greywater in the garden

I have a greywater hose running from the washing machine to the garden so I can reuse the washing water on the vegies. Today the newly sprouted garlic needed a drink.

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The Sad Tale of the Weeping Hose

the tap which connects to the weeping hose This is not a sad tale because the hose wept. The hose’s function is to weep, due to the holes punctured in intervals along its length. It’s connected to the drainage hole at the bottom of my rainwater tank and on days when there’s no rain in sight, I turn it on for 20 minutes to water one of my vegie garden beds. The sad part of this tale happened this morning. I went out to turn it on, finding to my horror that it already was and had been weeping for twenty four hours! If only its sobs were louder, I would have ended those wasted tears.

thesis brain by Zoë SadokierskiI like to blame Sheeba the dog for any problem in the garden. She’s the culprit when freshly dug holes are concerned, but I don’t think she’s quite mastered turning a tap. The culprit in this instance is my brain on thesis. Zoë S. drew an anatomically correct diagram of this phenomenon. As you can see the (red) area of brain left for accomplishing tasks like turning on and off taps at the correct time is very small, thus it’s amazing such a water crisis hasn’t happened before.

A day ago there was about 1200L in the tank, now there’s 300L. The bean seeds that I bemoaned were taking so long to pop up; all have now thanks to the generous soaking. I wondered if 900L would be enough for their whole life, but I have a feeling it doesn’t work like that. The tomato seedlings I just planted in the very sunny other vegie bed got none of this soaking, which they needed – stupid weeping hose. Why do you do everything wrong!?

glass of rainwater Last year my rainwater tank was installed at about this time. I didn’t think I’d have a tank of water til winter this year, but the unusual spring downpours filled it before summer. It would be nice if the same huge amount of rain fell this November, but I’m not counting on it. No more rainwater to drink this summer :(

And cause it hasn’t rained the pond really needs a bucket or two of non-chlorinated water right now – stupid rain, stupid hose, stupid thesis!

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More on rain (not more rain)

satellite image of cloud cover 11/06/09 09:30 Since May’s rain there’s been lots more sunny days, until this week. The satellite image of the cloud cover on Thursday morning showed a large portion of WA covered in thick cloud. This produced a nice downpour of 22.2mm for Perth, with June’s rainfall so far now 43.6mm. As a result we’re no longer having the driest January to June on record [1], but the rain didn’t last. It’s been fine since then and the forecast is for more un-June sunny weather until Thursday, even if the temperature has dropped.

Last winter I blogged about Perth’s water restrictions:

Only in October 2007 were restrictions placed on summer bore use, for irrigating residential gardens, parks, sporting fields and golf courses. Theoretically restrictions shouldn’t be needed in winter months because you’d think people would realise that irrigation isn’t necessary when it’s raining. Sadly, I’ve seen sprinklers in use at Curtin University and gardens near my house, when it was raining.

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Sunny Spring

Spring sprung a couple of months ago and summer is on its way. Hot days of 30°C have started already and the rain has pretty much ended for the year. I thought it rained quite a bit at the end of September, but we recieved less than the September average of 90.1mm. Last month 75.8mm of rain fell, 39.6mm in the last week and 21mm on Thursday of that week. I got a rainwater tank during that week. Sadly, despite the copious rain, my tank wasn’t connected and missed it all. Perth gets some rain during the rest of the year (on average 69.2mm), but it won’t make a dint in the tank until next winter. I should have got it at the start of winter, when I first planned to.

The Bureau of Meteorology said September’s rainfall has not improved drought conditions in most areas of Australia.

Below average September 2008 rainfall over Victoria, southern NSW, SA and the WA interior maintained short and long-term deficiencies in these areas. In contrast, average to above average September falls over much of the remainder of the country gave some minor relief to short-term deficits over southwest WA, northeast NSW, southwest NT and Queensland.

