The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Greywater wetland in action

Greywater wetland

One of our fun projects this past winter was creating a greywater wetland to deal with the water coming out of our kitchen sink.  You can read more about the wetland by following the links below:

So far, the wetland has been quite effective, although it has the usual growing pains.  I'll show you what's working (and what's not) below.


Budding cattailThe water from our kitchen sink is enough to keep the area where I planted cattails (just below the inlet) sodden.  This has resulted in very happy plants, one of which is putting up a flowering spike.  I'm ultra-excited about the spike because I've wanted to taste cattail flowers ever since Eric blogged about them, but I'm too busy at this time of year to make weekly trips to the wetland up the holler to check on the cattails' progress.  This year, we'll definitely get to taste at least one cattail flower!


PondThe pond is also doing very well, and has already produced half a gallon of duckweed for the garden.  Too bad our chickens still won't eat the stuff....  If we had a much larger pond, though, I could see harvesting duckweed to use as a high-nitrogen mulch around seedlings.

You'll notice I also installed a Chinese lotus in the little pond (which is just barely deep and large enough to keep such a hefty plant happy).  The inspiration for the lotus came from Paradise Lot, whose author explains that the seeds produced by lotuses are large, tasty nuts.  (I'll admit that lotuses are also one of the few ornamental plants I just love and would install without a use.)

The one failed experiment related to the pond is the mushroom logs serving as a retaining wall on the banks.  While the logs work well and do help anchor the pond visually, they weren't shaded enough, so the bark dried up and flaked off, killing the fungi.  This experiment might have worked if I'd had the shrubs established on the retaining wall a year before adding the mushroom logs, but shouldn't be repeated as-is.

Mowing wetland edges

Another factor to consider if you're replicating our design is maintenance.  Without a weedeater, it would be much tougher to keep the irregular edges of the wetland in line, but, luckily, Mark is a pro at cutting exactly where I ask him to.  (This is a trait to put on your list for World's Best Permaculture Husband, in case you're still single.)

Wringer washer

Okay, this picture isn't really informative, but I love the elderberry flowers and our wringer washer together.


And, speaking of beauty, the pond is attracting lots of fascinating (and useful) life, like the damselfly above.  A frog has also taken up residence, and a large black rat snake slithered away when I approached to take photos.

Okay, I can hear you saying, but what about the primary purpose of the wetland --- dealing with greywater?  On the plus side, we no longer have a swamp in the path outside our back door, and the wetland itself doesn't seem to have any odor or to attract Lucy's attention.  However, in the last month, we've noticed a swampy smell wafting up the pipes into the kitchen sink. 

Greywater pipingOddly enough, we never had a smell problem from our much lower-tech drain-out-back, which makes me think the issue is that I didn't get the junction between the ten-foot pieces of pipe completely level.  If that area dipped down, food scraps (or just nutrient-rich water) could collect there and rot anaerobically, creating the swampy smell.

The short-term solution seems to be leaving the strainers in the sink, which blocks nearly all the smell.  In the longer-run, our first fix attempt will be to hook up at least one of the gutter outlets to each of the greywater lines (as originally planned) so heavy rains will flush out any pockets of food.  If that fails, we can always add a trap to our sink drains as Dirk suggested, which should block any smell from wafting back into the house.

That small problem aside, we wholly recommend the greywater wetland for those of you living in climates with cold winters and plenty of rain.  If you want to put the greywater to more use (and don't have freezing winters), you might instead check out mulch basins.  But, whatever you do, don't waste energy by sending greywater down the drain into a sewage system!

Our chicken waterer is an easy solution for keeping backyard hens hydrated with clean water.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Our greywater is piped into a perforated tile between blueberries and asparagus rows.
Comment by Errol Tue Jun 25 07:45:28 2013

Having some plumbing experience, I can't imagine getting away with not using a P trap. Black anerobic horror will build up even on verticle sections of pipe. My advice is just add the P trap and be done with it, the pvc ones are only a few dollars. You don't want to be breathing the gasses from that stuff, even at levels you can't smell.

The wetland is awesome, I am totally jealous. Maybe next year we will get one together. Thank you for sharing, and for conserving water.

Comment by Josef Theisen Tue Jun 25 08:58:05 2013

How were the cattail flowers? I've also read you can eat the roots and shoots.

Are the lotus nuts good? What do they taste like?

Comment by Rae Fri Dec 19 09:51:21 2014
Rae --- We didn't think much of the cattail flowers when we tried them, but haven't tried the roots and shoots. I was looking forward to trying lotus nuts, but Lucy broke the flower off before the seed head could mature. Drat! Maybe next year.
Comment by anna Fri Dec 19 13:08:45 2014

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