Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rebel Dishwater Gardener

After studying up on climate change (from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to NASA’s climate data), Dan and I have no doubt that climate change is happening and that we must do something about it. But it is such a hot button issue for so many people, that I have steered clear of blogging about it. I felt I could do more good blogging about our journey from a consumer lifestyle to a more sustainable one (fits and starts and all). But since Trump took office, everything we’ve worked towards is under siege. So I’m rebelling the only way I know how, by stepping up our water harvesting efforts and starting a new blog. I’ve never been much for the news, but with Trump’s daily assaults on the environment, I have to stay on top of it. I’ve become a sort of “desktop activist” – answering calls to action against the daily attacks on our water sources, air, wildlife, forests… and reposting them.

We are in the process of installing passive rainwater harvesting features in our yard.  But until we can get that and a laundry-to-landscape system finished (and finally get some rain!), we are using dishwater to irrigate four new desert trees and a tiny garden by the house (above).
We will dig out the red gravel to make a catchment basin.
The greywater from our outdoor washing machine will irrigate fig trees there. 
It can be sort of a pain, but it is also my solace.  It forces me to get outside during the loveliest time of the day when the birds twitter away as they raid our compost pile. It is such a joy to see our little garden growing. It makes my day! 

Our future edible forest! The baby desert trees are watered with the "clean water."
We will be planting drought tolerant, edible moringa trees in the catchment basin when it is done! 
I don’t pretend to be an expert gardener. You can probably teach me! Dan and I are still experimenting with different techniques in sustainable, low-water gardening. But I’m happy to share what we’re learning along the way.

"Clean water?" Yep! Coffee grounds go in there!  Plants love it! 
We are having to re-learn how to do the dishes. We have two plastic water basins – one for “clean water” and one for soapy dishwater.  

We rinse off produce and cutting boards (immediately after cutting produce) into the clean basin. Our plants love the broccoli water left in the steaming pan and the black water from the French press. 

The "clean water" goes to my little garden first, then the startup trees. The dirty (chunkiest) dish water goes to dampen the compost pit.  (I use low sodium dish-washing soap,)

It’s not always easy. Sometimes Dan and I bicker on the best way to do it. (I don’t like food fragments, grease, or cooking oil in the soapy water…) But we are finding ways to solve the problems (like having the dog lick the greasy pan or soaking the pan separately and dumping that water directly into the compost rather than into the dishwater.)

Finally found a sustainable job for Pooh...

Sure, it's a challenge retraining my teen boys to save water by washing dishes by hand  - or at least opening the door while I carry out the dirty dishwater! Sure, it's awkward opening the door with a basin full of water!  But there are always solutions... 

I think it’s worth it. Many thanks to all the people who are conserving water and irrigating their yards with rainwater or greywater. We are making a difference! That’s why Tucson Water offers up to $2000 in rebates for rainwater harvesting.

I understand not everyone has the time or energy to carry out dishwater, but we can all be more conscious of how much water we use and find ways to conserve water (like turning off the water while we suds up in the shower or while brushing our teeth. We can landscape with desert plants that don’t require watering, or install a high-efficiency toilet.) We can all be rebel water savers in our own way. 


  1. Try this to keep your clean water cleaner. In the sixties when I was old enough to take over the job as family dish washer, my mother taught me to scrape plates and pans with a rubber spatula into a little bowl. These days, I cook with a garbage bowl ala Rachel Ray and then scrape into that. This goes into the compost. Hope that helps.