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Native Garden Plans

galahs at Star Swamp

When I visited my friends at Nuts about Natives a couple of weeks ago their yellow leschenaultia (Lechenaultia linarioides) were flowering. They looked so pretty that I wanted one for my garden. Ben told me I should plant it in the ground, not keep it in a pot. Most of the plants I get from Nuts about Natives are still in pots because I’m not sure where to plant them. When I was looking for a place to put the leschenaultia I realised that if I removed the agapanthus and ferns along the front of my house and replaced them with native plants, the birds and insects would love it and the garden would survive summer a lot better. The ferns die off during summer and come back green during the rain of winter. The agapanthus live happily through summer because they’re shaded by the acacia which grows outside my bedroom window.

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Growing pots

protecting tomato seedlings from the sun with potsNo, I’m not growing pot. I’m growing pots – or that’s what it looks like anyway.

It’s been so hot (which isn’t unusual for Perth’s summers) and my dad puts empty plastic pots on top of his smaller vegie plants during the heat of the day so they have their own little shade house. When I told him about the death of my beans, he suggested I plant more seeds and put pots on the plants when they’re small. The death of my beans made lots of room, so when I planted the bean seeds, I also planted the last of my tomato seedlings (which I grew from seeds). And I’ve taken up my dad’s method of shade manufacture.

protecting a tomato seedling from the sun with a pot I water the plant in the morning and put the pot upside down on the plant. This is only for the hottest part of the day. The plant can still photosynthesize in the morning and late afternoon. And it’s only for newly planted out seedlings and just-popped-up seeds. Larger plants which have their roots spreading throughout the ground can handle the heat.

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Too hot for beans

my first bean harvest with a perfect strawberry In November I planted Romano beans which are a dwarf bush bean. They’re an heirloom variety I got from The Diggers Club. I had a bumper crop of tasty green beans for a week or so in December and then extremely hot weather hit during the Christmas week and my bean plants didn’t make it. The weekend before Christmas there were lots of small beans on the plants and I was looking forward to continuing the harvest every day. It was 40ºC on Christmas Day and 44ºC on Boxing Day. In the days following a few of the bean bushes died. Of the bushes that didn’t, the beans never grew large enough for picking. Most of the plants are now dead and the living plants have no beans.

the bounty of my bean crop in December the heat ravaged bean crop in January

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How does my garden grow?

In time for this spring’s planting of summer vegetables I increased my growing space by converting some of the lawn, bought heirloom and organic seeds from The Diggers Club and planned out my beds in advance. The planning was a novelty and some of the plans got changed along the way, but the planning is paying off and this summer’s crop should be more bountiful and varied than last summer.

New Zealand spinach

The majority of the fruit and vegetables we eat are not endemic to Australia (except macadamia nuts). One edible endemic plant I grow is New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides). I think the New Zealand part of Tetragonia’s name comes from the fact that it also grows in NZ. It’s cooked like English spinach or silverbeet, thus it’s a good addition to quiche. There are a few other bush tucker plants local to the Swan Coastal Plain that I know of, but they’re not in my garden.

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This is the Way We Wash the Clothes

front loading washing machine Last year I bought a washing machine for the first time. For years I’d gone to my parent’s to do my washing. I bought a front-loading washing machine which uses less water than a top-loading washing machine (even though it takes a longer time to wash). I chose one that was more energy efficient and so had lower carbon emissions. A front loader is more expensive, but I’d saved up enough money and the Western Australian state government provides cash rebates for the purchase of certain water efficient products, like front-loading washing machines.

Even though I have solar water heating, I use cold water for my washing. Older washing machines had a hose from the hot and the cold taps, but newer products have only one hose from the cold tap and if you choose a hot wash the water is heated in the machine. I think this is a wasteful use of resources because many houses heat water with gas or solar power. If I have stains on clothes I have to soak and scrub them (with a bar of pure soap) before putting them in the machine.

label from washing detergent. Complies with agreed Phosphorous Standard I would like to use a detergent which has no added phosphorous, but I’ve only found one. When I tried it the washing wasn’t as thorough and the clothes didn’t feel as nice. Michael said his towel felt like cardboard. So I’ve gone back to an ordinary detergent. The package has a label that says: “Complies with agreed Phosphorous Standard,” but they all say that.

