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Care and feeding of your septic fields

Care and feeding of your septic fields
There's no better time to make sure farm home septic fields are healthy, fed properly and operating correctly.

For septic systems to operate as they're intended, certain practices are vital. In fact, if followed, they'll extend the life of your system, says Jeffrey Till, engineer for the health department in Onondaga County, N.Y. Here's his response to commonly asked questions:

PUMP IT? Every three to five years is a good guide if the system is properly sized for your family's use.

How often should I pump my septic tank?
If you are new to septic systems, you should have a qualified professional determine the depth of solids in the tank annually. Septic tanks should be pumped when the solids reach about one third of the depth of the tank. Once you determine the length of time to that point, use it as a guide for future pumping intervals unless usage changes. Absent of this information, every three to five years is a good guide.

It all depended on system size and anticipated maximum daily flow to the system. And that's based on the number of bedrooms in a house:
* Up to 3 bedrooms: 1,000 gallon
* 4 bedrooms: 1,250 gallons
* 5 bedrooms:1,500 gallon
* Garbage disposal: add 250 gallons

Should my water softener waste go to the septic system?
Maybe yes, maybe no. A properly operating softener should be able to discharge to the septic system. However, softener backwash can degrade portions of the system. If possible, a separate system should be constructed to handle this waste. Carefully consider the effect on groundwater quality.

What about using commercially available septic tank additives?
New York State Health Department has found no evidence of a benefit of these additives to a properly sized and maintained septic system.

Have any "best advice" for septic management practices?
* Conserve water and use it wisely,
* Use low-flow plumbing fixtures.
* Spread laundry throughout the week rather than doing it all for one day.
* Minimize use of garbage grinders.
* Think about renting port-a-potties for large functions such as graduation parties or wedding receptions.
* Be careful what you flush. Avoid flushing anything that would kill off beneficial bacteria in the system. Avoid items that don't easily degrade.

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