Outdoor Dishwashing Station and Other Old-Fashioned Conveniences

Setting up a little outdoor dishwashing station is great for a potluck or other gathering. Plates can get scraped directly into the compost bin, a handy alternative to having to cart the plates indoors, scrape the food scraps off the plates and into a collection bucket, and then have to haul that collection bucket and the collected dishwater back outdoors.

I’m lucky to have this concrete slope (though it’s not visible in this photo, the ground slopes downward to the right of the dishpan), onto which I can dump the dishwater and it flows downward to the mini check-dam I created for irrigation. (Dishwater in my household uses the very minimum necessary detergent — or maybe just a bit of vinegar and baking soda — and is safe for many plants.)

Trash tips: For a larger gathering, I have buckets labeled “trash”, “compost”, “recycling”, and also (if people bring disposable silverware) “plastic silverware” (which I usually wash and reuse multiple times).

This past weekend’s gathering at my house was not large and the food was very simple. So, other than having one recycling bucket, I handled things on my own rather than ask guests to scrape their dishes into the compost bucket and such.

When hot dishwater is needed (for oily foods, plastic dishes etc.), I sometimes heat it in the solar oven. Yesterday I used the electric kettle to heat 1.75L of water which was plenty. Speaking of dishes, I love using china dishes at a potluck! How many times have you seen a china cabinet in someone’s dining room, jam-packed with generations of beautiful dishes that hardly ever (or never) get used? I inherited SIXTEEN china plates, and many matching bowls, from my grandmother, and I know she is smiling down from heaven to see them in daily use. On a practical note, china is much easier to clean than plastic plates and bowls (which seem to want to hang on to oil and grease).

It’s interesting how the permaculture design principles “make use of onsite resources” and “closely observe nature” in this case also included observing and utilizing a slope (natural dune) that had been paved with a manmade material (concrete).

I like my outdoor dishwashing station so much that I’ve set up a permanent outdoor dishwashing station next to the newly installed manual well-pump. It’s very convenient to wash dishes outdoors because the food can get scraped right into the compost, and the water can go right onto the plants — saves you from having to maneuver a bucketful of collected dishwater from your kitchen to outdoors.

At the potluck, the outdoor dishwashing station sparked nostalgic conversation about how fun and simple it is to do dishes (and laundry) on camping trips. People relax their fussy standards and conventional notions, and the stuff still gets clean! Under the stars, in the fresh air, a mundane task is transformed into a sweet time. And good exercise, stretching and bending!