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My old house "systems"

 
Bill Erickson
garden master
Posts: 760
Location: Northwest Montana from Zone 3a to 4b (multiple properties)
65
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In my welcome post to Feidhlim I alluded to my current grey and black water uses. I live in a 100+ year old farmhouse that came equipped with a septic tank (about 500 gallons in size), an underground grey water cistern setup and the washing machine outlet to the yard (all of them the greenest spots in the yard). Over the past 15 years that we have lived in this place I've had to replumb the grey water line form old clay pipe that was broken and filled with lilac and chokecherry roots and this past year I actually had to have the septic pumped.

The underground grey water cistern setup (actually two cisterns side by side) is about 30 feet off the south end of the house and gathers water from the bath tub and the kitchen sink. When I was doing the replumb from the house, I found that the cisterns are under about 18 inches of soil, around 8 foot deep and filled halfway with 1 inch round gravel. The really interesting piece for me was the mycellium running rampant all over inside of them (the first one is plumbed to overflow to the second one). Apparently the mycellium is digesting the biologicals and such that flow out from the house.

The septic is next to the house and has a convoluted leach field associated with it. This past summer when I had it pumped, it was seriously full of sludgy solids, and the guy told me it looks really good, but I probably should have it pumped a bit more often - which I'm figuring at 10 years max, but I have wiggle room there. The various out properties we have I am thinking of going with the traditional outhouse setup, but also the ideas of recapturing the waste into a humanure setup has been percolating for a long time. We shall see, but the black water setup at the house is pretty solid and the other methods get by the need for the newer requirements that have come down from the state water quality folks.

The last one is the drain from the washing machine going out into the yard. Apparently it has been doing that for the better part of 50 years from what some of my neighbors tell me - having been children in the respective houses they live in now (the farm was close to town and has been mostly converted into houses on 1-2 acres a very long time ago). The Bride and I have wrapped this pipe up with heat tape for the winter months, especially after the first winter we were here and it froze solid during one of our usual -30F dips in January/February that first winter. With the heat tape, the effluent comes out the end of the pipe and soaks into the ground there. In the summer, the only part of the yard that is greener is that over the leach field.

So, these systems have worked well for a long time. I'd really like to use some of the plant bed systems you have talked about in future grey water systems, just to see how they function in this colder climate, but I also like stuff that calls to my lazy side as well. It has been a while since I've given much thought to a lot of this stuff, so what do you think of the division of water treatment I'm currently living with. Any suggestions or cautions to be aware of here?
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Posts: 158
Location: Ireland
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Hi Bill, thanks for the questions. I'm going to throw back some general comments and thoughts, so if I've missed anything please let me know.

it sounds as if the grey water situation in the US is quite different to here in Ireland. Here we're not meant to go to a single point discharge of grey water due to the risk of groundwater pollution. Everything is meant to go to a single septic tank or mechanical treatment system before percolation. That said, with that combination of grey and black together, we're also meant to desludge our tanks on an annual basis. I've seen black-fed tanks last 20 years without the need for desludging, but I do believe that if grey and black go in together then the sludge levels rise a lot quicker.

Your black water system sounds as if it's working ok at present. Check it annually (the method is in my book and also on page 97 in the EPA Code of Practice available to download for free from www.wetlandsystems.ie/watertips.html) to keep track of the sludge depth. If you don't, then you risk the sludge being drawn into the outlet pipe and rapidly clogging your percolation area.

In terms of grey water additions to the soil - the broader the area of application, the greater the filtration provided by the soil. The Oasis Design systems seem to work well over there.

If your system has been working for a long time and there is no groundwater pollution issue, then it's tempting to leave well along if you can. Maybe plant some comfrey around the nice lush areas if you want to recapture nutrients for use around edibles; or use fruit or nut trees to make good use of the irrigation water. Note that willows and other quick growing trees might clog your pipes with roots completely, so as tempting as willow biomass firewood sounds, it may be best to give that a miss. That said, if you plant willows well down-gradient of the garden then you'll mop up any residual nutrients that want to migrate away into the wider catchment.

Just a few thoughts. Let me know how you get on.
 
Bill Erickson
garden master
Posts: 760
Location: Northwest Montana from Zone 3a to 4b (multiple properties)
65
books chicken forest garden hugelkultur hunting wofati
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Feidhlim, thanks for the comments and thoughts. I've got your book on my list of "to get as soon as possible" books so I can implement your suggested septic tank check. I am worried that this past summer I may have gotten some sludge into my percolation area - something to check for anyway.

You make good points about the grey water outflow area, which hasn't been any kind of contamination to my drinking supply. I have checked it throughout the years and it is still good clean water that varies in mineralization throughout the year, but is otherwise clean. I do like the idea of a living filter arrangement, and I'm planning on incorporating that into my future builds.

Thanks for the time you took here and to provide your insight.
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Posts: 158
Location: Ireland
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Happy Digging Bill, it's been a pleasure answering the questions. Septic Tank Options And Alternatives is available in several e-reader formats from Permanent Publications or in print from my website. (but feel free to just email me if you find that you have a question)

 
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