"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Greywater Gardening

(Recited by Derek Jacobi)

Best make a cup of tea for this one because it's not green and it's not pleasant: 

I've always loved gardening, no particular reason that I can think of though if a psychologist delved into my mind he would probably find that it stems from the day, many years ago, when my father dug a half-moon patch in the lawn, gave me a couple of packets of Alyssum and Marigold seeds and said,  "It's all yours."  It occurs to me now that he's the only man ever to have said that to me.

Ever since the day I picked up his hand-trowel and borrowed his red plastic sieve to fine-tilth the soil in the borders and watch the rhubarb grow, it's been a bit of a love-thing for me. One of my earliest memories is walking, pygmy-like and in wonder, amongst towering rows of raspberry canes.

Anyway, given that I'll soon be moving to a place with a garden and given that the past owners weren't gardeners at all, I'll be in the happy position of being able to start growing my own fruit and veg again from scratch.  It will be a case of lawn up, patio up, greenhouse in, raised beds in and square foot gardening in.  This all led me to wonder about the practicalities of using greywater in gardens and, oh, Happy Day, Caroline Spelman, Privy Counsellor and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, says that using greywater is the way forward.

I don't like Spelman.  I think she's a mouthpiece for corporate business within government and that she's vacuous, incapable of independent thought and unceasingly condescending.  With that in mind I thought I'd better think ahead and moot the real possibilities of using greywater in the garden.

The short answer is that there's no easy or cheap way to use greywater on a fruit & veg garden of any size.  Yes, you can always bathe in eco-friendly products and, towel-clad, sloop your bath water into a bucket, lop it out of your open first floor bathroom window and pray it lands where it won't poison anything, but... really... that's a bit of a non-starter for most of us.

I turned instead to the RHS but received even less comfort from them:
To minimise bacterial growth, grey water should only be saved for 24 hours, unless filtered through a reedbed or professionally-designed system. It is best applied by watering can; grease and fibres can clog irrigation systems.
There should be no problem with small-scale, short-term use of grey water to tide plants over in summer drought. An exception is on edible crops, due to the risk of contamination from pathogens in the water.
Okay, so what's a reedbed apart from something that bends and whistles in the wind and sends a warning to Westminster that the people have had enough?  Not very much unless you have acres of ground is the answer.

Oh dear, let's try other forms of filtering instead.  Surely sand filter is possible in an urban garden:

Or perhaps not - this is Step One:

And this is Step Two:

Back to Spelman and the government's own recommendations.  Here's a .pdf from the Environment Agency - a so-called quango: Greywater for domestic users: an information guide  They recommend THIS.  It's one of the first things I came across when I began my search and discounted as totally impractical and useless for my needs.

So, if stand pipes are all we have next year after another 'dry winter', then I and thousands like me in England, will be left with wilting food, mounting water bills, metering and and a pain in the neck.

That pain in the neck is called governance.

Never let it be said that I let a post go by without a dig at the EU.  If you haven't already seen THIS, please read it now and view with scepticism the polls and msm articles that say the EU isn't one of the issues the British people feel strongly about.

There'll be no more Jerusalem, no more green and pleasant land, no more England.  My veg and fruit patch aside, can't you see that we're already ruled by self-designated 'foreign princes and prelates' with the co-operation and encouragement of our own 'elected' government?


  1. ""It's all yours." It occurs to me now that he's the only man ever to have said that to me."

    Oh dear, then since your father you have obviously not met the right type of man......

    Seriously though GV, a lovely post - as I and many others have come to expect.

    1. Cheeky, but thank you. I hope it prompts others to look into greywater usage too.

  2. get cheap 55 gallon barrels and and fashion some rain catchers ...

    1. Thanks, Maverick, they're already in hand together with a linking kit and irrigation plans. It's a separate issue to greywater usage though and that isn't going to be as simple as the government is blithely telling us. Who the heck has room for huge water filtering tanks or reed beds in their gardens thee days? Plus they're expensive. As usual Spelman doesn't know what she's talking about.

  3. I believe you can now purchase plastic bottles at M&S full of quality imported greywater. Tres chic.

    1. I think I'd need more than a few litre bottles for the garden, thanks Fradgan - and besides, I can make enough of my own greywater for free ;)

  4. With you all the way, GV!

    I've not looked into greywater gardening (and if Spelman recommends it, am less inclined to!) But it could be that activated carbon (porous) will get rid of pathogens. Perhaps Leg-Iron will know.

    Anyway, I'm pretty sold on hydroponics for some plants - particularly tomatoes, as growth is pretty astounding.

    My hydroponic tomato plants last year grew at between 4 and 10 times the rate (and size) of those I planted in regular beds in the garden. The theory is that, unencumbered by the resistance given to roots by pesky soil, and having direct access to nutrients (plus aeration from a cheapo aquarium pump), the plants are free to reach their optimum growth rate.

    It was all going swimmingly until last year's gales took down my greenhouse and the plants with it! So I've had to start all over again.

    Hydroponic gardening is dead easy and cheap and, contrary to what its name suggests, doesn't require much water at all. You can kit yourself up for under £20, using mostly household stuff and an aquarium pump.

    Love the idea of raised beds and have been trying to figure out a cheap way of erecting them without enlisting the help of the men in the house. I'd be very interested in learning how you do it!

    1. Thanks, Fausty, I'll look into it this afternoon.

      Spelman and greywater is just another instance of her spouting off without looking into what she's recommending. As I think my post makes clear, it's neither easy nor cheap to filter it for use on edible food. If we're facing being rationed or cut off & using standpipes, as they seem to be threatening, I'd rather have some sort of back-up in place rather than stand around and see my carefully grown crops die on me.

      As for raised beds - breeze blocks or engineering bricks work out quite cheap. You can get a fairly decent height (say about 18" - 2ft) and three or four of those at eg 6ft x 4ft each, would give a growing area of 96 sq ft using the square foot gardening method. That's quite a lot of fruit and veg! And no digging once it's set up! The hardest part is digging the initial trenches to partially embed the first course - then an impermeable membrane to suppress weeds, followed by a 'mulch' of wet cardboard boxes, all topped off with a good mix of topsoil and manure. In theory, it can be done over a weekend.

      I'll let you know how I get on - the Doc says I can't move until mid-June earliest now :( Getting very frustrated.

  5. Yes, your post did make it clear about Spelman - and I should've said so!

    Ta for the tips.

    Hope you mend quickly. :)

    1. It wasn't meant for you ;) Yes thanks, much better. I've been looking at hydroponics and I came across this, which looks promising but pricey when you factor in heating and growing supports:


      Can you email me any links when you get a minute? How did you go about it? I've seen some videos about converting plastic barrels and so on complete with siphon pumps but that's not really me. Most other videos I found were to do with commercial production (so much lettuce!) or growing marijuana in a basement. Nothing hit the spot for what I'd need.

    2. Your link shows one method of hydroponics - there are 3 other methods that I know of.

      The simplest uses a simple wick which dangles from the plant pot down into a water reservoir or bucket, so drawing up moisture into the plant's root system via capillary action. This can be quite useful for indoor plants, particularly if you plan to be on holiday for a few weeks!

      I'll email you about the others.


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