Fit4Earth: From Grey Water to Garden

Fit4Earth continued their impactful service in our community by creating the third biogarden (biojardinera) in San Luis de Monteverde. An extra-muddy pat on the back was greatly deserved for their diligent work through unpredictable weather conditions.

This year’s group included 69 students from Colegio Humboldt, a German international school located in Pavas, San Jose. Excited to facilitate more fellowship with education in Costa Rica, this project filled a special spot. The service work was organized at the community center playground, where the group cleared an area and flattened out all of the land, preparing it to be a grass area for kids to play around the swings.

The second installment of the recent project was to build a biogarden in the front yard of the Puesto de Salud (Health Post). The biogarden (biojardinera) is an environmental tool that has become implemented particularly in Central America with growing popularity in Costa Rica.

So, what exactly is a biogarden?

A biogarden is a way for localized groups, as big as a school or as small as a single household, to treat their grey water. Grey water is any waste water from a household that is not from the toilet. The residual water from the showers, sinks and laundry is funneled to a garden instead of being disposed straight into the side yard or a close stream.

There may be up to a few preliminary tanks that are planted in the ground in front of the garden. The tanks have two PVC pipes running through them that allow grease and soap residue to become trapped, being retained and collecting inside the tank. This is a way to filter the water before it runs through the garden.

Large rocks are placed on the bottom of the biogarden on top of a plastic floor, then the rectangular pit is filled the rest of the way with gravel. The plants need to be placed at least fifteen centimeters underneath the surface to be able to collect the water. The plants that are used for a biogarden are species that are usually found in riverbanks and have long roots, like Coix lacryma-jobi, or Tears of San Pedro as they’re called in Costa Rica. There is no soil in the garden – just different sizes of rocks.

Much of the residual toxins and bacteria are trapped between the rocks before the water travels through the plant system. The water is slowed as it runs through the rocks and is then absorbed by the plants, as they demand more water and nutrients to continue growing. The remaining waste will be absorbed and processed by the plant tissues. Check out this video for an articulate account of how Costa Ricans put it together.

Our biogardens are located at the Escuela Alto San Luis, Finca El Nino (campus farm) and now the Puesto de Salud San Luis, pictured in order here. All three projects were contributed by the Fit4Earth program. The end product, seen top-right at our campus farm, is incredibly inconspicuous. The Tears of San Pedro will grow tall to cover most of the rocks and plastic, blending in with surrounding grass.

The new garden was proudly planted in the front yard of the community health center. Bringing this technology into fruition stimulates questions as to why sustainable practices are important on a family level. Imagine if every family used a biogarden to treat water before entering the watershed, the community’s water source could be left unpolluted.

Teaching this traditional and simple method to children from the city gives them a practical solution. Biogardens use simple and available resources, and only require minimal yard space. Becoming accountable for personal waste water will grow into a part of the ecological culture of Costa Rica, and the growing popularity will open discourse on minimizing anthropogenic harm in the watershed.

Large-scale projects have been introduced to the region, such as this project conducted in Sardinal. As the biojardinera gains steam and recognition, it will offer a practical solution to offset personal footprint caused by drainage water. This uplifting group of kids has already opened community discussion about the rare structure in the front yard of the health post. Keep your eyes out for the expansion of this idea and Fit4Earth workshops to come!

Photos and words contributed by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll with graphics by Nelly López

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