Here are 10+ ways you can start conserving water in your home and on your homestead. Some of these can be implemented this week, while others will take some planning. These ideas focus on conserving water in the garden and the home. We also discuss potential drawbacks to water conservation, as well as the blessings!
This article is inspired from the Water Wise information provided in the Homestead Garden section of our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead. We’ve saved you a copy in our shop; to purchase that, visit this link.
Conserving water is something many of us are forced to think about on the homestead as we go through drought cycles, contaminated water supplies, and situations where we’re faced with depleted resources like natural disasters.
It’s a no-brainer that conserving water is a responsible thing to do for each other in a community, but it can also simply save us money and help us provide for ourselves to have quality water conservation systems in place. However, it’s not always easy and there’s often a learning curve.
Are There Drawbacks to Conserving Water?
Conserving water is like conserving any resource – it requires effort. I don’t make a preserve strawberry jam every year because I have time on my hands. I do it because the strawberry harvest is fleeting and finite, and because my family enjoys eating homemade strawberry jam.
Conserving water is like that, too – a resource that can be fleeting and finite depending on where you live, but your family certainly enjoys it! Indeed, water is life. However, learning to conserve it can be a pain.
- Water conservation can require special equipment, depending on the system. That equipment can have a start up cost.
- If we’re harvesting rainwater, we quickly learn that rainfall is unpredictable.
- Most water storage systems require maintenance, which requires time and know-how.
- Re-using gray water similarly requires maintenance, elbow grease, and time.
- It’s just plain easier to turn on a faucet and not worry about water!
Still, you’re probably reading this article because you realize that conserving water is important enough to learn how to do, even if it requires effort, learning, and investment.
The good news is that conserving water on the homestead is more about being water-smart than it is about cutting back on water use. (Though that can be an important consideration depending on your level of water use!) Learning to direct and store water are also important skills to gain.
Let’s begin in the garden.
Conserving Water in the Garden
It’s a simple truth that animals and plants need water to thrive, just as people do. Here are some simple things every gardener can do to conserve water:
- Do not water on windy days because it will most likely not reach its target in the garden.
- Avoid watering in the hottest part of the day. Not only will this prevent scorching on your plants, but it will also prevent much of the water from evaporating back into the atmosphere.
- Use drip irrigation instead of overhead watering not only for plant health but for conserving water, as well. Drip irrigation can help control unwanted weed populations, too, since the water is delivered to the target plant and nowhere else.
Water-Wise Plants for Your Growing Zone
One of the best ways to keep your garden thriving is to always use plants for your growing zone and be water-wise in your plant selections.
- For example, if you live in a desert, don’t try to grow bananas. Bananas not only require a lot of water to flourish, but a certain humidity level in the air to bear fruit.
- If you have purely ornamental parts of your garden, you may consider “xeriscaping” those areas. Xeriscape is a type of garden design that optimizes irrigation needs through plant selection and ground cover choices.
- Also consider replacing your lawn, a notorious water-sucker, with perennial bushes and trees. Once established, these plants will be able to draw water deep from the soil much more readily than grass. As a bonus, many of these plants produce food for humans and animals. An example is a fruit tree or berry bush. Even plants considered more ornamental like a barberry or quince shrub have culinary and wellness properties that might be useful on the homestead.
- If you have a limited amount of space, consider a container garden where the watering can be extremely targeted and precise.
Make the Vegetable Garden More Water-Wise
Having said that, however, most homesteads cultivate veggies and fruits, all of which are water hogs compared to other plants. To ensure that these garden receive the water they need, consider the following:
- Heavily mulch growing beds to retain water in the soil where the roots are. Bear ground dries out very easily.
- If you have a container garden, consider building some self-watering containers to see if you like how they work.
- Consider companion planting, or guild planting, to grow several plants in the same space that perform many functions. As an example, behind tomato plants, where the late afternoon sun does NOT fall, consider planting radishes, spinach, or other leafy greens that need the protection from the sun that the tall, branching tomato plant can provide. To keep these plants from desiccating in the open sun requires a lot of extra water. Capitalizing on the shade (which is usually considered a drawback in the garden) of the tomato plants means you can grow a bit more without a lot of extra water. Keep in mind that these smaller crops with their smaller root systems will need more water than a tomato plant which is typically water deeply and allowed to dry out.
