the very impressive system

just realized you haven’t seen this impressive cooler-washer-tree system that was so impressive to our neighbors. well, here it is, in all it’s glory:


the top barrel collects the water from the output lines of our 2 evaporative coolers. this water has cycled through the jute cooler pads and is slightly higher in minerals because of evaporation, but is otherwise basically clean. when i do a load of laundry i fill up the washer from this barrel for the wash cycle. i just put the hose straight in the washer. i tried hooking it up to the washer line, but there isn’t enough pressure to fill from there. for the rinse cycle i use fresh water that fills automatically from the washer line. both the wash and the rinse water dumps out into the lower blue barrel. from here we have a spigot and hose and can water pretty much anywhere on the property. one wash is about 45 gallons. i move the hose to a new tree every time i do laundry there are 7 trees that only get watered this way. i do laundry about 3 times a week and this is enough for the jujube trees, but the apricots always look bad before i move the hose back to them.


encouraging garden update

last time i wrote about the garden, you may have detected some discouragement. but, friends, spring is here and the garden is booming! for at least a month we’ve been eating huge bunches of greens (kale, boc choi, collards, chard, broccoli) every day. and as of about a week ago, when we started an allergy healing diet, we’ve been eating huge bunches of greens three times a day! i was trying to calculate how much i would be spending for our current consumption at the farmers market, i figure at least $40 a week for 21 bunches of greens. this year i timed it just right so as we are harvesting the last of the fall greens, my fresh tender spring greens are ready to harvest too. plus radishes, peas and favas are all starting to get big enough to eat. as of today, none of my plants have aphids or other bugs. i’m not sure why, but i’m not complaining.

at the same time that we’ve increased vegetable production (and consumption), we’ve lowered our water bill to an impressively low amount. last time i wrote about the garden, i was too embarrassed to tell you what our water use was, but now that i have proud new numbers, i’ll fess up. first some context: the average US water use per person per day is 300 gallons. california and texas are the biggest hogs, here use is more like 500 gallons pppd. in new york city, (more density, less landscaping) the average is 65 (go new york!). zooming in to california, the more dense areas by the coast average 136, but in palm springs, where they’ve turned the desert into golf courses, average usage is a whopping 736 gallons! but friends, i have a confession to make; last fall we conservationist environmentalist desert lovers used 420 gallons per person per day. i’m sorry. now for the good news; we got our usage down to 50 gal per person per day. even though i do a load of laundry almost everyday in an inefficient washer that uses 40 gal per load. i didn’t count oliver (our almost 2-year-old) in my calculations, if i include him, which i guess i should since he has a daily bath and otherwise uses water, then we’d have usage of 33 gal per person per day with an orchard, big garden, and chickens. woohoo!

how did we get our usage down, you ask? 4 things: smarter gray water use, less toilet flushing, smarter bathing, and smarter garden watering.

our gray water is now the only way we water our trees and landscaping.

we don’t flush the toilet unless there is poop in it.

we most often bathe by filling a 3 gallon square container (like a rubbermaid) with warm water and a squirt of dr bronners. for adults, put the container in the bath tub and use a nice sea sponge to wash yourself from top to bottom. you’ll never go back to showers. for a toddler, just stick ’em in the tub. they have a nice deep bath, and they don’t slip or drown because they have nice back support.

we mulched the garden heavily and bought a hydrometer – a nifty little tool you can get for cheap that tells you how moist the soil is. by only turning on the system when the garden is dry, we were able to scale way way back on the water. mulching helps too.

we’ve been planting and planting for spring and summer. hopefully our garden success will continue through the season!

biocompatible vs. biodegradable – a lesson in grey water use

oasissince we moved into this house, we’ve used our grey water from the kitchen sink to water trees. it’s a very low-tech bucket system. we also recently “upgraded” our washing machine drain so it goes into a barrel with a spigot connected to a hose that we move around to the trees in the orchard.

we felt great about all this until the trees that got the majority of our dish water started dying. oops. turns out most detergents, even those labeled “biodegradable,” contain salts that are very harmful to plants when they build up in the soil. where we used to live, in eugene, we probably could have got away with using regular soap because there’s enough rainfall to flush a lot of the salts away. but here in joshua tree, that’s not the case (last year we got 2 inches of rain, that’s what vancouver got in the last 3 days!). the salts just build up until the soil is totally toxic to plants.

it’s pretty hard to reverse the damage done by salts once it’s done, but we can stop adding salts by using grey water safe, or better yet, biocompatible detergent. i was already buying biodegradable soap, thinking it was grey water safe, but those labels are misleading. biodegradable means something will break down, but what it breaks down into may or may not be toxic to plants. biocompatible means that it breaks down into plant nutrients (no salts!), and makes plants happy. yay! i just ordered oasis bicompatible laundry detergent and dish detergent. so far they seem to work fine. i’ll post a review once i’ve used them for a while. even if they don’t work quite as well as regular detergent, i’m willing to sacrifice a bit of performance for being able to recycle what amounts to about 55 gallons of water a day (that’s 45 for laundry and 10 for the kitchen sink).