I run the grey water onto my garden through a hose, but not onto the indigenous plants because they’re very sensitive to phosphorous. You can buy 10m grey water hoses from supermarkets and hardware stores. I have mostly paving out the back, so I bought two hoses, joined them together and ran them under the house to the front garden. (This was easy because of the foot high cavity under my older house.) Before I got the hose I would fill buckets and carry them out the front. This didn’t last for long, because it was too much like hard work.

I dry my washing in the sun. To achieve this I plan my washing around when it’s sunny (this is more difficult in winter, when there’s often clothes hanging all around the house). Washing on sunny days is pretty easy if you live in Perth or the desert. Living pretty much any another place in the world, you might have more difficulty. My brother lives in tropical Darwin in the Northern Territory and it may be hard to function without a clothes dryer there (although I’m sure some people do).

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Water in Perth

A lot of Perth’s drinking water supply comes from the Gnangara groundwater mound. Rainfall across Australia has been decreasing in the last few years and Western Australia is no exception. In some places in the eastern states of Australian, you’re not allowed to water your garden (unless you have your own rainwater tank), while in Perth we only have our water use restricted to two days per week when each household is allowed to turn on reticulation. The Gnangara Mound also supplies irrigation for horticulture, agriculture and parks and private garden bores in and around Perth.

The Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority released a report on the Gnangara Mound and for the third time in three years found,

local wetlands were drying out, soil was acidifying and some species had died as Gnangara’s water levels continued to drop.

The WA Water Resources Minister John Kobelke said

planning for the Gnangara Mound was flawed because it was based on rainfall predictions that never eventuated. What we have really… is that climate change has impacted and impacted quite severely on the south-west of WA

Western Australia’s state government is currently trying to find solutions to decreasing water availability. Professor Jorg Imberger from the Centre for Water Research at the University of Western Australia said on an ABC radio program

the Yarragadee aquifer is the best source for the state’s next new water supply.

Minister Kobelke believes that extraction from the Yarragadee aquifer will be planned around lower rainfall and so the problems occurring with the Gnangara Mound will not occur with the Yarragadee. The government is investigating a number of options, including:

recharging the aquifer with treated wastewater and burning off natural bushland to cut water intake. [Clearing] the large government pine plantations that cover parts of the mound…The plantation timber is worth millions of dollars.

The Yarragadee Community Action Site discusses the possible effects of drawing water from the Yarragadee aquifer, including:

changes in the level of biodiversity in Scott River Plains, which includes Scott National Park, and the future of the Honey Possum in that region.

The swamps on the Scott River Plains may be sensitive to even a slight change in groundwater levels, which could occur if water is extracted from the Yarragadee aquifer.

Another solution put forward to increase available water in Perth is

A desalination plant in Cockburn Sound just south of Fremantle.

Desalination is not a solution because it’s unsustainable and could have devastating environmental impacts on Cockburn Sound.

Professor Imberger also said,

My first preference has always been for demand management and recycling of water.

This is the most sensible option. We use way too much water, not just on our public and private lawns, but everywhere. I use some water saving methods in my house eg. a dual flush toilet, reusing grey water from my washing machine on my garden and a water-efficient showerhead, but there is still so much more I could do. There’s a lot of recycling of water that can be done in buildings, but it’s more difficult if it isn’t built into the design. Flushing a toilet doesn’t need drinking-quality water, but that’s what occurs unless it’s designed otherwise.

But household use of water is a small part of overall water use. There are many more wasteful commercial uses of water. Mundaring Weir, east of Perth, collects rainwater. Perth uses some of this for drinking water but it’s also pumped 600km to Kalgoorlie, where it’s used in gold processing. I don’t know much about this, but Michael often tells me what a waste of water it is. Building sites reduce wind-blown dust by spraying the site with water. Public parks and ovals have pristine lawn, even in the middle of summer. The second could easily be done using recycled water. The latter uses ground water, but this still adds to the decrease in the Gnangara Mound.

We all need to decrease our water use and ensure new buildings are designed to recycle water and also collect rainwater for use within the building and surrounds.

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