Recycling Water In Your Garden

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Do you live in a city or state where it is illegal to collect rainwater?

It used to be illegal in Colorado, for example (although the law was very infrequently enforced).  The reasoning was that the rain was needed to replenish the aquifers.  However, in June 2009, Colorado passed two new laws that does make it legal to do so.

In Utah and Washington State, however, it is still illegal to collect rainwater from the roof, unless the roof owner also owns water rights on the ground.

But if you live in a locality where it is legal to collect rainwater, here’s how to do it.

Acquire a rain barrel or two, depending on the size of your home.  If you pick up a container barrel from a junk yard, make sure it has never contained toxic waste.  Drums that were used to contain vegetable oil are fine – simply wash out the interior a few times with soap and water, then rinse thoroughly.

Are there rainspouts on the four corners of your home already that guide the water down and out and away from the foundation of the home?  Simply take out an appropriate section of the downspout, and put your rain barrel there instead. 

Always cover the barrel – tightly – when you are not expecting rain.  You don’t want children to get into the barrel in a game of hide and seek, for example.  In addition, stagnant water is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Because of the popularity of collecting rain water, there are a variety of sophisticated rain barrels on the market.  Screens are available to cover the top of the barrel, which will keep leaves and other debris out of the water.  Some come fitted with a tap, so that you can fill your watering can without having to lift off the lid.

For our purposes, there are two types of water:

• Rainwater: Water that, obviously, comes from rain!
• Grey Water: Water that has already been used – from taking baths or showers, washing dishes, or washing. (But not from the toilet – that’s blackwater)

Is it safe to use grey water on your garden or lawn?  Up to a point.  Grey water can contain grease, hair, detergent, cosmetics, dead skin, food particles and small amounts of fecal matter.  You probably don’t want to use that to water your vegetable garden.  But for your flowers?  Why not?

Indeed, perhaps the safest thing to do is confine yourself to using water from your baths or showers, not from your kitchen sinks or washing machines. (In particular don’t recycle water from washing machines if you’ve just used it to wash a load of dirty diapers!)

Soaps and detergents are biodegradable, although extended use of water that contains traces of these elements can damage the soil, because they are rich in sodium salts.

Here are a few rules for using grey water:

• Use gray water only for ornamental plants and shrubs.  Fresh water should be used for your vegetable garden.
• If you do use gray water in your vegetable garden, use it only for such plants as grow above ground, such as corn and tomatoes.  Do not use it around leafy vegetables or root crops.
• Apply the gray water directly to the soil surface – not directly onto the plants.  Don’t use grey water in a drip irrigation system.
• Alternate the usage of grey water and fresh water for irrigating your lawn and ornamental plants.
• Gray water is alkaline, and will harm acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons and azaleas.

Photo by: ivan kmit –

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