Down on water

Last quarter we posted about our water bill. Our water use was down on the same time in 2018 at 230 litres per day.

A nice surprise

Our new bill came in the other day with more good news!

Even though we’ve used a little more water than last year, we’ve used less than in the previous quarter. Our use is now 220 litres per day. Hooray!

A nice even number such as 10 is easy to visualise. It’s 5 x 2 litre soft drink bottles or one of those cubic cartons of spring water per day. The billing period was 91 days, so that’s 910 litres saved, or almost the same amount as one of our 1000 litre raintanks over that period.

One of these a day saved
One of these a day saved

It’s getting hard to squeeze more savings out of our place, water wise. The most positive thing is that the last billing period was for the Winter months.

There are many other variables over a three month period that make jumping for joy something that needs to be thought about and direct comparisons tricky.

There’s the weather. No matter what climate change deniers say, its getting drier around Gawler at least every year. That means we may have to use more water to get the same results. Although, thinking about it, that means we did save a lot on the garden.

Also, Jelina spent some time away from home over this billing period, meaning that showers were taken where she was staying. it will be interesting to see if the savings continue.

There are several reasons to expect some improvements over the next billing cycles though. There’ve been a few changes that should make things more efficient.

This Summer will be the clincher. Hot with lots of those nasty, dry, northerly winds. In anticipation of the heat, we’ve moved some plants to more sheltered locations and a couple of heat lovers to more open places and where they can shade more delicate little things.

The main fruit trees are more mature, so need less of our input to get by. The main time for watering is Summer when they have fruit on them.

The drip irrigation is finally finished. We can water each section of the garden separately or as a whole from tank or mains. If things get really bad, we can completely shut off areas, sacrificing them so that the others can get more water.

Now the plant placement is finished, all of the perennials are on drippers. Any annual plants are those that will be left self seed. They can find their own places that are suitable for their water needs.

I’ve redone the pipes from the two raintanks in the back. Now we can pump water with some pressure to two of the front tanks and we have two new hose connections at the front so that we can pump that water directly onto the front garden instead of just using gravity. That’ll make life a lot easier.

The reason for my obsession with connecting all the tanks through pumps is that it really bugs me when we get good rain but one tank is full. Sure water goes into the empty tanks but it just overflows from the full tanks. Now with it all being connected, before we hear of rain coming, I can shift water from the full tanks to the empty tanks. The two metal tanks at the front aren’t connected to the house and need to me manually filled from the tanks at the back.

I used to forget that I was pumping and waste a lot of water when the front tanks filled. That overflow water went into the garden but it was still a bit of a waste, emptying the rear tanks more than they needed.

To resolve this, I got some small float switches from ebay and using some old buzzers and Christmas light battery holders made some weather proof level switches that buzz loudly and annoyingly when the front tanks get nearly full. That reminds me to turn the pump off.

Swivel tap
Swivel tap at the back for pumped water

There’s a new, swivel, tap connector at the back in the aquaponics so that we can get water under pump pressure from one of the tanks to use anywhere at the back. That means using tank water instead of mains water when we need to hose something off out there.

All of the trees in the front now have 30 cm (well, roughly 30 cm – I was using reclaimed offcuts and didn’t measure them all. Close enough is good enough) lengths of PVC pipe into the ground, a little out from their bases.

These pipes allow water to bypass the mulch and get into the soil and root zone. There are three ways that we use these.

First, when hand watering the garden (it’s still nice to give it a personal touch now and then) we can fill the pipes several times over. Second, they each have a 4 litre per hour dripper so that they fill when we are using the dripper irrigation system.

Third, I’ve made gadgets out of 11 litre spring water bottles that fit over the pipe and allow their water to seep slowly into the ground over a couple of hours. There’s absolutely no waste that way. We just cycle them around the garden.

Slow waterer
One of the slow waterers being filled

Some of the perennial ground covers such as Sweet potatoes, Warrigal Greens and Mugwort are spreading well.

Thick ground covers
Thick ground covers shelter the soil

They’ll shelter the mulch and stop both it an the soil from drying out. They’ll also contribute to the general coolness of the place.

Hops
Vines are reaching upwards

Vines are climbing well to shelter the place. Sweet Appleberry, Madeira Vine, Grapes, Sweet Potato and Hops are all in the way upwards. Jelina has even trained a Cape Gooseberry and a Lemon Verbena plant upwards. Their shade will reduce evaporation.

My next job in the house is to connect a raintank to the toilet cistern so that our flushes are a mix of rain and mains water. Our tank isn’t big enough to supply a Summer’s worth of flushing water as well as everything else it will be used for.

A salvaged kitchen is coming soon with a much bigger sink and movable faucet. Our current setup is still the old 1940s small single basin with a fixed tap. This limits what can be rinsed under there and often results in water being wasted while preparing veggies or doing the dishes. The new setup will resolve this.

All of the big improvements have been done now. As I discover new things, I’ll add them or at least tweak the existing stuff.

It’s been a step by step learning experience but I’m pretty sure that we’re close to getting it right!

A family with a garden near Gawler where we experiment with sustainability.

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