50 Shades of Grey Water
Water quality matters, and these days, so does water conservation. Enter the use of grey water, which can benefit your garden if it is collected and used the right way. The following tips and tricks will help you maximize your understanding of grey water, and how to put it to good use on your plants.
Finding the right water source can sometimes be a big undertaking for home growers. There are both inexpensive and expensive water filtration systems that the average homeowner can install that offer big benefits, but in a lot of cases, going back to the basics can also provide solutions. Here’s what you need to know about supplementing some of your filtered water with grey water.
Determining Water Quality
Water contains trace minerals and other compounds plants need to survive and produce. These trace amounts are measured in parts per million (ppm). Every water authority in the United States must have its Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) available online and in print for anybody who asks for it, which supplies the public with all the information required in the ppm range. These reports inform people who use the municipality’s water service what is in the water, and this information varies widely from region to region.
Well water, which is pumped up from the ground for normal household use, is usually referred to as hard water, depending on your region, meaning it is rich in minerals, such as calcium and magnesium carbonates, and other compounds. The calcium found in hard water is largely sodium-bound, coming from limestone and chalk, which causes the hard water stains.
If you have hard water where you live, it will show up as a gritty, white buildup around faucets and showerheads. It will also leave a scaly feeling and smell a bit off. A filter system or a water softener is often installed to help eliminate the unwanted taste, feel and effects hard water can have. However, water straight from the well is often good for your garden because of all the minerals and other compounds it contains.
Many water sources contain trace minerals our gardens need, such as iron, copper, manganese, sodium and other metals. Calcium is missing from most water sources because it does not easily dissolve into either soil or water, and most water authorities go through extended lengths to remove as much as possible due its corrosive nature and buildup. Calcium, which is required by plants, is made up of decomposed materials such as sea shells, bones, antlers and other hardened materials, which take time to dissolve and become part of the water, so adding a good calcium supplement to your garden is likely required. It is up to the cultivator to filter out what is not needed for their garden and to add other nutrients to offset the ones missing. All of this information can be obtained from your local water authority.
Incorporating nutrients into your garden is important and the water is the vehicle that carries these nutrients to your plants. By adding nutrients to your water, you alter the pH balance of the water, which may give roots a hard time absorbing what they need. Proper chemical balance is required and can be altered either up or down in the pH scale. Finding out what works best for you garden starts with knowing the needs of what you are growing.
Using Grey Water in the Garden
By using grey water, you can limit the amount of supplementation of most common nutrients, such as calcium, phosphates and magnesium, in your garden. Grey water, which is recycled water from our laundry, sinks and showers, typically does not contain any other chemicals besides soaps, which are phosphate-based.
Even urban gardeners can take advantage of grey water simply by diverting their laundry and sink water to a catch bucket and using that for their daily watering. This helps save money, not only on reverse osmosis costs, but on some nutrients as well. Thinking green really does work! There are many ways grey water can be repurposed before going down the drain.
An easy way to divert house water is to remove the laundry hose from the washer and let it drain into a bucket. You can hang the bucket on the faucet head that feeds the washer and simply put the drain hose into the bucket. This way, you can capture a good amount of water that would normally go down the drain. The small amount of bleach or fabric softener is not enough to harm the garden and can be filtered out as well.
Same with the kitchen sink. Just remove the collar on the down pipe and install a straight pipe into a bucket. This is an old-fashioned method that works really well, you just have to make sure no big items go down the drain into the bucket, which would cause mold to form and grow. You also have to make sure to use only biodegradable soaps and detergents.
When repurposing grey water, you will have to add lava rock or limestone gravel to the top of the soil around your plants. You will see how these small stones capture most of the other chemicals in your water by showing up as a crusty surface on the rocks. This is how nature works: filtering the rainwater in the soil down through the gravel and rock layers into the underground aquafers. This natural filtration system is easy and cost-effective to duplicate.
In some areas that receive ample amounts of rainfall, people catch the runoff from their roofs into large containers and use it on their gardens. However, in areas that receive little-to-no rain, this may be a challenge, making repurposing household water an even better idea. There are some houses in the high desert regions in the Southwest that have at least four separate uses for every drop of water. Pipes, drains and pumps allow the water to be used up to four separate times before going down the drain.
Finding the right water conservation system for both indoor and outdoor gardens takes and time and money, which are always in short supply. Start by asking questions and doing more research on the area you live in to find out what’s in your local water source. Then determine how to manipulate it so your garden will always receive the proper amounts of nutrients and good, healthy, water.
Written by Jeff Walters