False Bay garden and water in January

- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

During Cape Town's drought from our January municipal accounts in litres per person per day.

Rotheca myricoides Blue cat's whiskers
Rotheca myricoides
Blue cat's whiskers

2015 garden Guilty of wasting summer-dry water!! 338 litres. We moved in November and were heading for renovations. Pots everywhere from our Porterville garden.
2016 garden Less pots, less watering needed. 268 litres. Tapestry hedge on the verge has now filled half its space.
2017 garden Our dams dropped below 40 % (and now heading for zero!) 228 litres.

Agapanthus and Plumbago Navy blue Agapanthus inapertus
Agapanthus and Plumbago
Navy blue Agapanthus inapertus

2018 on our latest account 52 litres! In January so far, we have used 64 litres in the house. Without our rain tank, it is 48 litres of municipal tap water. 6 days off-grid using rainwater.

Citrus swallowtail and cats
Citrus swallowtail and cats

In January Capetonians are asked to limit our consumption to 87 litres (23 gallons). From February as Day Zero threatens that is cut to 50 litres (13 gallons). Our stepped water tariffs hop to punitive levels for the 'cos I'm worth it people who say I'll use what I like, I can pay!!

Exotic January flowers lavender, Californian poppy Hibiscus and heartsease
Exotic (but not watered) January flowers
lavender, Californian poppy
Hibiscus and heartsease

We all hope to avoid Day Zero queuing for 25 litres (6.6 gallons). At the medical centre yesterday. If it's yellow let it mellow. A sticker above the loo - count 9 litres off your daily 50. The tap at the basin provides a gentle spray, adequate to wet and then later to rinse your hands - there the sticker warns - another litre off your quota today. The schools in our valley range across all income levels. Parents and admin are making sure that ALL the schools stay open.

Metalasia cephalotes large shrub has voulunteered on our verge
Metalasia cephalotes
large shrub has volunteered on our verge

Three steps to surviving Cape Town's drought and avoiding Day Zero

1. Reduce demand. Close the mains water tap to your toilet cistern (harvest greywater from your shower standing in a baby bath, plastic bowl in the hand basin, and from your washing machine)

January pelargoniums
January pelargoniums

2. Reuse water. Washing machine - harvest the soapy water separately (begin with 5 litres of soapy water in the drum; add another 5 via the soap drawer when you see that your machine is drawing water). Harvest the rinse water (use 5 for the first rinse). Final rinse gets 5 litres from the rain tank. 4 kilos of washing using about 40 litres of mains water (three loads each week - sheets changed every fortnight with extra pillowcases, towels changed weekly with extra hand towels) 

Crinum moorei
Crinum moorei

3. Actively harvest rainwater in tanks, barrels, basins and buckets. If we have rain coming ... I bath to make space, and that harvested bathful goes to top up our wildlife pond, which is running on half empty.

Beached hippo at Froggy Pond hoping for winter rain
Beached hippo at Froggy Pond
hoping for winter rain

It's a mindset. Hesitant second thoughts about using water. Fresh? Or grey? Rinse or soapy or rain?? We learned that a small effort easily gets us to 87 and still in our comfort zone. We are learning step by step that - in fact the next target of 50 is also easy (but we have rain tanks for reassurance). We were walking the drought talk last June.

Ladyfinger bananas (but hers are fatter than mine!) Lemon and lime
Ladyfinger bananas (but hers are fatter than mine!)
Lemon and lime

Twenty-five litres however, halving again, takes some sacrifice. We will need to be sure to harvest all / enough greywater to keep flushing. Camping and compost loos are options (but I hope not in our home!) Washing would need to be postponed, till the next shower refreshes our tanks - while we hand wash a few items.

Lenticular cloud and sunset on the last day of 2017
Lenticular cloud and sunset
on the last day of 2017

Tom Brown reviews our dam levels every Tuesday (29th January). Farmers have made huge sacrifices for city dwellers - imagine looking at your orchards and deciding which blocks are the - Irrigation Cut By 60%. Resulting in rural unemployment and food inflation. My next target is daily use of 40 litres #40ForFood.

Best (edible!) shrub / tree for your dry dead garden is spekboom Portulacaria afra.

Best groundcover substitute for most of your sad brown lawn is Plectranthus neochilus muishondblaar.

For Through the Garden Gate with Sarah in Dorset and Wildflower Wednesday with Gail at Clay and Limestone in Tennessee.

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Pictures by Diana and Jürg Studer

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Comments

  1. I heard it in the news, that you have a severe drought. Ever since the sahara-like summer of 2003 I fear that it will happen again, and it does most years, only in a milder form, which is worse enough. I hope you get some rain in time!!!

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  2. Wow. You're living the future for us all, Diana. Water is taken too much for granted. Wishing you the very best luck.

