Are you interested in learning how to recycle gray water from a farm? It’s a great way to save on water costs and help to protect the environment at the same time. We’ll give you all the ins and outs of what gray water actually is, as well as how to harvest and use it, on your farm.
What You'll Learn Today
What is Gray Water?
Gray water, also referred to as greywater, is water that has already been used in your bathroom sink, bathtub, shower, or washing machine.
Contrary to what some people might believe, gray water is not water that has been recycled from a toilet or from other less than savory tasks, like washing diapers.
Although it can contain traces of food, hair, dirt, grease, or various household cleaning products – meaning it will look a bit dingy or, of course, gray – it is safe to use in many settings on the farm.
While you wouldn’t want to drink gray water or use it for cooking, it can serve as a valuable source of irrigation water for the garden or yard. In some cases, the particles found in gray water may even serve as valuable fertilizers!
Reusing gray water for irrigation and other tasks on the farm is a great way to stay connected with the natural water cycle, helping you save money and protect the environment at the same time.
What Do You Do With Grey Water Off the Grid?
Gray water systems are most effective when they are used to water specific plants rather than large, sprawling lawns. You can use gray water to irrigate bushes, trees, shrubs, berry patches, and large annuals like vegetables and herbs.
Of course, there are uses for gray water inside the home as well as outside of it. It is often used to flush toilets inside the home – just use a bucket and dump the gray water directly into the toilet.
There are systems that can be installed in your house both to help you collect gray water (more on this below!) as well as to utilize it.
Can Gray Water Be Used for Farming?
Gray water can safely be used for things like irrigating plants and lawns as well as cleaning up outdoor equipment.
You should be fine irrigating just about any kind of plant with gray water, but if you find that it contains lots of salts or other residues, you may want to stick to only watering hardier, more drought-tolerant plants like rosemary with your gray water for now.
Otherwise, you can regularly just flush or rinse the plants off with rainwater or regular tap water. This will help you get the benefits of gray water while also making sure your plants aren’t exposed to too many minerals, salts, or chemicals.
Eating food that has been watered with gray water is totally safe, especially if the water was treated first.
Is Gray Water Safe for Livestock?
Gray water should not be used as a source of drinking water for anyone – including livestock. However, you can use gray water for things like cleaning barns and stalls as well as for bathing animals, in most cases.
If you plan on using gray water with your livestock, just be mindful of the soaps you use. Choose laundry and bath products that are chemical-free with low salt and phosphate levels – and ideally, a neutral pH.
How Do You Recycle Gray Water?
There are a few ways you can recycle gray water. Here are some tips.
How to Recycle Gray Water from a Farm
Lots of people overcomplicate gray water collection, installing expensive pumps and filters that require regular upkeep and maintenance. This isn’t necessary. A simple collection system will require less energy and cost less money.
In many cases, just collecting gray water with a bucket and then using it as needed is the most effective way to recycle gray water. You can also install a wastewater treatment system, which will separate household waste systems into blackwater and gray water systems.
The most complicated of these systems require the help of a plumber, while the most basic involve diversion. Diversion methods can be as basic as running an outlet hose from a washing machine through a window out to the lawn or garden.
Alternatively, you can install a basic system with a three-way valve that will allow you to easily switch back and forth between your septic and sewer and your gray water system.
There are lots of other, more task-specific systems you can use to recycle gray water, including things like laundry drums. In a laundry drum system, you’ll install a large barrel into which wash water from the laundry is pumped. At the very bottom, the water will drain out into a hose that you can then move around your garden to irrigate.
You can find more information on how to make a simple laundry gray water recycling system here. It’s a bit different than the drum method described above but is another great option for farmers who want to make the most of the water they use.
Another option you could try installing a branched drain system from the shower. In this kind of system, gray water will flow through standard drainage pipes by gravity, sloping downward into a mulched basin where the water can be used to irrigate the root zone of orchard trees.
Storing Gray Water
When you collect gray water, do your best to minimize contact with it. Your collection system should be designed so that the water will go straight back into the ground – it isn’t meant for animals or people to drink.
If you store gray water, be careful about doing so for more than 24 hours. After 24 hours, the nutrients in it can break down and form unpleasant odors. Rather than hanging on to large quantities of gray water, try to match the amount of gray water you collect with how much water your plants will need.
Common Gray Water Concerns
Some people worry that gray water can be harmful to plants because it contains bacteria and chemicals.
It’s true that gray water can contain chemicals but these are going to be the ones that you choose to add during the process of washing your dishes, clothes, or self. Choose more natural cleaning products, and you can all but eliminate this concern.
Bacteria is also found in gray water but it’s not a cause for concern. It’s unlikely that the bacteria found in gray water will harm your plants. There is an added “yuck” factor when you think about eating vegetables that were watered with the same water you bathed in – but remember, tomato plants grow best when they were grown in chicken poop!
Bacteria is everywhere, and as long as your gray water is managed and used properly, you don’t have to worry about it making you sick.
Making the Most of Gray Water – One Shower at a Time!
If you’re thinking about using gray water, bear in mind that each level of government has different rules about gray water. In some places, it is illegal to use gray water at all – even in your very own garden.
In others, you can use gray water all you want – but it has to be treated first. Therefore, it’s worth checking in to find out what the local, state, and federal guidelines are before you start collecting gray water.