Pot o’ Goodness: Low, Low-Tech Water Conservation

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Continuing on the greywater theme, on big cooking days, when I’m doing a lot of boiling, steaming, soaking and rinsing, I collect all that used water in a big pot and take it out to the garden to water the plants. It’s full of nutrients, and won’t cause any blackwater* problems as long as you:

  • Use it immediately. It will turn foul if left to sit too long.
  • Pour it straight into the soil–don’t splash it all over edible leaves. Remember, soil purifies water.
  • Don’t use water full of food chunks or grease, as this will attract vermin and cause smells.

I know it’s only a little bit water that I’m saving by doing this, but to me it’s a symbolic act, almost a prayer. And heck, it hasn’t rained here since March, so every bit counts. Also, the plants really like the super-water. I think of it as a smoothie for them.

Another option is to re-use cooking waters as stock. This is something I don’t know much about. Sometimes I’ll take some nice bright green water leftover from steaming or blanching greens and use that to start a vegetable stock. But I’ve heard of people using pasta water as the base of soups. Have any of you tried that, or other techniques along those lines? Do tell.

And let us know if you have any quirky ways of saving water.

*What’s blackwater? It’s water which is dirtier than greywater, and therefore not usually recycled. Typically this is water coming from the toilet and the kitchen sink. Food particles from the sink turn septic quickly, and grease and heavy soap are not good for soil. However, our greywater guru, Art Ludwig, does say that kitchen sink water is nutrient rich, and suggests workarounds that allow sink water re-use, like grease traps or plumbing the sink so only the rinse water goes to the garden.

Greywater Fed Tomato Plant Takes Over The World

Homegrown Neighbor Here:

So a few months ago Mr. Homegrown helped me install a simple ‘laundry to landscape’ greywater system. Most of the plants that get watered by the system didn’t get much water before and were just barely surviving. There are several fruit trees, a rhubarb plant and an assortment of perennial herbs lining a narrow strip of land along the side of the house. Now, the plants getting fed by the greywater are going bonkers.

Last week the area became impassable it was so overgrown. The path along the side of the house had disappeared. I have the laundry water going to the sewer half the time because I don’t want to overwater. That and my roommate bought some non-greywater friendly soap. So I really only run one or two loads of laundry a week into the yard. But that has been more than enough.

Yesterday I hacked my way through the overgrowth and tried to train the rampant cherry tomato plant. The tomatoes are delicious. I eat them constantly when I’m in the yard and pawn them off on friends and family whenever I can. Still, there are tomatoes in areas that I can no longer get too. The tomato plant has killed my apple tree I think. I can’t see the apple tree under it anymore. The tomato plant is about eight feet tall and equally wide. It is reaching for the roof, using the poor buried apple tree as its support. I tried to photograph the madness, but it just looks like an indeterminable tangle and doesn’t really show what is going on.

But now I have reclaimed a path along the side of the house. If just an occasional load of laundry can provide such a boost to this little patch of land, I wonder what all of the other water used in the house could do. I would have to get rid of all of the low-water and native plantings and go tropical! It just goes to show how much water we use in our homes every day and don’t really think about where it goes. Eventually I would love for all of the water from our showers and sinks to go to the yard as well, but for now, the washing machine is creating a little tropical oasis and that’s plenty.

Laundry to Landscape 2.0

I just installed a “laundry to landscape” greywater system at the house of Lora “Homegrown Neighbor” Hall using greywater guru Art Ludwig’s free open-source plans. It was a cinch. And, thanks to a revision in the California plumbing code last year, it’s legal with no permit required.

I started in the laundry room by rigging up a three way diverter valve so that Lora can route the greywater back to the sewer if it’s been raining too much or if she’s bleaching her Prada (not likey, by the way). The diverter, somewhat of an exotic plumbing part, was ordered off of Ludwig’s website. At $47 it was the most expensive part of the system, but it’s well built.

Next, I rigged up two check valves, essentially a one-way gate, one to prevent greywater from siphoning back into the washing machine and another to act as a vent. You could also just use a six foot section of pipe as a vent, but Lora’s overhanging roof made that impossible.

The most labor intensive part of the process was digging the trench for the pipe out in the garden. Lora decided how many outlets she wanted in the garden and we consulted the “calculator” on Ludwig’s site (more of a chart than a calculator, actually, since he’s done the math for you). The calculator basically gives a range of outlet sizes and numbers so that you can get an even flow to the outlets but not risk burning out the washing machine’s pump. With nine outlets Ludwig suggests a 3/8-inch hole. We simply drilled 3/8-inch holes in the bottom of the PVC pipe that we ran out into the garden. The outlets flow into mini-mulch basins along the side of some perennial shrubs and a few small fruit trees.

