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Reusing Water in the Balcony Garden

Apr 25, 2012

Wasting is one of my pet peeves and it’s especially true when it comes to water. After all, despite the fact our planet has large oceans they are full of salt and people can’t drink from the sea unless the liquid passes through a desalination process.  Since arid regions are the ones that mainly build desalination plants the rest of us need to make due with what we have.

The problem is we sometimes use water faster than the reserves are replenished. That being the case the most important thing we can do is conserve in whichever way we can as every drop counts.

With spring here and many of us tending to gardens this is often a challenging task. My own situation is a little different as I have a balcony garden. Nevertheless I’m still cautious about how much water I use there.

One change I’ve made is instead of filling a bottle from the tap each day to feed my herbs and few vegetables I try to reuse water from wherever I can uncover it around the house.

Some places I’ve found leftover water include the following:



At just about any time of the day in my home water can be found on the stovetop either from boiled vegetables, eggs, or some drops in the kettle. It could sometimes amount to a gallon of water just sitting there before a family member decides to pour it down the drain.

Since taking note of this I’ve been using it to water plants on my balcony garden, even if it’s beyond drinking quality.



When I lived in the Midwest for a short time a Milwaukee, WI concrete contractor suggested I collect rain water coming out of the home’s gutters. I would do this periodically but didn’t want the water to stand around long without the proper equipment to harness precipitation. I may have been more keen on it had there been  enough interested neighbors to distribute the water to.



If I’ve just quenched my thirst or finished a meal and have a bit of water or tea left in a glass I’ve found pouring that little bit by the roots of a plant on the balcony can give it a little extra ‘oomph’ on a hot day.

That said I would stay away from juices as some are too acidic for roots systems and soil.



If you have a pet like a cat, dog, or bird you most likely change their water one or twice a day. If you have fish, this might be less often but it’s still part of the routine.

All this water is perfect food for plants in the garden or in my case the balcony garden.

Otherwise it’s wasted H2O.

So there you have it; a few ways to conserve water by reusing it from places around the house for your plants. It sometimes requires a little extra thought to be reminded where else it comes in handy but after a while it becomes second nature and you’ll never forget again.



Finally, it often takes a few minutes for the stream of water coming into the shower to warm up yet while the temperature is getting closer to my liking gallons of water are being wasted. That’s why a local plumbing contractor once told me to keep a bucket in the bathroom to catch water from the shower that isn’t yet warm and use it for other things like watering plants.

I started doing it and found there was sometimes enough leftover to water a neighbor’s garden too.  If there was still some remaining I’d use it for washing the floors or flushing the toilet.


