Here in California, I think we all know we are well into a three year drought. As a human being and as a professional gardener, I have been hyper-aware of the lack of water. My interest in water conservation began in the 1970s with a memorable drought in my childhood. The drought of ’79 instilled in my awareness a feeling of saving it before using it. However, it wasn’t until I became a homeowner and avid home gardener, that I began to implement any water saving strategies on a larger scale. For the last 12 years I have been using grey water from my laundry system, for 10 years have been using bath/shower water in the garden, and have caught rainwater into a 1500 gallon cistern for 9 years. In my own 1/4 acre Berkeley garden, I have been a huge advocate for composting and mulching, and using drip irrigation. I only flush the toilet as needed, and I have been saving my dishwater in tubs and carrying them out to the garden bucket by bucket, despite a biceps injury…
And now, with no rain on the horizon, I ask myself what more can I do? Usually I would have turned my drip system on by now. It has only sincerely rained once since the new year. I have long wondered what to do with my amazing, huge, sunny garden besides growing my own food and selling and giving away the surplus. Now, I have decided to run an experiment: I wonder how long and how far I can stretch the grey water and collected rainwater into the season. My challenge is this: can I continue to grow a successful, lush, largely edible garden without using any fresh, pure, city water. Maybe I can help others to do the same.
Fortunately this challenge comes at an interesting time in my life. For the moment, I have time to hand water bucket by bucket and watering cans of precious, captured rain water. I am on a personal journey of wanting to slow down my life and increase my mindfulness and presence in my body. After years of outward achievement, I am craving an inner attunement to my own rhythms and to the ecosystem in my garden. So I am rising to the occasion and experimenting with mulching more deeply than ever, and accelerating my composting system so that I can incorporate more organic matter into the soils to improve water holding capacity.
As for the ornamental parts of my garden, such as the front yard, I have replaced some more water thirsty plants with succulents and low water plants. So far, the ornamental garden has been putting on a spectacular spring show.