5 Tips for Homestead Water Conservation

Reader Contribution by Charlyn Ellis
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Snowpack is 10 percent of usual in the Cascades of Oregon. Mountains that should still be covered in snow still are bare, and wildflowers bloomed early. The newspaper reads “No Water Restrictions Yet” but I, as gardener, am concerned. I know that, once the rains stop here, they will not be back until mid September. I’ve done what I can to reduce our household water usage; I am not sure how I could cut down any further and still keep my vegetable garden alive. These are the steps I have taken over the years.

Allow the grass to go dormant in summer. It is not dead. It will come back with the fall rains and the barred rock chickens will look beautiful against the bright green grass all winter long. It is part of the natural cycle of the plant to go dormant during the long warm dry summers. Not watering the grass is the easiest thing we can do to conserve water.

Water the vegetable garden wisely. I have been using sweat hoses in my raised garden beds for seventeen years—the same hoses. They run off a long tube that follows the fence line and each bed has a shut off valve so I can control them individually. When a bed is harvested, I turn off the water.  The system was recommended by a neighbor who installed local irrigation lines and it is simple. I lay the hoses down when I plant the seeds. When the plants are big enough, I mulch the bed with straw, which keeps the water where it belongs, on the soil, not on the plants or the dormant grass. When the grass around the garden is a dry as the grass in the middle of the front yard, but the vegetables are thriving, I know I have done it right.

Choose ornamental plants carefully. If you are not producing food, you are not receiving much—if any—water in my yard.  Once established, the perennial bed in the front yard is not watered. Nor are the shrubs or trees that surround the house and provide deep shade in the heat of summer. As much as I love some of the thirsty bloomers, I cannot afford the water.

Timing can help. Every year, I dance on the edge of the planting line, pushing the potatoes further back in the spring. My goal is to get them in the ground as soon as I can without destroying the soil structure, so that they can grow off of the spring rains. My goal is to water the potato beds two or three times in early July and then turn off their water. I’ve come close.

Reuse household water. In other words, greywater. We use our dishwater, hauled in five gallon buckets, to water small fruits; our laundry water, pumped up from the basement, to water some foundation plantings around the picnic table, and the outdoor shower water to keep a flower bed alive. The plants we water in this way are drought tolerant, but cannot survive all summer on their own resources. Law and common sense suggests that you should not pour greywater on a head of lettuce you plan to eat for dinner, but it makes total sense to use it on flower beds and fruit trees.

To read more about the Twenty First Street Urban Homestead, check out my blog at 21st Street Urban Homestead. To see more of Julia Lont’s amazing artwork, go to her website and Blue Camas Press.

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