Water your Trees with Greywater

Ludwig’s Laundry to Landscape plans.

Root Simple reader MJ pointed out that I neglected to mention greywater as a way to deal with our drought challenged trees here in California. So, on this greywater Monday, I thought I’d round up some previous posts and links on the subject.

Laundry to Landscape
International greywater guru Art Ludwig has a set of free plans on his website Oasis Designs for a laundry to landscape system. I’ve built this system at our house and at a neighbors’ and can attest to its ease of construction and functionality. Make sure you read through Ludwig’s directions in their entirety or else you’ll blow out your machine’s water pump. And note that some California cities such as Pasadena have classes and rebates for greyater parts.

The Confusing World of Detergents
The combination of a dry climate and alkaline soils means that we have to be very careful about the sorts of detergents we use with greywater. Regular soaps and detergents will raise the pH of your soil. Your trees will look great for a few years and then suddenly die. Unfortunately, finding a soil-friendly detergent or soap is more complex than it should be. You can’t trust manufacturer’s claims of greywater compatibility. Here’s what Kelly concluded in a 2015 post:

As of today, we are still only able back three products without reservation for use in greywater:

• Oasis Liquid Laundry Detergent
• Bio-Pac Laundry Detergent
• soap nuts

ETA 8/14: Also, it looks like Fit Organic Laundry Detergent is safe as well. Thanks, Judy!

Sorry folks, I know that’s not a lot in terms of choice.

The following eco-friendly detergents are often listed as greywater compatible, but we have reservations about them. We recommend you research these products more on your own, and consider your own greywater system as well as the specific plants and soil you are irrigating before deciding whether these should be used or not.

Ecos: Contains sodium coco sulfate

Vaska: Has a D+ rating on the Environmental Working Group’s product safety database.

Lifetree: Has a pH level of 7

Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap: Fine for greywater use in general, but it simply is not a laundry detergent–it’s castile soap. You can wash your clothes with it, but the results won’t be spectacular.

The bottom line is that we only trust the detergents and soaps that Ludwig himself designed: Oasis Biocompatible Laundry Detergent and Dishwash soap.

Here are Brad Landcaster’s thoughts on soaps and detergents. Let me also note the utility of Landcaster’s books and website when it comes to all things water conservation related, especially how to grade and configure tree plantings to optimize rainwater irrigation.

One last and rarely mentioned issue, is if “greywater” should be one word or two or, in the neologistic spirit of “apisoir,” perhaps we need to invent a sexier word for reusing our water. Greenwater? Freewater? Leave a comment!

Organize Those Drip Irrigation Parts!

IMG_0772Behold: an ordered toolbox full of irrigation parts. Now this could be one of those self-aggrandizing homesteady posts were it not for the fact that it took me fifteen years to organize my drip irrigation parts. I spent those previous years fishing for parts in a partially collapsed cardboard box. Take my advice: if you own a house, are an avid gardener and use some kind of timed irrigation, thou shalt organize all those parts.

Maintaining an irrigation system is, unfortunately, not a build it and leave it proposition. Inevitably, a shovel slices through a line or a surprise freeze bursts a pipe. More importantly, a garden changes over time. For instance, a drip line under a tree needs to be expanded as the tree grows or maybe that group of natives you planted has matured and no longer needs irrigation.

“All is change” as Heraclitus once said. And I’m sure that because of his philosophy of impermanence, Heraclitus carefully separated and organized his drip irrigation parts.

What is green water?

Rhubarb-Roots

Rhubarb roots, as reproduced in Root Demystified. One square equals one foot.

This is a new vocabulary word for me:

You’ve heard of grey water and black water–but what is green water?

Well, if you’re a sailor, it’s a term for the water swamping the deck during a storm. That’s not what I’m talking about here. Amongst sailors of the soil (i.e. gardeners), green water is the water supply held around the roots of the plants. Water from rain or irrigation which does not run off the surface of the soil, nor run down through the soil to ground water, but which stays with the plant for its use.

Green water is a plant’s envelope of life. It’s also a space of water storage which we don’t often consider. We’ll invest in a rain barrel, but we will forget the massive storage tank which nature has placed under our feet.

If we have healthy soil in our yards, our plants have a baseline supply of water. It’s held in the space between the soil particles and in the bodies of the microscopic creatures which live in healthy soil. How much water? I don’t know, but the real answer is, enough. Plants acclimated to your local climate (natives or similar), living in spongy, healthy soil don’t need supplemental irrigation. Not even in the summer. (Drip line doesn’t occur spontaneously in the wild, after all.) Conversely, in times of heavy rainfall, healthy, spongy soils also resist flooding, swamping and rotting.

By focusing on healthy soils, and allowing rain water to percolate into the soil, we empower the plants to take care of themselves. That’s better for them, and less work for us!

It’s easy to have healthy soils and deep green water reservoirs. We just have to take some commonsense steps to allow life to develop in the soil:

  • We stop adding fertilizers to our yards, even organic ones. They actually collapse the soil structure and make the plants into fertilizer junkies. Mulch, compost and worm castings are all a yard needs.
  • We design our yards so they capture and hold rain water rather than ejecting it straight to the street.
  • We leave the leaves. We keep our clippings and fallen leaves on our land, and let them return to the soil. Mulch is is vital to living soil, while bare soil is dead soil.
  • We make our yards lush. Soil life occurs around the root zones of plants, so more plants means better soil.
  • We plant trees, which the founder of TreePeople, Andy Lipkis, calls “living cisterns.”

Greywater Action Installer Course

GW-alternate-laneyL2L

How about turning our historic drought into a job opportunity? That’s what you could do if you sign up for Greywater Action’s six day installer course coming up in November:

This course is designed for people with either basic plumbing, landscaping, or permaculture skills who want to learn how to design and build simple, economical residential greywater systems.

You will learn about the theory behind simple and high-end systems including the indoor use of greywater. We’ll cover basic plumbing and landscaping skills needed for the four types of common simple greywater systems. You will learn how to conduct a site assessment, determine which system to install and how to maintain existing systems. Additionally you’ll learn about what plants do best with greywater and the do’s and don’t of residential greywater reuse. By the end of the course you will know about proper installation of code compliant washing machine, and simple systems under the CA state code.

For more information and to sign up head here.

The best dry toilet ever

Version 2

We are fortunate to have talented friends all around us, because they are a never-ending source of inspiration.

Case in point: Our friend, Gloria, needed a toilet for her off-grid compound. She asked our mutual friend, Daniel, to make her one. Daniel is a gifted maker– all his creations seem to have an inherent grace about them. Using the classic text, The Humanure Handbook, as a resource, he built her the most beautiful dry toilet system I’ve ever seen.

See more pics of this system and read Daniel’s story on his book-as-a-blog, The Cabin Dweller’s Texbook.

Also, we interviewed Daniel earlier this year for Root Simple Podcast #044.