November 22, 2015

1 - Some things in kitchen dish water may create problems when using ollas to irrigate plants.

Yard and Garden November 22, 2015


While doing some research on ollas, I came across an article you wrote a few years back. I am trying to incorporate the idea of using ollas in a novel I am writing. A character in the book conserves the water from her kitchen sink. This would be dishwater as well as just catching water when waiting for cold to get hot, when washing hands, etc. My question is this - would it be OK to use that type of water in an olla? I actually collect water as described and put it in watering cans to pour on my garden, but I just wondered about using it in the pots. I wouldn't think anything with food particles would be good, but the other sink water seems like it should be fine. However, I would like to know for sure.

- D. Skinner


I am intrigued that the concept of an olla could be used in a novel.

You are correct that any food particles could cause problems in an olla if they foster the growth of microbial organisms that produce mucilage. However, any grease, fatty material, and soaps may also clog the very small pores in the olla. Many detergents are a salt of a fatty acid, some detergents have proteins (enzymes), and many have mineral salts that could be detrimental to plants, especially in arid land soils. Biodegradable detergents are those that have organic constituents that can be decomposed biologically; these may be capable of growing mucilage producing microbes. These are potential problems, not confirmed problems. Using kitchen sink water as you describe in a watering can is a good practice as long as the detergents do not contain harmful mineral salts (I saw arsenic listed in one formulation, boron could also be a problem).

I have never used kitchen sink water in an olla, so I do not know how if any of these potential problems will actually result in clogging of the pores in the olla. This may be an interesting project for the gardener in your novel or for readers of this article.

Best wishes to you in your writing endeavor and to your olla gardener.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook page.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!