Good point! Water from washing vegetables can also be used. Further: water that has been sitting around for a while after being out of the tap will have emitted most of its chlorine. Boiled water will even be better. Sadly, this does not apply to fluoride.
Thanks, and that's so true. Simple vegetable washing water it an excellent point!
My city has implemented all year water conserving restrictions Due to extreme drought last year. Mainly using lawn sprinklers only twice per week on certain days between certain hours. Other nearby cities are considering this, but are facing strong opposition. Our area is growing like crazy and all new homes and businesses will surely deplete our water capacities even more. I can't fathom the short sightedness of people toward water conservation just for their personal agenda.. Texas will have another severe drought and then we will be out of water again. Stay natural.
Here in Greece water shortage used to be a regular issue twenty years ago; presently it's not(yet) a very big one. Whenever there was a shortage they simply cut off the supply for a few hours every day without asking anyone. Different mentality - different administration.
Just to resurrect this interesting discussion from a year ago, may I offer these thoughts. I keep a compost bucket on the kitchen sink. I do not wash potatoes, etc, before they are peeled, if they are to be peeled. I place the compost bucket in the sink to catch the peel directly... then if you wash the vegetables, you can do so with minimal water, catching that in the compost bucket. Water that has been heated - from stove, kettle, cup, mug - not only contains H2O and diverse elements and biohemical factors, it contains a huge amount of heat energy. Putting this while hot into the compost bucket accelerates the compost process, the heat goes to work straight away. And just boiled water will knock over any pathogens in such as potato peelings. I have placed modest priced skinny tanks under most of my downpipes from the roof. This means - an an area where we can get brief fierce storms - that the water does not get backedup in the piping and gutter and spill from the gutter, but flows swiftly into the strainer on top of the tank. Overflow from the tank goes back into the pipe interrupted by diversion to the tank. I am placing a kitchen sink out in the back garden, near the backdoor, fed from tank water, for cleaning hands and garden produce out there, with water runoff to garden below - or to bucket for transfer. A shelf underneath (above snail height) also becomes a humid shade house for seedlings. The most valuable water conservation concern is with the water that lands on the ground itself. (It is a curious human fetish that water only exists if we put it in a dam, reservoir or tank!) You can do much to protect against cycles of rain and drought by taking more soil into the ground. Smooth grassy areas will run the water away swiftly to your neighbours, to the street, to drainage systems. I have almost no grass now. And level surfaces are growing less level as I place modest swales in curves along contours, covering these new surfaces with mulch. Bare ground evaporates water swiftly. Mulch catches water, allows it to enter the ground slowly, minimises risk of erosion and inhibits evaporation because it does not absorb heat the way bare ground does. I am in a mild climate. In very cold or after-snow environments, you may want to bare the ground to heat it up before storing that heat with a mulch blanket. In any case you need to open the ground for water to enter. If you google 'gundaroo tiller' under Joyce and Michael's Market Garden Tools section you will see broadforks. I have one of those but now at 69 and with modest space and soil well worked, I do just as well with the regular size but straight tined fork I bought for $1 at the local recycliing. All the ground surface needs tines dug in and the fork handle lowered about 40 degrees or so, to open, not overturn. (I suggest to those who might be planning wholesale overturning of soil to compare the people living in the soil with those who live in Manhattan, and the impact on productivity if overturned. (And I was saying that before 9/11). There are moments when you overturn soil, as in transplanting, but good to minimise. The other major consideration for keeping moisture in soil is its chemical characteristics. You need sufficient clay, but not so much that the soil does not drain. Clay microcrystals are the closest thing in inorganic chemistry to organic structures. The boundary between these and plant roots is hard to identify. You need lots of humus. You can add that from your compost, you get some from the rotting of mulch cover, you can bring in manures. I am fortunately able to buy horse and cow manure from local farms ($3 or $4 for a re-used produce bag). These bags have often stood in the sun for a long time when I get them, I keep them in a heap in the sun to raise temperature to kill any pathogens before spreading. My main objective in spreading is to put stuff on the top (or under new mulch) for worms to rise to work on (in hot places the cooling effect of mulch also encourages worms to come to the surface. So you have value added to manures as they are turned into worm casting... and the soil becomes more open as the worms burrow. It is wonderful to find the ground light and springy... and then you need modest paths (perhaps just made by feet going along one narrow route, mulch added so it does not bog in rain, stepping stones or simple bridges to avoid compaction. Mulch: I have been annoyed with myself for buying sugar cane mulch, etc, while carting prunings away to the recycling - though I can now, if I load it myself, take as much chipped mulch from our tip as I can carry. I have now paid $580 for a 7hp electric start mulcher which will chip branches to 3 inches (75mm) and mulch things up to 10mm (0.4 inches) fed into the top hopper. The arrival of Chinese machines of this size for this price may not be welcome to other manufacturers, but at that price my garden is transformed and it will swiftly pay for itself. Ordinary paper is reduced to torn rose petal size. Cardboard comes through looking like the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag, an amazing soft material that mixes well with the pruning-derived mulch. I vary the input moment to moment, so as not to choke the hammer mill with fine material. Rotted palm trunks are reduced to something like peat moss. I have over a few autumn days begun the pruning to bring light under summer-protective trees and promptly spread very fine chop mulch.
I realise my last long comment was to a 'balcony garden' thread... oops, I am talking about wider spaces.

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