Altogether it took just a few hours. Lora ran a load of clothes immediately and it worked perfectly. It was one of the easiest home improvement projects I’ve done. No cursing whatsoever! Now Lora can’t wait to do the laundry. She, of course, uses only Oasis Biocompatible Laundry Detergent. Note that many “eco” detergents will kill terrestrial plants–I’ll do a blog post on this shortly, as I discovered one major manufacturer claiming that a detergent was safe for greywater only to discover that it contained several different sodium compounds, definitely bad for soil!

Ludwig gives both a version of this project in PVC and another in HDPE plastic. I chose to work with the politically incorrect PVC since I couldn’t find the groovier 1-inch HDPE in less than 300 foot rolls. If any of you know of a source where you can get 1-inch HDPE by the foot, please let me know in the comments.

If you’d like to do this yourself the plans are all on Ludwigs site under Laundry to Landscape. In addition to the plans there is a parts list for both the PVC and HDPE versions and the aforementioned calculator.  If you don’t think you can do it yourself (remember it’s easy!) you could conceivably hand the plans to a handyman. A plumber would be too expensive, in my opinion.

See also Ludwig’s book The New Create an Oasis with Greywater.

Laundry to Landscape Legal in LA

Ludwig’s “Laundry to Landscape”
California’s new greywater code, passed in August of last year, was a big step in the right direction. The revised code legalized simple “laundry to landscape” systems of the sort promoted by greywater guru Art Ludwig and allowed their installation without a permit. Here’s a pdf from the City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety confirming that you don’t need a permit within LA city limits for “a graywater system in a one or two-family dwelling that is supplied only by a clothes-washer and/or a single-fixture system.” Though, confusingly, it also goes on to say, “Any alteration to the building or plumbing, electrical or mechanical system
requires a permit.” I guess we shouldn’t expect clarity from a department that can’t seem to get around to regulating thousands of illegal billboards. But I digress. I’m calling my laundry to landscape greywater installation legal!
Hopefully all California cites will respect the state code. Ludwig says,
“Trying to sell permits to California graywater users is like trying to sell a $100 search engine that you have to register for to people who use google. Any standard that can’t compete with “free” and “zero time for compliance” is doomed to irrelevance.

The only way government agencies can compete is to offer “free”, “zero time for compliance” legal systems that are better, and can be installed by professionals instead of having to do it yourself.

This involves surrendering the illusion of control, in trade for actually making things better on the ground.”

By foregoing permits, city government can play a role in encouraging greywater. Legalizing the practice makes it possible for professional plumbers to do the installations in addition to plucky DIYers. Kinda like prostitution in Holland–keep it out in the open and you’l have less . . . shoddy plumbing.
See Art Ludwig’s excellent website to see how to install your own laundry to landscape system. His book, Create an Oasis with Greywater is also highly recommended. And, if you’ve got a laundry to landscape system, make sure to use Oasis Biocompatible Detergent.

Homegrown Evolution Podcast Episode #1

Subscribe to the Homegrown Evolution podcast in itunes here.

Download the mp3 on archive.org.

On this first episode of the Homegrown Evolution podcast we talk food preservation with author Ashley English who blogs at small-measure.blogspot.com. English will have two books out next year on food preservation and chickens, part of a series entitled “Homemade Living,” (Lark Books). She also has a weekly column every Friday on Design*Sponge at www.designspongeonline.com/category/small-measures.

In the second part of the show we talk to Wing Tam, assistant division manager for the Watershed Protection Program in the City of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Sanitation about a new rainwater harvesting pilot project. You can find out more about the program at www.larainwaterharvesting.org. We conclude with a reaction to this new program from river activist Joe Linton, author of Down by the Los Angeles River and one of the bloggers behind lacreekfreak.wordpress.com.

As we say on the podcast, we prefer gardening to staring at computer screens and putting a podcast together involves a hell of a lot of the latter. Don’t look for frequent updates, but we’ll probably put out another one in the fall. Please excuse the mike popping and other technical flaws, as we’re still working out the technical side. We hope you’ll enjoy the podcast while, say, gardening or prepping food for canning. We’re all about open source, so feel free to redistribute or rebroadcast.

Music on the program is from archive.org:

A bluegrass cover of DEVO’s Mongoloid by the Hotfoot Quartet. Bob Frank, guitar and lead vocal, Jim Blum, upright bass and vocals; Paul Kovac, banjo and vocals; Bob Smakula, mandolin and vocals. Available here.

Also from archive.org, a collection of surf music.