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Lush Gardening with Less Water

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Melissae Fellet | KUSP News

Even with only three raised beds, Paul Gratz’s garden has all the bounty of a farmer’s market. “We have three to four types of beans,” Gratz says. “We have all the salad bowl, lettuce, basil, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, strawberries.”

There are fruit trees sprinkled around the yard too, including fig, peach, pear, persimmon, a multi-grafted apple and three types of citrus. Many have been planted in the last four years since Gratz and his wife, Timmi Pereira, moved into their house. “We knew we wanted to have this type of landscaping: food producing crops, drought resistant ornamentals and no lawn,” Gratz says.

YDb526FD9ZlC-pXzqNEgtzE1zAr2y8_o3bLCDH-FMIIWays to Use Less Water
His yard is carefully landscaped to conserve water. It’s heavily mulched to keep the soil wet, and the most thirsty plants live close to water sources. Water for the garden comes first from stored rainwater and household greywater, and then from the city when needed. “Especially in California, we want to demonstrate to ourselves, the community, and urge other people to find more effective ways of supplementing the water supply,” he says.

gratz-1Two average people in Santa Cruz use about 120 gallons of water a day indoors. Gratz and his wife currently use 90 gallons of water a day, and a little over half of that water is for their outdoor plants.

“It would be less if we had a wetter winter, because we already used up the water we collected and we did not fill the tanks fully this season,” he says. Two plastic tanks in the backyard can store three thousand gallons of rainwater collected from the roofs of a shed and a greenhouse. “Hopefully, we’ll have a rainy fall and winter and those empty, super large rain barrels are ready to fill up again.”

Drought as a Teacher
Gratz, a retired public health planner and policy analyst, was raised in southern California and experienced the large drought there in the mid-1970s. He says that experience heightened his consciousness of water use, our connection to resources, our exploitation and waste of water, and our true dependency on it.

Gratz works hard to use his water efficiently, and even a small damp spot on the patio requires examination. He decides that it came from a small plastic wading pool that filled up in a rain. “At least I hope it is,” he says.

IMG_5811Greywater is Golden
Gratz aims to reuse as much household greywater in his garden as possible. Extra water from the household drinking water filter trickles around a lemon tree, a small rhododendron, and some ground cover. The bathroom sink and shower drains are piped to water plants in the front yard. And Gratz envisions using water from the washing machine to irrigate a portion of the backyard.

When using greywater for gardening, Gratz says that what goes down the drain, goes on the plants. “So it’s really important to use organic products,” he says. “If you use bleach or non organic detergents, you’ll probably have trouble with your plants, if not poison them.”

A shut-off valve allows greywater to be diverted to the wastewater stream if it needs to be treated. For those looking to conserve water without installing greywater systems, Gratz has a simple suggestion: put a bucket in the shower near the showerhead.

“And with that bucket, which fills up every day or day and a half, we’re able to use it directly into our toilet bowl,” he says. “It’s the equivalent of one flush.”

A sticker on the window above the low-flow toilet reads: Save a Flush, Save a Fish. “Every drop counts,” Gratz says.

With these efforts to conserve water, Gratz aims to reduce his footprint on the planet and bring his land into an ecological balance.

LINKS to local resources on water neutral gardening:
Love’s Gardens, Santa Cruz landscapers.
City of Santa Cruz Water Conservation Programs for the Home.
Conserving Water at Home, (Santa Cruz Sentinel, Sept. 29. 2012).
Grey’s the new green: Laundry-to-landscape irrigation systems gaining in popularity, (Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 23, 2011)

State and National Organizations:
Ecological Landscaping Association
American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association
California Native Plant Society

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