by Sue Browning of Arlington, VA
Collecting rainwater for use during dry months is an ancient practice that has never lost its value. Today, simple water collection systems made from recycled food barrels can mean a free source of non-potable water for plants, gardens, bird baths, and many other uses. Rainwater is ideal for all plants because it doesn’t contain dissolved minerals or added chemicals.
One inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot roof yields approximately 600 gallons of water. So, harvesting just a portion of this water can impact runoff while helping conserve water from other sources such as wells and rural water associations.
The rain barrel consists of:
- A dark-colored, food-grade barrel.
- A tight-fitting, fine-screened lid.
- A 1-1/2” sump pump hose installed on the shoulder of the barrel. This hose will be used to overflow to the garden or “link” to additional barrels to increase the harvest.
- A 3/4” heavy-duty brass spigot installed near the bottom to access all collected water.
Level the ground where your barrel will sit and add crushed stone. Then lay landscape pavers or cinder blocks to elevate the barrel. The higher the barrel sits, the better your water pressure will be. You’ll probably want at least 18 inches of space between the bottom of the barrel and the ground so that you have room to put a bucket or watering can under the spigot to fill. Be sure to secure your barrel so that it can’t be accidentally knocked over.
To use your rain barrel with a downspout, you’ll need to cut a small section out of an existing downspout and install a flexible, accordion elbow using three short machine screws. The elbow will easily extend out from the downspout to the lid of the barrel. To install the elbow you’ll need a tape measure, hacksaw and screwdriver.
But, what if you need a rain barrel where there is no downspout? No problem. Rain barrels can stand alone in field or remote garden location to help reduce the amount of water being transported. Be sure to securely anchor the barrel to the ground to prevent it from blowing away when empty.
Monitor your rain barrel for overflow. If you are away from home for more than a few days, the overflow of water could damage building foundations and create other related problems.
During the winter, store the empty barrel in barn or shed, cover it, or turn upside down so it cannot collect water. A barrel can split from the pressure of ice if allowed to fill and freeze. Also, be sure to return your downspout to normal operation in winter.