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  3. Well, now, I can appreciate that darn plumbago more. It does grow without water. In fact, it grows rampantly everywhere.

    I think your three steps to survival are great. I hadn't read them before and I live in a drought-stricken area like you do. I do feel for the farmers, although people here in California blame them for the shortages.

    Best idea is using the bathtub water to flush the toilet. Why didn't I think of that? Have to figure out how to siphon UP. A bucket?

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    1. We scoop with a one litre yoghurt tub to a 5L watering can. Others build a shelf for a small tank above the cistern. Or a dedicated greywater system with an electric pump.

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  4. Wow, good for you! That is a big save in water. We are also encouraged to save, the last few winters have not brought us enough rain and apparently as a country we are not as prepared as we should be. Same old story.
    Amalia
    xo

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  5. Diana, there are so many beautiful flowers in your garden! My Crinum moorei has bloomed this week. Here rain is ample and spread evenly through the year we rarely see two weeks without rain.

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  6. Dare I ask when is the rainy season supposed to be? I've been reading about your drought now in our National newspapers and the ever growing closeness of Day Zero. Your regime is necessarily harsh so I admire the way you rise to the challenge and interesting to see how many plants are making do with grey water or less. The Cat's Whiskers are so very pretty - love blue plants especially. Will pray for rain!

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    1. March could bring us autumn showers. June to August should be (heavy) rain. In good years.

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  7. The situation sounds terrible Diana. I will refrain from moaning about our miserable weather for when all said and done its quite moderate. Hoping the rain falls soon in your part of the world.

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  8. Finding and properly using sufficient water must occupy your every waking moment Diana. As Helen said, you are living the future for many. Keeping everything crossed for March rain. If not sooner.

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  9. Oh my, we were just talking about your problems the other day. Hope some serious rain happens very soon. You have had to adapt so much. B x

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  10. I've been thinking of you Diana, and I'm sure you are well equipped to cope with this crisis because you have been planning it for a while.
    Sometime good comes from bad. Here in Canberra, some lasting positive changes happened from our drought, permanent water restrictions in summer now, and no complaints, no one uses as much water generally anymore, and local politicians finally stopped squabbling and built two more dams!!

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    1. Many Capetonians agree that even if / when the drought eventually lifts, we will never be able to waste our water again.

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  11. Oh Diana, I'm so sympathetic! I fear we're headed to the same future state. We've had just 1.27/inch of rain since the start of our "rain year" on October 1st. Every storm but one has fizzled out before reaching Southern California, held back by a ridge of high pressure. We get a lot of our water from the northern part of the state but, while the north has had more rain than we have, the snow pack on which we truly depend isn't on great shape. I think about conservation every single time I turn on the tap and we already collect rainwater (such as it's been) and use gray water. Every time I see someone letting water run down the drain while they soap up their hands in a restaurant washroom, I feel ready to scream.

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    1. We are battling Hector the high pressure ridge - there IS rain - but it falls far south of us in the Atlantic Ocean due to climate change.

      Sold out everywhere, new stock coming from Germany mid-February. We want to add flow restrictors to our taps. A gentle spray is all you need to wash hands. Wet hands, soap up, on again to rinse.

      Naive Capetonians don't realise our snow 'pack' melts in days.

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  12. I think Helen said that you are living our future. I am sorry and hope rains arrive to heal the earth and everyone's spirit.

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  13. Oh gosh, that IS quite a sacrifice! Good for you in reducing your water use to such a level. We've never had to go anywhere near that far. Having one summer of severe drought was enough for me to appreciate how difficult it can be. I hope you'll have plenty of rain to replenish your wells and cisterns.

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  14. I think I am quite frugal with the water I use but those figures are terrifying. We have a well so in theory can use water as we like; but I am always mindful that I will water vegetable crops and the cut flower beds but the rest of the garden needs to survive without. I'm just about to put in some rain storage tanks/barrels but wish I'd put an underground tank when we were planning the garden. My fingers are crossed for you that it will rain soon.

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    1. In Porterville we had a greywater system and raintanks. Somehow when we did the renovations here I lost that thread.

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  15. You have Hector the High Pressure Ridge, here we have The RRR--The Ridiculously Resistant Ridge. Best wishes for the end of your drought. Ours appears to have returned after taking a year off.

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    1. Returning drought is truly disheartening.

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  16. The New tariff - total household water bill is outrageous. You do well gardening with what you have in place now. I know here on the west coast like in San Diego they have similar problems so all you see are cactus for the average home garden. Kudos on how well you manage.

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    1. I think it is fair. They were going to charge a drought levy per household - but the people protested, asked to be charged by consumption. We are charged per full kilolitre used. The lowest rate up to 6 kilolitres allows a family of 4 to use 87 litres each a day (and now we are asked to use less than 50)

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  17. The way you are handling this disaster has been amazing. Everything you do either improves your situation or makes it worse. Your wisdom in planning ahead seems to be paying off.

