My husband and I live in Southern California which has been in a drought for several years. These days, it’s severe. You can’t go anywhere without signs or other mentions of water conservation. The drought has always been on our minds but this past year we’ve taken it even more seriously. Conserving water has been tough since gardening is one of my passions!
When we bought our house, one of the things I was most excited about was the ability to have a home with a big garden so I could walk into the yard and grab food to make a meal. If you follow us on Instagram you may have seen photos of my fruits, veggies and garden – proof of my passion! I love plants and cooking, my yard and kitchen are my favorite areas in the house. I am proud to say that we have a vibrant garden and as of mid-summer, have reduced our water use by 50% and we haven’t touched our hose to water our vegetable garden for FIVE months (NOTE: we have a small sprinkler system for the front, but balance that with other watering efforts). Even if we get out of the drought (PLEASE) in California, we are so into our new “system” of living and growing our garden that there is no reason to go back to our old ways. Here are my tips for having a garden and being water-conscious.
- HARNESSING PRE-SHOWER WATER: Do you just jump into the shower and turn it on? Most likely the answer is NO. It’s freezing at first. One of the first things we started to implement was a bucket catching system that caught all of the “warm-up” water in our two showers. We have a tankless water heater but even ours has a 30 second warm time, that’s about 1-3 gallons that can be saved! All of this extra water is delivered daily to our plants. We went a little more hardcore (without going for the full grey water treatment) to having multiple buckets in the shower catching all residual water from our bathing. We try to catch everything we can. If you want to go this route, you MUST use biodegradable shower shampoos, etc…or you will end up harming your plants so check the labels first.
- USING LESS WATER IN THE SHOWER: When we take a shower we only have the water on when we are rinsing or actively washing ourselves. Once the shampoo is in my hair, I turn the water off and lather/scrub until I need to wash off. An easy way to do this is to install water-efficient heads that have a stop button on the top so you can easily turn the water off but still have it hot when you turn it on.
- HARNESSING KITCHEN SINK WATER: Since our kitchen sink is the most used sink in the house, we have a large metal bowl in it to wash veggies, our hands (which I do a lot of while cooking), and rinsing off dirty dishes. Like the shower, you need to use biodegradable soap and don’t wash meat/dairy items to this container. We fill about 1-2 large bowls a day (depending on what we are doing, sometimes it’s only half a bowl)—just watch, the water will add up! We have this in our garage sink as well.
- HARNESSING LAUNDRY WATER: This is a new thing we just added—a connection from our washing machine that runs out to a hose that we can move from planter to planter when we are washing clothes. Just like the sink and shower—use biodegradable detergents and NO BLEACH. You’ll be amazed at the amount of water. It doesn’t have to be fancy it just needs to catch the water.
- RAIN BARRELS: We don’t use 100% reused/grey water for our garden but rather a mixture of that and rain water. Across our home we have eight rain barrels in two sizes—80 and 110 gallon for a total of more than 700 gallons of harvested rainwater. If you live in Southern California, you know it rains every so often, but a single big rain can fill all of these barrels to capacity. You just need to plan and put them in the right areas in direct connection with your gutters and make sure areas with high water collection have multiple barrels connected so they can capture the most amount of water. We put ¼ cup of bleach in each barrel to ensure that there are no mosquitos or algae forming. There are a number of barrels you can buy but we have these: portable rain barrel and this rain barrel (place these ones on secure ground or they will tip over!) Make sure you clean your gutters before installing them or after a long dry period so you don’t have leaf or massive dirt debris.
- MULCH/COMPOST: We mulch around our fruit trees and mix our soil every other season with compost. Both of these materials ensure more water retention so that when we water, more is stored with the plants. It’s a little bit of work (mixing the soil) but it’s a good workout! You can read more about Mulching and compost here.
- WHEN TO WATER: Many people water by drip-irrigation which I love but it is a little impractical with our yard and watering system. If you can use drip-irrigation with your yard set-up, do it. Either way, watering in the early morning is ideal for plants. Don’t water at the hottest part of the day when a higher percentage of water will evaporate. Early morning is the coldest part of the day and will ensure that your plants get the most water possible.
- INDOOR/DECORATIVE PLANTS: All of our indoor or decorative plants are succulents or cacti—they use little water, love the heat and are beautiful.
- NATIVES: We took out our lawn across from our sidewalk and planted California natives that once established are made for the climate and attract beneficial insects which are great for other plants in the garden.
- OLLAS: These are unglazed terra cotta vessels that we have in a few of our planter boxes (we are saving to get more). You fill these vessels every so often and they slowly seep water in the diameter of the area where they are planted. This is like drip-irrigation device but in the soil and next to the roots! They are beautiful and very efficient. Very little evaporation and you water less frequently. You can read about them here.
- USE GRAVEL IN AREAS OF YOUR YARD WHERE YOU’RE NOT PLANTING ANYTHING: Our backyard is a series of planters and the rest of it is gravel since the goal is to grow food in our garden. Planter boxes do take up more water but our soil in the back yard was very poor so we decided to avoid years of testing it and wasting time, money and potential food so we decided to have good soil from the start by using planter boxes. Our front yard has amazing soil, and we have really taken advantage of that growing by six fruit trees, 12 varieties of chilies, herbs, corn and squash with much success. Having gravel in our back yard focuses our energy on things that need attention and not on things that we need to keep green for the sake of keeping them green.
- EVERYTHING DROP COUNTS: Finished with your glass of water but its still has ice? Water small plants or indoor plants with all of the small leftover water or ice that has been melted. The point is EVERYTHING counts!