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Can You Water A Vegetable Garden With Reclaimed Water?

Had a few questions along the lines of…can you water a vegetable garden with reclaimed water?

Or a similar question we see at Food Grower’s Hub is can you use recycled water on a vegetable garden?

And the answer to both questions is yes.

But when preparing the vegetables for consumption, try to avoid using reclaimed water. Instead wash them thoroughly with drinking water if possible.

Growing up on a farm (my parents had vineyards) we used irrigation water on our vegetable gardens. It wasn’t reclaimed or recycled.

But whether it was or not, when preparing vegetables for consumption, make sure you wash them thoroughly. We had a couple of huge tanks to collect rainwater which was filtered before we used it, washing our produce with drinking water was common.

So, Can You Water A Vegetable Garden With Reclaimed Water?

garden bed growing above reclaimed water
A garden bed growing above reclaimed water

Reclaimed water is defined as wastewater that has been processed to the point where it can be used for irrigation, washing cars, or other uses.

The process of reclaiming water is necessary because it reduces the amount of water that needs to be treated and provides a source of freshwater for use in specific areas.

Reclaimed water is not suitable for drinking or cooking with because it contains high levels of chemicals and bacteria. It can be used for other purposes such as watering plants and lawns, but it’s recommended to be careful when using it on vegetable gardens.

Why? Because reclaimed water can contain high levels of salt which will damage the vegetables.

Saltwater can also kill off beneficial bacteria found in soil which are vital to healthy plant growth. Washing your produce with fresh water is always best.

If you don’t have access to fresh water, then you should still wash your vegetables thoroughly. But remember, you shouldn’t drink any reclaimed water unless it’s specifically being used for irrigation.

How To Use Reclaimed Water On Your Vegetable Garden

reclaimed water on vegetables
Avoid pouring reclaimed water directly on vegetables

You can use reclaimed water for gardening without harming either yourself or your crops but you must be diligent and careful in its use.

It’s okay to use reclaimed water on vegetables, but only if it is treated properly first. We’ll look at how to use reclaimed water safely on vegetable gardens later in this article.

What does “treated” mean? Well, this may go off into a place you maybe didn’t want to go but let’s go there anyway.

Treated means that the water has been cleaned so that it won’t harm people or animals who consume it.

For example, there are some places where they recycle sewage into drinking water. This isn’t necessarily safe for humans to drink.

Instead, they filter out all of the harmful substances like viruses and bacteria. They do this by adding chlorine to the water.

This kills most of the germs and makes the water more palatable. However, the same thing doesn’t apply to reclaimed water.

When reusing wastewater, it’s important to know what the original contaminants were. If they were animal waste, then you need to add extra nutrients to ensure that the plants get enough nutrition.

And if they were human waste, then you need a different kind of fertilizer.

If the wastewater came from a city, then it may already have fertilizers added to it. In these cases, you just need to figure out how much of those fertilizers to use.

If it comes from a farm, then you’ll want to use manure instead of chemical fertilizers.

Recycling wastewater is great for the environment, but it’s important to understand how to handle it correctly.

So, What About My Veggie Garden?

distributing water
Avoid using sprinklers when distributing reclaimed water

In the spirit of this article, I wanted to basically answer the question can you water a vegetable garden with reclaimed water without going to far “into the weeds.

The answer is yes and no or, it depends. Depends on what? That’s where writing an article trying to answer this question as a “one size fits all all” answer is impossible.

The best way to tackle a question like this is to say it depends in what part of the world you live. In the United States, it will depend in what state you are.

For example, I’m in Florida and its Environmental protection department says that reclaimed water should not be applied directly to the surface of vegetables.

In fact, this applies to other crops considered edible. In fact, it says avoid applying to the surface of vegetables that are not “peeled, cooked or processed thermally”.

So don’t be using a sprinkler system on your vegetable garden using reclaimed water.

Instead, opt for indirect methods such as watering along furrow lines.

As a youngster, I watched my parents always create furrows for irrigation purposes. They would let the water travel down these furrows to the end of the row and create a bank at the end so the water would build up.

Then, before the bank burst, they would move the hose to the next furrow.

Yes it took some time but it was part of the maintenance of a vegetable garden,

As a kid, this was fun for me, especially on a hot day and there were plenty of those where I grew up. 

But the rule of thumb when using reclaimed water, or any water for that matter on vegetable gardens, always wash them before eating them. 

Conclusion: What’s The Verdict?

irrigate with reclaimed water
Consider using furrows to irrigate with reclaimed water

Again, assess your garden. Assess the level of reclaimed water you have access to. Speak to experts in your area if you are simply not sure whether to use reclaimed water on your vegetable garden.

Here’s three things to remember about the use of reclaimed water. They are:

1) Avoid applying reclaimed water directly onto vegetables.

2) Avoid adding too many chemicals to the reclaimed water.

3) Wash vegetables before consuming them.

So, one final time in summarizing, don’t use reclaimed water on the surface of the vegetables, especially those you can’t peel, cook or process thermally. Always wash your vegetables thoroughly before you prepare to eat them. That’s regardless of reclaimed water or other types of water. And consider using the furrow method of irrigation if you are able to.

I hope this article helped you better understand reclaimed water and how to use it safely.

JD Dean

Growing up on a farm gave me and my family some huge advantages. One of them was learning to grow our own food. Apart from acres and acres of crops, we had a magnificent fruit and vegetable garden plus, we canned our own food. I’m hoping to pass on some of this expertise and experience to you.

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