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Greywater mulch basins

Greywater mulch basin

Art Ludwig's favorite method of using greywater in the landscape is called the mulch basin.  Installation can be nearly as simple as creating a drain out back, with the addition of digging a donut around your tree, piling the soil on the outside to form a moat, and filling the depression with wood chips (and your grewater outlet).  The soiled water goes directly to a thirsty plant, who also benefits from the nitrogen content of kitchen scraps and other debris.

New mulch basinAlthough the mulch basin is much more efficient than the drain out back, you also have to go to more short and long term effort to make the greywater system work properly.  Create an Oasis with Greywater walks you through building branched systems to channel water to multiple trees and ensure no single plant gets swamped, but even if you plan watering amounts accurately, you still need to make sure the plant being watered can handle daily infusions of dishwater.

Of the greywater tolerant plants Ludwig lists, very few live in our climate and none of those are active in the winter.  That means you need to have an alternative greywater system in place during the dormant season, which I'll talk about in tomorrow's post.  Meanwhile, if you'd like to make a mulch basin to put your greywater to use in the summer, potentially useful temperate-climate plants include blackberries, elderberries, currants, bamboo, and (to a lesser extent---be careful of waterlogging) peach, plum, apple, pear, and quince.  Those of you who live in California (like Ludwig does) will want to start with bananas and branch out into mangos, avocados, citrus, pineapple guava, and figs.

Mulch basinThe final issue with the mulch basin is that it requires annual maintenance.  Ludwig recommends redigging your moat walls every year or two, which sounds like effort that might not quite happen on our farm.  (I'm not so sure it would hurt to just let the tree get its bonus water close to the trunk for its entire life, though.)  On the other hand, I've been hitting more than missing with my hugelkultur tree mound expansions, so maybe expanding a mulch basin would happen too.

I'm curious to hear from anyone who's tried a mulch basin, but especially from those who live in an area with winter.  What would you add to the pros and cons I've listed above?

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This post is part of our Create an Oasis with Greywater lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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