Friday, June 1, 2012

Let it Mellow

Let's talk about water. I don't have much to report about the garden -- it's the time of year when all we do is water mostly bare spots of earth, pull weeds, and wait. The weeds grow so fast. The vegetable seedlings grow so slow. Oh, and the temperature just went from 95 to 45 in less than a week.  But, at least it's raining, so we don't have to carry water out to the garden for a couple of days, although I'm sure Jack-and-the-Beanstalk-size weeds are now crowding out our poor tomato plants (which, by the way, are not enjoying the erratic spring weather).

But, water plays a big role in the garden's life, even at this seemingly stagnant stage. So let's talk about it.  Specifically, let's talk about conserving it.

Have you heard about Rip the Drip? He's a sort of spokesperson for water conservation on the Wasting Water is Weird website. You may have seen him in some odd TV commercials (my favorite is the empty dishwasher one). Anyway, there is tons of conservation advice out there and hundreds of ways to reduce your water usage. The following tidbits are just a few most relevant to my life.

I should note that conserving water isn't about the money savings for us (though it could be for you). Our water bill happens to be included in our homeowners' association dues, so we pay the same amount every month regardless of how much or how little water we use. We could take the all-you-can-eat-buffet approach and use gallons and gallons of water with no financial consequences, but this is all about saving the planet -- while potable water may seem a constant to us Midwesterners, it is scarce in many parts of the world. And guess what? All of us earthlings essentially share the same water supply -- the amount of water on this planet is fixed, while the number of people drinking it increases. Better to conserve water where it is an abundant natural resource, so that our "excess" can be given to the citizens of dryer places. But I digress.

When it comes to conserving water in the garden, the most obvious action is to install a rain barrel beneath your downspout. This is something we'd like to do; our obstacles are getting approval from our homeowners' association (may or may not be a problem) and the cost of rain barrels. The lowest price we've seen for rain barrels is $75, which isn't bad I guess, but we'd like to find them just a little bit cheaper. See, we'd like to install at least one under each of our four downspouts, maybe two (to handle overflow) under the downspout that collects the rainwater from the largest section of our roof.

Another great way to conserve a little water and still give your plants the drinks they need? Collect your shower water while you wait for it to heat up. Our shower, which is on the second floor, can sometimes take full minute to bring hot water up from the water heater, which is on the first floor.  Maybe a minute doesn't sound like much time to you, but let me tell you, there's a lot of cold water doing nothing but running down the drain during that minute -- a lot of cold water wasted. The solution? Stand in the shower (yes, naked and ready to go) with a large bucket and collect the running water until it has reached the temperature you desire. Then, set the bucket aside and go on with your shower. Whether you use the bucket of water straightaway on your house plants or collect it over the course of several showers before hauling it out to the vegetable garden, it's a more efficient use of your tap water than simply wasting the shower water in the moment and later having to run your garden hose. Friends of ours told us about the bucket thing. They do it. I'm going to try to remember to do it.

Another shower-related, water-conservation tip: Take shorter showers. Duh. There's the extreme version, the navy-style shower, in which you quickly get wet (just a few seconds of running water), then soap up without the water running, and then rinse off, using less than 30 seconds' worth of water. Or, for those of us who enjoy spending a little more time in a nice, hot shower, there is simply a shorter shower. We got a handy shower timer for free at a green fest a couple of years ago, but you can find a variety of shower timers online for a variety of low prices. Ours is a five-minute hourglass timer that suctions to the shower wall. A cheap and easy way to reduce your water usage, as long as you remember to keep your eye on the sand!

Stepping out of the shower and toward the toilet... Perhaps you've heard this little rhyme regarding conserving toilet water: "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." Need I explain? Let me instead tell you to get over the ick-factor and, I'm just gonna say it, know that it really is OK to let a few rounds of pee sit in the toilet. We're not talking about public toilets here. Your own family's urine, just hanging out in the toilet bowl for a few hours, will not hurt you. It will not stink up your house. (OK, maybe if you all just ate asparagus or a lot of onions, you'll want to flush after each turn only for your noses' sake, but other than that...) Save yourself several flushes a day at home. People do this. I won't say who.

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