environmental School

Third Graders Learn about Olla Irrigation

Students digging a hole.It’s “school garden season” here in Portland!

So just one day after installing Ollas at the school garden in Beaverton, I found myself at the Sunnyside Environmental School, which is just a few short blocks from my house in Portland.


The Sunnyside elementary school is well known for it’s focus on sustainability. Students at Sunnyside work to develop their academic skills while also learning about personal and social responsibility for all living systems.

Thanks to Step Roonie, the garden coordinator at Sunnyside, I was invited to visit with the third grade to talk about Dripping Springs Ollas and install a few Ollas in the school garden. Now back in the day I did some high school tutoring, and I’ve taught in a corporate setting. I’ve even conducted computer graphics classes at Pratt’s Manhattan Center for Continuing Education. But quite honestly, I was a little nervous about facing a room full of 8-year olds.

Finishing the Olla installationI needn’t have worried. The kids were all really engaged. And they were johnny-on-the-spot with answers to my questions. They also asked some really good questions of their own.

Our lesson about Ollas touched on science, and even a little bit of history. For example, I explained that clay pot irrigation has been used by many indigenous people around the world for thousands of years. The students were very knowledgeable about climate change and (thanks to their Spanish classes) they all knew that the word “olla” is pronounced as “oya”.

Mostly the students wanted to know how Dripping Springs Ollas really work. I used this analogy to explain water transmission: I asked them if they had ever put just the very tip of a paper towel into a puddle of juice. And they all immediately understood that the water in an Olla wicks through the soil in very much the same way that juice can wick through a paper towel.

Garden Chores

After our discussion, we had a chance to work in the garden. The class broke up into smaller groups. Then the students measured the correct distance between the Ollas, dug the holes and filled the Ollas with water.

Fill the Olla with waterSteph chose this particular bed because it hasn’t been easy to irrigate this part of the garden. It doesn’t have a drip system, and it’s a little difficult to drag a hose over. With the Ollas in place the students just have to carry a few watering cans over once or twice a week. The planting bed, which is right along a busy sidewalk at SE Salmon and SE 34th Avenue will be filled with sunflowers and marigolds. It’s a wonderful opportunity to show the students—and the neighborhood—how efficient Ollas are for garden irrigation.