- As you design the garden, consider using swales (ditches dug to direct water) built on the contour of your land to direct the rainwater when it falls. Typically, the digging of a swale creates a path for water to move where you need it on your land. As the path is being dug, a mound of earth running alongside the swale is formed. Often, you can plant into this mound so that the plants’ proximity to the water path provides constant water.
To learn to build a swale, please see the resources section at the end of the article.
Conserving Water by Learning About Permaculture
Permaculture is a type of whole system design for the home, garden, family, and community. People often get interested in it because of the many solutions it can provide for avid gardeners.
In permaculture, the problem is the solution – as with our tomato/shade problem being turned into an asset. This is a great thing for gardeners because we do run into A LOT of garden “problems.”
Also, when moving into the garden, permaculture’s first priority is to track, record, diagram, map, and learn all it can about the movement of water on the land. It’s the absolute first design element that a permaculture designer looks at!
Then, a designer will move on to analyze topography, and the movement of the sun and wind. Then, other elements that come into the land like people and pollution. After that, you can start thinking about the plants and animals.
How It All Works Together
Varieties of ground covers, herbs, native flowers, small shrubs and even trees will be selected for their ability to thrive on less water as the garden becomes established. Mulch can be layered on top of barren soil to increase fertility over time and to hold water where it needs to be. If there is an abundance of water, then strategically dug ditches can direct the water to plants that need it, thereby avoiding useless run-off.
As we mentioned before, these ditches are called “swales.” If appropriate, ponds can be dug and used to slowly fill swales in dry times. Developing a relationship with the water on your homestead is about analyzing where it wants to go and where you need it to go.
If the water’s path is destructive, we re-direct it with soil manipulation and plantings until the garden soil can absorb the water on its own to be used later.
Mark Shephard, author of Restoration Agriculture (a fantastic book if you’re serious about whole systems designs or permaculture) teaches us that,
“Since water is of such critical importance for plant life and growth, the very first step for a restoration agriculture farmer, no matter where the farm is located, is to optimize the land’ s relationship with water….
“Water is held in the pore spaces between soil grains. All life in the soil is 50-80 percent water and represents its own type of water storage. In short, the soil and the soil life represent a massive water storage system. In restoration agriculture systems we want to start with storing more water in the soil…
“By slowing down fallen rainwater and spreading it out you then allow it to have an increased residence time in the landscape. This gives the rain time to soak in rather than run away.”
Man-Made Ponds, Wells & Cisterns
There are several options for water storage on the land and around the homestead. Natural or man-made ponds are an obvious source of water for livestock and land. If you live in a city and its legal, having a well dug can mean water independence.
You can go one step further and run your well pump with a solar panel so that you aren’t relying on the electrical grid to pump your water. Even if you have access to public water, a well can mean available water regardless of what else is going on in your local world.
If a well isn’t feasible, the next largest container is a rainwater-harvesting cistern. Even the small ones are large, so find a local source to avoid high shipping costs. Cisterns can be placed in or above the ground, and are usually made of metal, plastic, or cement. You’ll need to make decisions about placement and design, so be sure you do thorough research on what’s available to you locally.
Please see the resources list at the end for articles about building ponds, digging a well, and using a cistern.
Rain Barrels – Conserving Water Even in Small Spaces
On a smaller, and possibly more realistic, scale for small-space homesteaders are rain barrels. These rainwater catchment barrels are a wonderful way to preserve the water falling for free from the sky. Rainwater can be used in any number of ways on the homestead, most typically to water the garden.
Some things to think about:
- Check local ordinances, and the regulations of your HOA, to be sure rain barrels are legal where you are.
- Rain barrels have the added benefit of being something you could conceal behind a shrub.
- Plus, they’re simple to make yourself!
For information on building your own, please see the resources section below.
