Frequently Asked Questions

It is said that reed beds require little maintenance. How true is this?

Relative to the packaged systems which have more mechanical parts, reed beds have less to go wrong, be maintained or be replaced. Assuming for example that you have adequate down hill fall on your site then there will be no need for pumps either.

A newly planted reed bed however should be frequently weeded for the first two years, so that the weeds do not out compete with the reed plants. There will be little growth in winter, so the roots of the reed plants will only be fully developed by the third year. Once established the reeds will block light to other unwanted plants.

Nettles, Couch or Scutch grass may encroach on the bed in the long term. We suggest building a wide weed-free footpath round the reed bed to help prevent this problem.

The footpath is necessary for reasonably regular inspections. Watch out for any other invasive weed from entering the bed.

Remember that any seed of any plant getting into the bed is probably going to sprout very easily on the surface of your reed bed, simply because liquid fertilizer is being continuously supplied. Ash trees for example will very quickly sprout and grow on the wet sandy surface. We need to allow only a mono culture of reeds or yellow flag Iris plants to grow in the reed bed.

We suggest that 4 to 6 hours or more be spent in January or February every year cutting and removing the reed straw with a hedge clippers. Use gloves when doing this job. Weeds and grass as well should be pulled out. Any small trees that have started to grow in the reed bed must be removed before they become too large to remove. Operating a domestic reed bed is a job for gardeners.

Will Herr Ltd organise the building of domestic reed beds?

No. Our small business does not carry out the full on site installation contract. The civil works on site should be done by you or your local builder. The client needs to measure the area for the reed beds and the down hill fall on the site himself. Herr Ltd will design a system based on your report to us of the vertical existing fall on the site and the available area of the site.

The client will need to engage a local builder, to do the digging, pipe laying, loading gravel, back filling and any block work for composting chambers or grease traps. It is our experience, that people who are involved in the building of their own reed bed sewage treatment system are more likely to maintain them.

When do reed beds not work?

As a general rule reed beds don’t work whenever they were inadequately designed or whenever solids from the septic tank or the previous stage clog up the reed bed that follows.

People who for example do not inspect or empty their septic tanks often enough will allow the kitchen and toilet solids to eventually clog up the reed bed. Please inspect the solids in the last chamber of the septic water “appears” to be clear and that as little suspended solids as possible goes to the reed bed.

There is also the problem that some people believe that they can simply dig a hole, fill it with gravel and plant reeds. Such an approach may well clean up some of the pollution but will probably not meet minimal local authority treatment standards for discharge. These people are still likely to have a pollution problem. Herr Ltd should be contacted to provide the information on the more proven ways to build a reed bed.

Do Local Authorities approve of reed beds?

The Irish EPA Code of Practice – Wastewater Treatment for single Houses should be referred to as evidence of the acceptability of reed bed systems for Irish conditions. If required Herr Ltd will provide a references of this documentation for you during the planning stage.

How clean will the final discharge be?

While septic tanks and vertical flow reed beds will make a very significant impact in reducing the level of water pollution, additional stages such as humus tanks, horizontal flow beds and willow wetlands will further polish the quality of the treated water. For example harmful bacteria will be reduced further by maximising the time that effluent is exposed to oxygen, or exposed to aerobic and sunlight conditions in a surface wetland or pond.

Herr Ltd always includes willow tree wetlands as the final stage of our reed bed treatment system designs. As the trees grow they will increasingly absorb the water from their roots and leave less water to go on to the river. In winter the ground surface around these trees may remain very wet but the aerobic conditions continue to reduce and remove the harmful bacteria.