Sustainable Agriculture: Greywater Crops 101

You may have heard something about greywater in the past, but what exactly is it?  Greywater, also spelled graywater, is reused “dirty” water that may contain residues from soap, food, hair, skin, grease, etc., but does not contain any fecal matter.  It can be used to water plants, irrigate lawns, and flush toilets, while conserving valuable water, which is especially important here in the desert.  In this blog post, you will learn some basic information to be able to start your very own greywater garden to grow sustainable and delicious crops at home.

Benefits to using greywater:
There are several advantages to using greywater to grow your own crops.  According to the Ellison Chair in International Floriculture, planting your own crops and watching them grow is scientifically proven to boost moods, help with memory, reduce stress, in addition to a variety of other benefits.  Home grown crops also tend to be healthier than commercial, pesticide filled varieties.  So what better way to save money on food and water than by recycling some used water to grow your own food?

Simple tricks for cleaning/collecting greywater:
Greywater can come from numerous places ranging from washing machines and showers to sinks and coolers.  Each type of greywater contains different substances, which is useful to keep in mind when collecting and at times cleaning the water.

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Safe use of household greywater. Credit: NMSU ACES

Greywater can be collected effectively and inexpensively by using buckets to catch excess water from, for example, showers.  Special pipes and storage tanks are also easily and fairly inexpensively available to collect water.

While greywater doesn’t have to be cleaned to be used to grow crops, sometimes it is nice to filter the water or add chlorine and iodine to disinfect it.  A list of other methods for cleaning the water to address specific concerns or entities found within the water can be viewed here.

Regardless of how you choose to collect your water and whether you decide to clean it or not, it is important to keep in mind that greywater should not be stored for excess periods of time, because bacteria can develop and multiply, turning the water into a potential health risk.

Techniques to use greywater for crops:
No matter which of the following methods you use to supply greywater to your crops, it is important to watch that the water does not come into contact with the actual fruits/vegetables, but rather, the water just touches the roots and parts that won’t be consumed.

Dripper systems are an easy and effective way to water plants while ensuring that the water only touches the soil and not the edible portions.  Oftentimes, these systems can be hooked up directly to storage tanks, meaning that little to no manual labor is needed to make sure the greywater actually makes its way to the plants.

Though slightly more labor intensive, buckets offer low cost alternatives to drip systems, and allow the gardener to manually make sure the water does not come into contact with the edible portion of the plants.

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Water this, not that:
Because greywater has the potential to carry bacteria, some crops are better suited for being grown in greywater than others.

Do water foods you are going to cook, because any possible bacteria will be killed off
Do water plants whose crops are farther from the ground
examples of what to water:
citrus trees, nuts, apples, bananas, chilies, etc.

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Don’t water plants that are eaten raw and have edible parts above ground that may contact the greywater
Don’t water plants that are grown under the ground unless they will be cooked, because the plants will come in direct contact with the water
examples of what not to water:
– radishes, onions, lettuce, arugula, carrots, celery, potatoes, etc.

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Now that you know how to grow your own crops using greywater; happy gardening!

-Posted by Dana

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