Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Reducing your water footprint: start with your lawn

I apologize for taking nearly two weeks to put up another post! It has been a tumultuous few weeks at work and the baby is teething so I'm just now getting a breather! I was thinking this morning about a recent energy analysis my husband did to try to figure out if solar panels were worth it. Turns out our two and a half person family actually uses way below the norm for energy and water yet use about an average amount of natural gas. So in conclusion: solar won't save us any money, even if we look forward 30 years, we'll still lose. Better off investing in insulation.

Then I started thinking about our water use. Why is it so low? We each take a shower every day, I do about five loads of laundry a week since I double wash Lizzie's cloth diapers...and still we come out way below average. Then I thought more about it: I never, ever, use outdoor municipal water. Ever. It's just not necessary. I drive past huge houses all the time with enormous expanses of lush green and I have to think: how much water and fertilizer and weed killer must go into that?!?!!

There's a few key tricks to not having to use municipal water in your yard:
  1. If you're in the market for a new house buy a small lot. Do you really need four acres of rolling "grounds"? Modern America isn't a Jane Austin novel.
  2. Minimize your lawn's footprint, flowers need less water. Turn most of your yard into a flower garden, plant ground cover in shady areas, allow moss to grow, or let it all go wild.
  3. Plant native flowers, heirloom vegetables and a sun tolerant/native grass mix.
  4. Use rain barrels
  5. Accept a little brown grass by August, it's OK. You won't be booted out of your neighborhood.
So how does my family accomplish this?

1) We have a small house on a small lot. Our 1400 square foot home is on a lot that's only 0.06 acres. You can imagine the house takes up most of the lot.

2) Our house's front hits the street, so no front lawn. And the back "yard" is a small 40 by 40 patch, half of which is a flower and vegetable garden. The remaining "lawn" is planted with a full sun/drought tolerant native grass mix that never seems to need watering. For grass seed help visit the excellent greenscapes guide fescue page. Just visit the greenscapes website in general, it's an amazing resource.

3) The flower garden (pictured above) and vegetable garden also don't get watered with the hose. The trick is to plant native and/or drought tolerant species that can go a week or so without water. For a good list of plants for the northeast again visit the greenscapes guide's plant page. My vegetable garden will be planted this year with entirely heirloom vegetables bred by gardeners in the northeast before the advent of electrically pumped water. They had to survive a dry August, and hopefully mine will.

4) I have two 50 gallon rain barrels. I bought them 6 years ago for $10 each at an olive importer west of Boston. I have no idea how to find the guy now, but I love them and wish I had bought a dozen so I could give them away.

I drilled a hole in the bottom, installed a 3/4" bulkhead fitting, screwed in a 3/4" to 5/8" bushing, then screwed in a valve with garden hose fitting and I get free water every time the rain falls. Once I move an unsuspecting azalea I'll link the two together so in a good downpour I can fill them both up in a few hours.

At the end of the summer I have so much water I usually have the dump them out before I store them for the winter. Friends are always asking me to make them one and I simply say: go buy the biggest trash barrel you can find with a lid (mosquito control) and you're all set. Don't waste your money on these $150 prefab things from a gardening store.

5) And lastly, I don't care if my lawn is a little brown. I saw a commercial last night for a Scott's lawn product. The guy had this ENORMOUS lush green lawn with no dandelions. He was lamenting on how before he used this product he was the shame of the neighborhood. You know what? If we're going to leave a smaller footprint on this earth we need to accept a little brown and a few dandelions. Nothing's wrong with a little yellow in all that green, it won't make you less of a man (at least this woman thinks so).

Enjoy your summer everyone. I'm going to go out and check on my brandywine tomato seedlings. 70 days to fruit....so that 50 days and counting. I can't wait.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent advice!
    The perfect green, lush lawn is really a recent phenomenon. When you look at older photos, lawns always had a few blemishes.
    Years ago I remember a lot of houses in the Florida Keys had cisterns; another great idea.


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