Facebook  YouTube

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PST

Harvesting Rainwater

Harvesting Rainwater

Harvesting Rainwater

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.

Harvesting Rainwater

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.

Harvesting Rainwater

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.

Harvesting Rainwater

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.

Harvesting Rainwater

Whether you buy a ready-made rain barrel or construct your own, here are some very important things to keep in mind:

  • Select a rigid, dark colored plastic barrel that you KNOW is a food-grade container designed to hold liquids. Non-light emitting food-grade barrels, such as the ones used for shipping pickles or olives are UV tolerant and won’t break down in sunlight or allow algae to grow in the collected water. Steel barrels are heavy, prone to rust and may have been used to transport chemical or petroleum products. Wood barrels, while decorative, will eventually rot and leak.
  • To keep mosquitoes from breeding in standing water and prevent the spread of West Nile Virus, use a tight lid with a fine screen or steel netting on your barrel. Replace every other year or so.
  • Check all fittings periodically to make sure they are securely attached. Tight fittings will keep out debris, mosquitoes, and guard against drowning.
  • NEVER use a trash can to collect rain water. Trash cans are designed to hold dry waste only, not liquids. Filling a trash can with rain water may cause it to warp or split. More important, a trash can full of water poses a drowning hazard because the lid can easily be removed by a child or animal.
  • Your barrel must have a solid footing. A 60 gallon rain barrel weighs 500 pounds when full, so it’s very important to take the proper steps to prevent tipping.
  • Pick a barrel with threaded compression fittings that tighten without the need for sealants. Silicone and other sealants will eventually break down causing your barrel to drain.
  • Be sure that your rain barrel is in compliance with local code, if any.

Harvesting Rainwater

There are many credible sources for getting more information and obtaining supplies. Here are a few to get you started:

Accokeek Foundation – www.accokeekfoundation.org

Aquabarrel – www.aquabarrel.com

Clean Virginia Waterways – www.longwood.edu/CLEANVA/RainBarrelHome.html

Eagle Peak Containers – www.eaglepeakcontainers.com

Gardner’s Supply Company – www.gardeners.com

Rain Saver Rain Barrel – www.sprucecreekrainsaver.com

Harvesting Rainwater

Thanks to my friends at the Accokeek Foundation for the use of photographs and invaluable information on building rain barrels.

The Accokeek Foundation, founded in 1957, stewards 200 acres of Piscataway National Park in Accokeek, Maryland. It runs the National Colonial Farm, a living history museum which depicts a Maryland middle-class family farm on the eve of the American Revolution. Through the Accokeek’s heritage breed livestock and seed saving programs, nearly extinct heirloom crops and animals are preserved for future generations. The Foundation also manages a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. The organic Ecosystem Farm emphasizes the future of agriculture as farmers learn the tools of an old/new trade and practice sustainable use of natural resources.

To calculate potential rain harvest:
A. Calculate square footage of roof area: length x width.
B. Multiply the square footage by 600.
C. Divide by 1000.
D. Multiply by inches of rainfall.

A. 25’ x 40’ roof = 1,000 square foot area
B. 1,000 x 600 = 600,000
C. 600,000 / 1,000 = 600
D. 600 x 1 inch of rain = 600 gallons

Harvesting Rainwater

Spotlight On: Book Reviews

Woodstove Cookery at Home on the Range

An Illustrated Guide To The Wood Fired Cookstove

Illustrated guide to the wood stove and it’s accoutrements.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 3

What goes with the sale? What does not? Do not assume the irrigation pipe and portable hen houses are selling. Find out if they go with the deal, and in writing.

Art of Working Horses

Lynn Miller’s New Book: Art of Working Horses

Art of Working Horses, by Lynn R. Miller, follows on the heels of his other eight Work Horse Library titles. This book tells the inside story of how people today find success working horses and mules in harness, whether it be on farm fields, in the woods, or on the road. Over 500 photos and illustrations accompany an anecdote-rich text which makes a case for the future of true horsepower.

Work Horse Handbook

The Work Horse Handbook

The decision to depend on horses or mules in harness for farm work, logging, or highway work is an important one and should not be taken lightly. Aside from romantic notions of involvement in a picturesque scene, most of the considerations are serious.

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing

Setting Up A Walking Plow

Here is a peek into the pages of Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing, written by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 5

You might think that your new farm is fenced all wrong, or that a certain tree is in the wrong place, or that a wet area would be better drained, or that this gully would make a good pond site, or that a depression in the road should be filled, or that the old sheds should all come down right away. Well maybe you’re right on all counts. But maybe, you’re wrong.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

Book Review Butchering

Two New Butchering Volumes

Danforth’s BUTCHERING is an unqualified MASTERPIECE! One which actually gives me hope for the furtherance of human kind and the ripening of good farming everywhere because, in no small part, of this young author’s sensitive comprehension of the modern disconnect with food, feeding ourselves, and farming.

Livestock Guardians

Introducing Your Guard Dog To New Livestock And Other Dogs

When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.

McCormick-Deering No 7 Mower Manual in English & French

McCormick-Deering No. 7 Mower Manual in English & French

Instructions for Setting Up and Operating the McCORMICK-DEERING No. 7 VERTICAL LIFT TWO-HORSE MOWERS — Instructions pour le Montage et le Fonctionnement des FAUCHEUSES A DEUX CHEVAUX McCORMICK-DEERING No. 7 À RELEVAGE VERTICAL

Build Your Own Earth Oven

An Introduction To Cob

Mixed with sand, water, and straw, a clayey-subsoil will dry into a very hard and durable material; indeed, it was the first, natural “concrete”. In the Americas, we call it “adobe”, which is originally from the Arabic “al-toba”, meaning “the brick.” Invading Moors brought the word to Spain from North Africa, where an ancient mud building tradition continues today.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 2

How do you learn the true status of that farm with the “for sale” sign? Here are some important pieces of information for you to learn about a given selling farm. The answers will most probably tell you how serious the seller is.


Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

Why Farm

Farming For Art’s Sake: Farming As An Artform

Farming as a vocation is more of a way of living than of making a living. Farming at its best is an Art, at its worst it is an industry. Farming can be an Art because it allows at every juncture for the farmer to create form from his or her vision.

Retrofitting a Fireplace with a Woodstove

How to Retrofit a Fireplace with a Woodstove

Because the venting requirements for a wood stove are different than for a fireplace you need to retrofit a stainless steel chimney liner. A liner provides the draft necessary to ensure that the stove will operate safely and efficiently.

Honoring Our Teachers

Honoring Our Teachers

from issue:

I believe that there exist many great practicing teachers, some of who deliberately set out to become one and others who may have never graduated from college but are none-the-less excellent and capable teachers. I would hazard a guess that many readers of Small Farmer’s Journal know more than one teacher who falls within this latter category. My grandfather, and artist and author Eric Sloane, were two such teachers.

Haying With Horses

Haying With Horses

If the reader is considering the construction of a barn we encourage you to give more than passing thought to allowing the structure of the gable to be open enough to accommodate the hanging of a trolley track. It is difficult or impossible to retrofit a truss-built barn, which may have many supports crisscrossing the inside gable, to receive hay jags. At least allowing for the option in a new construction design will leave the option for loose hay systems in the future.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT