Drought and Graywater Gardening


First crop!

Taking a break from the usual subject matter to describe a graywater gardening project we’ve run during California’s third straight year of drought.

I’ve always felt guilty about letting the water run in the shower until its warm enough to suit me.

It seems like such a waste to watch the water spin down the drain.

For water-saving reasons when we lived in the country with an iffy septic tank, we bought a front-loading, water saving energy efficient washing machine 16 years ago.

It helped, particularly in years I did two loads of laundry a day.

With drought upon us and moved into a new house, we examined ways to make this home more water-efficient, and were delighted when Sonoma County made it easier to install a graywater system.

What is graywater? Click to Tweet

According to our county website:


The garden bed in the March rains.

Graywater is untreated wastewater that has not been contaminated by any toilet discharge.  Graywater includes wastewater from bathtubs, showers, bathroom sinks, clothes washing machines and laundry sinks.  It does not include wastewater from kitchen sinks, dishwashers, photo lab sinks or laundry water from soiled diapers.”

I’d suggested storing gray water at our last house, but we would have had to pump water up hill to where it was needed. That didn’t seem practical or cost-saving.

In the new house, though?

All we needed was a new valve, a hole in the wall and some PVC pipe. It took a couple hours and we were in business.

Ironically, we put the system into place last March–on one of the few rainy days we had!


A new valve was needed on the washer drain–note you can release graywater into the yard or down the drain.

Pipe came out halfway down the wall. It went down the side of the house and then “T”ed into a performed PVC pipe that ran the length of the bed. We have a slight slope in our yard, so a shorter perforated pipe (the area is about four feet by 20 feet) was “elbowed” into the end and extended across the top of the bed about where the sidewalk bends.

The washing machine’s discharge motor pumps strong enough for the graywater to reach the end of the shorter arm, and run the length of the house.

My husband, a retired submarine officer very experienced with pipes, figured the draw of gravity would enable that shorter arm to water whatever we put in down there.

It worked.

The bed had to be dug a foot deep or so, and it was clay soil. The first thing our trusty assistant Daniel had to do was siphon off the excess water!

Once less muddy, the perforated pipe was set on the ground and then covered with a thick–at least three inches–layer of mulch.

The instructions we received indicated the vegetables you plan to eat should not touch the soil–for that reason, everything should be planted on a trellis. We planted green beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, tomatoes (in cages) and what we thought would be a climbing zucchini–at least that’s what we think it is. It didn’t climb, and we decided to eat it anyway with all that mulch between the plant and graywater.


Trellis. You can see the dryer vent to the left; pipe from washer is directly behind the left trellis.



Planting seedlings; just past the dry vent, you can see the discharge pipe coming out of the house (which we painted to match the siding).

We could not plant seeds, but had to use seedlings which enabled us to dig a hole in the mulch, touching the clay “topsoil,” putting in “real” topsoil and placing the seedling in the hole. We pressed down the soil around the seedling (planted near the bottom of the trellis), and then surrounded it with mulch.

We did the same with tomatoes, which ultimately got their own cages.


We were surprised by how fast the cucumbers and beans climbed.

The peas came in first, but the green beans and cucumbers were right behind them. This spot is normally very sunny and we’ve been eating tomatoes since May–about two months after the plants went into the ground.


Beans climbing their teepee–one month in the ground!

I have to use a special soap,ECOS, which I can purchase from Costco. With a valve on the washing machine rinse water discharging line, I can release the graywater into the garden (which we do most of the time), or, when I need to use bleach or a harsher chemical, I can turn the valve up and release the rinse water into the sewer system.

This will be particularly important in the winter when, God-willing, we’ll have rain again.

gray water soap

You can buy the right soap at most stores, including Costco

I don’t think all my plants get the same amount of water, and so once or twice a week I rinse off the leaves (as it it were raining) of the growing plants, and provide a little more moisture for the ones further away from the perforated pipe buried under the mulch.

“I think this is the best garden you’ve ever had,” my husband said the other day.

He may be right.

All I do is wash clothes, and vegetables grow effortlessly! Click to Tweet

Beans anyone?


The beans in August.



You can even grow small sugar pumpkins on a trellis!


We have not discerned any difference in flavor from vegetables grown this way. The cucumbers have been prolific and we’ve even grown a cute little sugar pumpkin. The one that’s escaped the trellis to the ground, a month later, is much larger and should be perfect for Halloween–if we last that long!


Growing vegetables using laundry rinse water. Click to Tweet

The ease of putting in and using a graywater system. Click to Tweet





The pumpkin today!


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