January was not for chickens in the Cape – extreme drought and fires saw the gardens shrivel up and die. So sad to witness and feel the distress all round.
Once our veggie plants got stressed the diseases followed. Watching your water consumption with Stage 3 water restrictions and growing food without the farmer’s concessions calls for innovation. How to capture each possible drop of water – rain (huh, what’s that) and grey water – and drastically reduce your consumption? The most common excuse for lack of adaptation is always prohibitive costs. Hence it is my job to prove that you don’t need money to change your relationship to water. Just a bit of creativity and determination. And even a touch of defiance – this can help you create something out of nothing. Not a bad quality when positively applied.
Step 1: Rain water capture
Hopeful for rain the first plan was to divert gutter water to the natural pool, using what we had lying around – old swimming pool pipes and a kitchen funnel. The intention to help offset evaporation off the pool and turn it instead into a water reservoir. No cost rain water capturing. It worked out well, except that there was no rain until two days ago, when the new system could finally jump into action and top up the pool. Here’s a video to show what I did:
Step 2: Greywater capture
With Cape Town dams below 40% now we are in deep trouble. Of course as environmentalist I am not surprised in the least. It is all on cue with climate change. The Western Cape is desertifying and we need to be adapting to this pattern. Soon we will have Stage 3B water restrictions, or is it stage 4? Sad how some folk still ignore the seriousness of the issue and think if they can sneak some water where nobody can see it they are being clever.
Even hand-watering 200 kale plants would push my consumption too high, so those we surrendered to the free roaming hens. They were chuffed! So too the spinach. Tomatoes battled, but I was determined to save them – and they are thirsty plants, but prolific bearers when nurtured. Hoping to also save some strawberries I assessed all water wastage from the house. Greywater from the bath, shower and basin is all good for the garden, as long as you use eco friendly products, which is common sense anyway. Now to get this to the garden without the expensive contraptions that others can install for you?
Again old swimming pool pipes come in handy. Once I discovered they were compatible with the house’s downpipes my friends started passing me loads of those. For the bottom bathrooms and the laundry water it was easy to saw those pipes off a little distance from the wall and slip a pool pipe over that. Add as many pieces as the distance you want that water to go. Of course if it leaks out holes along the way – after all this is discarded pipe – all good as plants along the way will be happy. You could even put a plug in the end and make holes at the bottom to create a drip irrigation system. As long as it never goes up hill. Use gravity instead of a pump.
For the top bathrooms I discovered the outlets were run into the black water pipe. So we sawed them off and closed those inlets up. Then connected all the piping together into one and again attached old pool pipes. All the materials cost me less than R250. I still had some of the PVC glue from a previous job. There is no collection tank and no filter. Water never sits and gets smelly. Any sediment or fluff in the water becomes mulch or compost so no worries. Here is a small clip about that. Tomatoes recovering!
Step 3: Nutrient capture
The emerging food forest contains over 20 fruit and nut trees, which we water via buckets from the natural pool – plants love the nutritious water. Walking the paths between pool and trees became a meditative practice which I enjoy. Where else in the house are we wasting drinking water? In drops my old motto: flushing loos with drinking water is one of the biggest sins in Africa! We are talking about 60 litres of potable water per person per day. Think 1,800 litres of water per person per month. Or 21,600 litres per year. Now work that out per family – your own household. Shocking. Is that really necessary? Surely something can be done – cheaply?
Trees need food too, especially if you want fruit from them. Where are we wasting nutrients in this house? Men have always been encouraged to water the fruit trees rather than waste their golden fluid down the loo with copious litres of drinking water. Nutrients in urine? Yes, check this out…
“95% of the 0.8-1.5L of urine each person produces per day is water, but the last 5% is comprised of both the macro-nutrients all gardeners are familiar with — Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K) — as well as some trace micro-nutrients. While the actual content will vary slightly depending on your diet, your urine is generally a well-balanced nitrogen rich fertilizer straight out of your body.
The average person produces the following nutrients in their urine per year:
- 3.5kg of nitrogen
- 0.5kg phosphorus
- 1.0kg potassium
- 0.5kg sulfur
- 40g magnesium
- 100g calcium
A family of four can produce the equivalent of a 50kg bag of NPK fertilizer from urine alone every year. This urine has a 10:1:4 ratio of nutrients. This shows a higher nitrogen content than many mineral fertilizers and can be expressed in the lower P/N and K/N ratios of urine. Another positive effect of using urine is that the phosphorous is in a plant usable form, requiring no additional processing before it can be absorbed.” Thank you Permaculture News.
I had been capturing night time urine and feeding this to the trees, mixed with pool water every morning. Last season this system resulted in over 100 tree tomatoes from a newly planted sapling which then jumped up almost 2 meters. Talk about gratitude.
But night time capturing was a) not enough, and b) resulted in sore knees from bucket sitting. So another gadget was needed. And so the new green throne for 24/7 water service was dreamt up and soon a kind person built it for me. Thank you – you know who you are. Precious people the Universe sends my way. (Anyone else keen to have one write to me for details.). So here is a pic of my proud stool in a private corner, which makes it comfortable to capture nutrition for the garden. Remember this is sterile fluid, when fresh, so stop being squeamish. Some people wash their hair in it, some even drink it.
Twice a day I do my tree trip, depending on who needs it most. How wonderful to connect and read their body language. Then make a difference in a natural way. No bigger honour than re-joining the circle of life. Such a blessing. Now you must see the fruit happening – figs, pears, almonds, tree tomatoes for Africa. Food from the gods as I munch breakfast straight from the trees.
Apple blossoms looking promising, and peaches. This winter I look forward to goji and elder berries, granadillas and various citrus fruit. New avos are not bearing yet. With this story I am not saying what I’m doing is special. I believe many are doing their best to shift out of life-as-usual into more conscious living. Why not share also what you’re doing? Send me your story, with pics and let us learn from each other.
I look forward to your news.
By Elma Pollard
Eco journalist and holistic coach Elma Pollard empowers people to love themselves, others and the world in a deeper way.