Water, water, nowhere

Loved the rain last week. I’m from Seattle, where I hated the constant drizzle and dark but when I moved to dry(ier) California, I learned to love the wet stuff falling from the sky.

This year, for the third winter in a row, we didn’t get our usual amount of rain. Which means we’re facing a drought, with snowpack only at 75%. Which means trouble for my lush vegetable garden and micro-farm.


Unless I flex my puny brain and focus on the options.

One is to downscale. To plant a cover crop and let a few of the beds just rest up and go fallow. I’ve done that with two beds, planting fava beans which I’ll pull up and cover the bed during the summer. Once the rains start again in October, I’ll plant lettuces and greens.

Another is to use more greywater. This is the water that comes from your dishwashing, clothes-washing, hand-washing. It’s kind of clean but not drinkable. Bill and I have been watering our trees with this water for the past two years with no ill effects. We use Oasis soap, which is considered “biocompatible” with greywater systems. Now when we take a bath we’ll dump that water in the washer and do a load of laundry. After the washing machine is done with it, then the water is siphoned out into the garden. So it’s used three times! These are the kind of things that should be encouraged by the government, not made illegal. Check out this website which is trying to encourage a bill that makes greywater use legal in the State of California.

A third thing I’m setting up is a dry-farmed area in my garden. I’m planning on planting corn, beans, potatoes, herbs, and some of the Mexican plants a fellow gardener sent to me. The plan is to water them for the first month or so until they are established and thriving. I’ll mulch them with rabbit and goat turds and a layer of straw. And then, I stop watering. From what I’ve seen, the fruit of the tomatoes become dense and taste intensely tomatoe-y, the potatoes same thing. The corn is for flour and so doesn’t need much water. The beans like it hot and dry. The herbs become more powerful. I’ll let you know how it turns out.


Finally, my ultimate challenge: I’m building an outhouse! Here’s the foundation so far. I hope to have it done by this weekend for the hide-tanning class. The idea is that we waste tons of clean water by shitting into it. Water that we could drink–we poop into. Now during a drought, that seems mighty stupid. This will be a composting toilet that contains all poo in a large bucket where it will break down over a few years. I’ll devote a whole post to it and the system once the outhouse is built and is functioning. Can’t wait to carve out that little crescent moon….

13 responses to “Water, water, nowhere

  1. I love the ingenuity and dedication you have.

    I ruined my tomatoes last year by overwatering (too much foliage, small subpar fruit), so I’ll be more wary of water usage this year.

    A friend shared this alternative method for doing tomatoes with minimal water usage. Mine are already in the ground, but if they don’t turn out this year I might try it next year.

  2. ghosttownfarm

    thanks alan!
    another thing to remember when planting tomatoes is to rip off the bottom stems and bury them–the stem bud becomes roots and the tomato will perform better. also, sprinkle the hole with a scoop of bonemeal.
    my mom made one of those boxes and it worked really well.

  3. Every bit of our garden this year is either hand-watered (with gray or rainwater) or on a separate, hand-run drip system. I could certainly dry farm the tomatoes and corn that way, at least as an experiment.

    Good luck with the composting!

  4. Totally with you on the greywater. My whole front yard is now on a greywater diet, and the neighbors haven’t complained!

  5. fabulous plan! The laws really need to change-I’m up here in WA state and its illegal to collect rainwater into barrels, but I’m still doing it because its the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard!

  6. Over the holidays I stopped by Native Seeds in Arizona and picked up dry climate varieties of corn, beans, squash and chilis. They have an amazing variety (also tomatillos and tomatoes) and they are preserving very old varieties: http://www.nativeseeds.org/

  7. That’s very cool. Good for you and Billy. I also think it’s kind of shocking that governments are so anti-gray water (maybe a partially warranted legacy from not trusting hippies to use common sense back in the day?)

  8. Some of these strange laws, like the ones pertaining to harvesting rainwater are related to water rights laws. Like if I harvest my rain water, then I am taking water away from the system that rightfully “belongs” to my neighbor downstream who owns the water rights. As far as the grey water laws I have no idea.

  9. Michelle Burr

    I agree it isn’t right that using greywater is illegal, so we use ours. The dish washing water (not from the dishwasher, but from the sink) goes directly onto the garden via my own bucket-carrying power, and the washwater goes directly from the machine into a laundry sink, where we’ve plumbed it to a hose which delivers via gravity. I love the disobedient side of this activity. I satisfies my inner teenager.
    Also, good luck and kudos on the outhouse idea. We had a composting toilet inside for awhile, just a seat and a bucket of sawdust. It works wonderfully well, but our compost bins aren’t big enough for us to allow one to sit for a year or more.
    Jessi’s comment has me scratching my head. How is it that the rain which falls on my roof rightfully belongs to my neighbor? All these things will become hot topics, and soon. Except for the outhouse idea. I think we are among the mavericks on that one.

  10. I guess when I said the “system” I am referring to the water shed, and in the past anyway (and I think currently in agricultural areas), people “owned” parts of that system, this is called owning the water rights. For example, my husband’s grandfather was a rancher in Colorado and his property had a small stream that ran through it. Colorado is a state where it is illegal to harvest rainwater. Any rain water that fell on his property would make it into that stream eventually. His neighbor downstream owned the water rights to a certain amount of the water in the stream, whereas he did not have own any water rights. So, it was illegal for him to take any water from that stream (on his property) for irrigation or to collect rainwater that fell on his roof (because he was in a sense taking it from the stream). Water rights are often sold independently from pieces of land. Kinda weird. Please anyone correct me if this is wrong, this is just how I understand it.

  11. I thought of you when I saw this article/site. It’s about the native people’s growing techniques on the pueblos here in the SW desert! Waffle gardens, baby!


  12. For some excellent ideas about harvesting water, see_Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond_ by Richard Lancaster, available from Bountiful Gardens http://www.bountifulgardens.org
    For me it’s a complete education, since I’ve spent the last 35 years in Southeast Alaska, where water is literally everywhere and human use is but a insignificant detour in the cycle. (Not necessarily good preparation for life in Northern California)
    Lancaster makes some interesting points, perhaps the most important for people hampered by prior rights laws such as Colorado, is that landscape can be modified to detain water on site, in the soil, pavements can be removed trees and bushes planted to hold water.
    I’d be willing to bet that no water right holder can document the amount of asphalt or concrete that covered the watershed when rights were granted, so there can be no legal obstacle to digging up the driveway to create a swale, or vernal pool.
    If you can’t collect you can dig, and mulch…

  13. Wow, I not only love this blog, but I love all of the comments too! My wife and I laughed together at the crescent moon on the outhouse comment. It turns out that her great grandfather used to make miniature outhouses for decorations!

    We live in Northern Utah, so the whole hot summer/water conservation topic hits home. We don’t have a graywater system yet, but we’ve discussed some options we might want to implement. For now we just water the garden with secondary water from the city canal system.

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