You may find that rain barrels are especially useful for you with water collection and re-direction, especially if you’re on a small lot. Water gardens, cisterns, ponds and marshes all can play a part in water retention and provision on your land.
The key is to figure out which of these options is best suited to your space. Try a few ideas and see which function best for you—keep going until you find a system that works!
Conserve Water Around the Home
Following are some water-wise ideas that most homesteaders can use regardless of where they live:
- Low-flow faucet adapters can reduce the amount of water coming out of the tap.
- Turn off the water when you’re not using it. This seems obvious but you don’t need to run the water while you brush your teeth. Or even wash your hands. Turn it back on when it’s time to rinse.
- When you boil water or vegetables or change out the dog’s water, don’t dump it down the drain! Water a plant with that water, or put it on your compost.
- Install a hand pump for your well in case of emergency, so you can still access water. You can also install a hand pump in the kitchen to use to replace your standard plumbing, if you’re slowly trying to go “off-grid”.
- Hand wash your clothes and dishes to reduce your overall water consumption. These tasks will increase your work load, FYI.
- Re-use gray water*
Conserving Water with Gray Water Re-Use
This option won’t appeal to everyone, necessarily. Some of us would like to turn the faucet and not worry about where the used water goes.
However, you wouldn’t be reading this article if you weren’t at least willing to THINK about doing new things, so read over these grey water ideas and see if there’s something here you ‘d like to try. No judgement on my part!
If they don’t sound feasible now, they might in six months, so circle back around the them then.
What is Gray Water?
Gray water is the used water that comes out of your home, NOT including the sewage water from the toilet. Gray water can be water from your:
- kitchen sink
- bathroom sinks
- washing machine
Here are some super simple ways to get started conserving water by re-using gray water:
- Placing a bucket under your bathroom sinks and removing the J-pipe underneath to drain the water into the bucket.
- Putting a bucket in the shower with you to capture a lot of the water that falls as you clean yourself.
- Allowing the drain water from your washing machine to empty into a bucket or outdoor gray water pond built for that purpose (called laundry-to-landscaping). Consumer reports tell us that the average amount of water per laundry load is 30-40 gallons – that’s a lot of water for the landscape!
These systems are all very doable to set up but there are some special consideration that you need to educate yourself on before you begin. I suggest you pay a visit to the Oasis Design site and do some reading. I actually own their books for gray water systems designs and have found them to be really helpful.
What Can You Do With Gray Water?
I encourage you to research this topic much more, if it’s something you’re interested in, because there are many answers to that intelligent question.
Really, it depends on what you put into the water. If you use cleaning products – toothpaste, laundry detergent, shampoo – with a high level of commercial chemical composition, that will reduce the usefulness of your gray water. It’s possible you can use it on your compost pile. You may also dump in out of the way areas of your property to return the water to the earth and allow it to filter out the gunk.
If the cleaning products you use are more natural, you might consider these uses of gray water:
- Use it to fill the tank of and flush the toilet.
- This can also be poured around trees and perennials with established root systems.
- Can be used in the compost pile.
- **Clean water captured while you’re waiting for the sink or shower water to warm up can be used directly on plants.**
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Conserve Water by Setting Goals
- After doing some research, pick three areas of water management and storage that you would like to explore in the next six months. Write these down in your homestead journal.
- Be sure that one of the areas you chose concerns water storage in the home, the car, or on the homestead. Tally up the cost of containers and any other equipment and begin to budget for it with this month’s paycheck.
Calendar a schedule for purchasing, filling, storing or otherwise getting your water storage in place. By the end of the six months, complete these three goals and set three more for the next six months. Be sure to write your time-line on your family calendar so it’s a visible reminder to make your goals part of your monthly activities.
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Though I’ve never been threatened with a sustained or fatal lack of it, I’ve had so many opportunities to be grateful for water and the blessing of having enough with which to wash and drink. To be sure you and I continue to have this blessing, we need to improve our efforts at both storing and conserving water.
Resources for Conserving Water on the Homestead
If you have a resource you’d like to share, please leave it in the comments for other readers!