22 April 2012

Balcony garden - recycling water to use in the garden

Looking at green stuff poking out of different views in our house brings me immense joy. So I have put in time to make our balcony spaces green. When N moved here a year ago, I plucked a spider plant and waxy money plant that were hanging out on a sidewalk  These beauties have now grown (Insets). After moving to Bangalore, I set about expanding this collection. Luckily, we have ample balcony space, and importantly, this space catches sunlight marvelously. We now have a row of herbs in the more shady balcony and a varied collection of vegetables on the other (Bottom picture). Thanks to valuable tips and detailed instructions by the Geekgardener, I have also started growing vegetables from seeds. 
Although this hobby is very satisfying, it comes with guilt - because of the water I need each day to pour into these plants. For the past three months, most plants have required daily watering due to the heat, which makes the current requirement about 15 litres a day!

Water is a precious resource and as we are finding out, in limited supply when not managed correctly. The newspapers are filled each day with pictures of people standing in long queues for water, stories of the water mafia and farmers with wilted crops due to drought. In this context, my hobby is almost a sin. For although the plants bring much happiness, they contribute nothing to our community. I am using a shared resource but not returning anything into the resource-pool that can be shared.

Thus in the past weeks I have been trying to think of ways to recycle the water in my apartment. I am aware of the technologies that are available today - rainwater harvesting, hydroponics etc., that could input into this cause. However, we live in rented accommodation and I have limited time. Not the best excuses but that's reality for you. The question I asked was simple - what behaviour modification is possible that would allow me to water the plants without tapping into a fresh supply? Here is what I have come up with. 
Dishes soaking in water and collected during cooking

I have placed a bucket next to our sink and fill it up with all my kitchen waste water. The natural tendency when we put dishes in the sink is to rinse them in some water before soaping. Now where is that water going? Instead of the sink, why not the bucket? We rinse greens in several washes of water, which is yet another source for the bucket. Below is a snapshot of our sink. We made idlis for breakfast. today. The container that held the batter is a mess and requires a thorough soaking. Instead of adding soap to the soaking water, I now simply let the water be. After a few minutes, the batter easily comes into the water and can now be added to the bucket. This way, each time any item is rinsed (blender container, coffee mugs, curry pots, my kitchen compost intermediate box), the rinsed-off water can be added into the bucket.
Waste water collected from dish rinses
Nothing I have stated above is original. In many homes, this is already practiced. The reason I am writing about it is because I found that simple behaviour modifications have helped to significantly elevate our water utilization efficiency. Sure, the bucket is mucky and stinks a bit, but I am sure the plants don't mind. I have tried to train my kitchen help to contribute to this, but its been slow going. She's great with chopping everything up for the compost though so I am hoping that with time she will incorporate this idea. Fortunately N does most of our dishes and he's been cooperative. Often, I just rinse out the dishes, pour out the water and then place them in the sink. Together, we have some sort of system and on an average I am able to meet at least 80% of my requirement through this. And if you did think that kitchen waste water is toxic, below are pictures of the plants from our balcony that have been getting a daily dose of this stuff!


  1. Good work! Technically the plants should actually be thriving with the extra nutrients from the kitchen waste. Atleast I have been using the water with which I was rice and dals to water the plants. Though given the absymal state they are in, I sometimes wonder if it helps at all...

  2. That is a great hobby Megha and you are putting an effort to preserve water too which is a viable option of all the gardeners like us. We should all make an effort to find out more on recycling water with the existing systems in our garden.