Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Saving for a Not Rainy Day

Hot weather has descended upon this little place here.  The weatherman is mentioning the "N" word--nineties--too often this week.  Add the fact that we've had a dry spring, and my brain is thinking drought.  Drought is another bad word, especially when you are trying to grow your own food.  Not much grows well in drought conditions.

After several years of occasional contemplation on the subject (usually in the winter when thinking "what can I do better in the garden next year?"), I have decided to start 'capturing' the water from my washing machine and using it to water the flowerbeds and garden.  After all, with four of us still living here (DD1 scheduled to leave for college in less than two months!), the washing machine gets a lot of use.  That's a lot of grey water going down the drain. 

Grey water that could very well be employed watering plants in the summertime instead of 'good' water drawn out of the well, both decreasing the water table and increasing my electric bill.  Grey water that has already been 'paid' for by it's first life as wash and rinse water for our clothing.

Since I use homemade laundry soap, there's no bad stuff in the washer water (phosphates, etc).  Since several of us at this little place here are sensitive to chlorine, I don't use bleach in my laundry, so no chlorine to do bad things to my plants.  And since we are way, way, past the cloth diapering stage of our family, it is relatively clean water that gets kicked out of the discharge hose on the washer every day of the week.  And, since the discharge hose empties into the laundry sink next to the washer, it is easily accessible for me to tamper with!

This week, I conducted an experiment.  I located a small bucket that I could sit in the laundry sink under the discharge hose.  Okay, it was actually an old, empty, clean paint can.  But, with the label peeled off, it made a nice one gallon bucket.  First thing learned by this experiment: the washer puts out more than 1 gallon of water when it drains.  (I kind of figured this, but it is a front loader, which are supposed to be water misers, right?)  Second thing learned by this experiment: I don't want to carry water out of the basement one gallon at a time.  Especially all the way to the garden.  Just out the door to the terraced flower/herb/rhubarb beds is one thing.  Way over to the garden is another.

Based on this new found knowledge, I located, in the cellar, a two gallon frosting bucket I had rescued from the local recycling drop off site several years ago.  (Sometimes you can find very usable stuff there, if you look over both shoulders, are furtive about putting it in your vehicle, and willing to wash it up when you get home.  One time I found a set of 4 plastic stacking bins, another time four 2-gallon frosting buckets from a bakery, another time four one-gallon glass apple juice jugs and most recently an outdoor baby swing in need of new ropes. . .). 

Commence phase two.  I replaced the paint bucket with the frosting bucket and ran another load of wash.  First thing learned in phase two: the washer discharges more than two gallons of water at a time.  Second thing learned in phase two: the first discharge in a load of wash comes out brown, not grey (well, could have been the socks I was washing. . .).  Third thing learned in phase two: I don't want to carry water out to the garden two gallons at a time.

Phase three was then implemented: Placement of a 'storage tank'--a 55 gallon blue plastic barrel formerly residing in the barn--just outside of the laundry room door.  Water will go from the laundry room and be poured into the storage tank.  I will then use the tractor with loader bucket to carry the storage tank to the garden, where I can unload the water by use of a siphon hose.  Less muscle, more brains!

Second part of phase three: five gallon bucket put into laundry sink in place of the two gallon bucket.  Ahh, much better, more capacity, less waste. 

Interesting tidbit I learned during phase three by frequent monitoring of a load of wash:  my front load washer uses more than 15 gallons of water in a cycle.  But not quite, I don't think, 20 gallons.  I emptied the five gallon bucket three times, with a little going down the drain each time, but the amount caught in the fourth bucket was minimal, less than a gallon.

Another tidbit I learned: I can fill my blue plastic barrel in less than three loads of laundry.  So most likely not exactly a 55 gallon capacity.  Since we do roughly six loads of laundry a week, I'll need to scrounge up another blue barrel from the barn to hold a week's worth of grey water from the washing machine.

Also, I learned that if I let the water sit for a day or two, it seems to settle; if I dip a bucket off the top, the water looks clean and clear, with any sediment being in the bottom of the barrel.  I imagine this water will get fairly well filtered by going down through the soil before being taken up by the roots of the plant.  Really, this is how my engineered (and expensive) septic system works--'dirty water' goes into a holding tank where things settle out, with the fluid rising to the top.  The fluid then goes to the drainfield via a pipe, and the drainfield is made up of a series of perforated pipes that allow the fluid to seep down through the soil, filtering and cleaning it.

I'm amazed at how much water I've been letting go down the drain when I could have employed it growing vegetables.  If we conservatively say I'm capturing 15 gallons from each load of wash, a simple four loads of wash in a week gives me 60 gallons of water for hydrating my plants.  Six loads is 90 gallons.  How much water could you save from your washer for your flowerbeds or garden?

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