    I went through a local drought a few years ago and it was enough for me. It seemed thoughts about water consumption never left my mind. If only I could send you some of my rain, I would.

    Jeannie @ GetMeToTheCountry.blogspot.com

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  18. Hello there Diana ... thank you for stopping by my blog ... yes the smoke bush is going to be a beauty !
    We are too spoiled here and I do feel guilty when I think I am wasting water .. we do go on very light restrictions compared to yours ... but summers are getting worse so I can see it will get tighter for us as well .. but we do have more rain and this year more snow so that helps with the ground water ... I don't envy you those regulations though girl .. that is hard.

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  19. There have been a few mentions in the last week about the water shortage in South Africa, for some it is the first time that they have heard of the problem. We had no water this morning and it made me realise how difficult life must be for you on a day to day basis. Your garden still looks good despite it all. Sarah x

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  20. Sweet Diana, I can't even fathom what it must be like. Here in Northern Ireland we never seem to be without loads of water! The idea of 50 litres, oh, gosh, maybe even 25 to live on. Good grief I drink about 5 a day by myself! Best wishes to some good rain, if i could I would send you some xxxxx

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    1. People (not me) do buy bottled water to drink. This is about cooking and washing and cleaning. Interesting times!

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  21. I'm curious, do you not have to deal with graywater disposal regulations? I mean, inspections of systems, requirements for 'deep' vs. 'shallow' disposal. In many places here there are a lot of legal restrictions on even harvesting the water from a washing machine... I understand California has recently loosened their regulations. Just wondering how SA is handling it?

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    1. We have just, been issued with new regulations, to apply to use our rainwater in the house. A non-return valve is required to prevent any accidental contamination of the mains supply (we have one installed by a licensed plumber).

      Greywater does not include sewage and we are encouraged to use any excess in the garden. Sewage disposal will continue as usual, using grey water to flush as first priority.

      What still needs regulating is charging off-grid water homes for their use of the city's sewage disposal.

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    2. That makes sense. Sadly it looks as if Capetown will be pioneering sensible responses on water use. I do hope rain comes soon and freely for you!
      I've been investigating the options myself - hence my comments. Though I really love our home here, I've long had a dream of building a small, more or less off-grid rancho. Lately I've been trying to figure the logistics, and the regulations in some respects are so discouraging - especially considering we live in a desert region!?!

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    3. Now we have an electric car, if we can ever afford it, I would like photovoltaic panels. Another layer of complications to get permission to feed excess back into the national grid to draw on later. We could, use the car battery to supply limited use in the house if we return one day to loadshedding.

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  22. P.S. I've been fascinated for years by this project: http://news.mit.edu/2013/how-to-get-fresh-water-out-of-thin-air-0830 Certainly more suited to the Atacama Desert than the Sonoran (single digit summer humidity) but wonderful work!

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    1. Water from air machines are a thing that people can buy. An expensive access to 'free' water. Viable for homes along the coast, often with clouds on the mountain - the Table Cloth.

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  23. Diana, I'm grateful to you for the education about how precious water is. Cape Town's water crisis is just now starting to make the news in the United States -- but with the sense that it's something remote from an exotic, faraway place and doesn't really have anything to do with us. At least that's true in the water-rich area where I live; maybe Americans in the arid west are paying more attention.

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  24. My heart goes out to you, Diana! I hope you get some rain soon. Is there a certain time of year you usually get some?

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    1. We share California's mediterranean climate, summer dry, rain in autumn and winter. I am watching the forecasts for a good shower Friday to Saturday. March to August is when we would normally have rain - so the next few weeks are daunting.

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  25. We are used to having very little water during our dry season, so i installed 2 plastic tanks to contain rainwater from the dry season. Still it's not enough for my plants. So when longer dry season comes, i wonder what will happen with my hoyas.

    I loave the color of that blue cat's whiskers, but i haven't seen that yet here.

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    1. Have you tried with cleanish grey water (from a bowl in the kitchen sink during the day) for your hoyas?

      Perhaps one of the Rotheca species from Asia?

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  26. Super impressed with your water saving, although I wish it wasn't by necessity. I might try your washing cycle routine to see how it goes. I'm in Melbourne, Australia so we don't currently have a problem. But you never know what the future will bring.

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    1. Have tweaked our routine. Clearing the soapy water (with some rinse) via flushing or the garden. Reusing only rinse water - 10L to the washing cycle, 5L to the first rinse. And I've discovered the Mixed programme uses less water than Cotton.

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  27. I just can't imagine living with so little water. I truly admire you.

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    1. It was the first two weeks - finding ways to do things differently - that was hard. Now 60 litres each a day seems quite comfortable. I look back and wonder how and why we used so MUCH before.

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