Posted on 30 December 2008 by

Growing with Rain Barrels

By Cindy Naas

I think that gardeners have a special responsibility to take care of the land we work on, and finding new ways to preserve resources is one way to care for our earth.

Using an old idea, a rain barrel, is one new way to preserve the local water supply and grow a healthier garden.

Many gardeners find that their plants thrive when watered with the collected rain water which is free of chlorine and unfluoridated.

There are several approaches to saving rain water. You can buy a large rain barrel at many retailers both online and in garden centers.

These have the advantage of being easy to use- simply take home and run a drainpipe directly into the reservoir. However, many rain barrels can be expensive, and some aren’t strongly made and so might break in a few years’ time.

There is also the option of building one’s own rain barrel. My own rain barrels are homemade. An organization I once worked for built and sold rain barrels as part of an ongoing water management program, and the homemade barrels I bought years ago are in perfect shape, ready to keep on watering my gardens for years to come.

My barrels were built from 50 gallon vinegar barrels which were destined for the landfill. We salvaged them from the company using them, retrofitted them with the valves found at Lee Valley Tools, and each barrel was then painted to blend into the garden. My sons then decorated them with paintings of flowers and hummingbirds- quite beautiful.

It’s fairly easy to find the fittings for building a rain barrel, and finding a suitable container for the water reservoir can be as easy as contacting a local food producer and asking for an industrial-size food-grade barrel. If you choose this route, make sure that your barrel was never used for chemicals, only for food products. The pipe which leads from your downspout to the rain barrel can be found at any big box home center such as Home Depot.

I have two barrels but could really use four. Mine are joined with a coupler so that when one barrel fills, the overflow goes directly into the second barrel. The second barrel’s overflow goes into my strawberry patch. It’s important to plan where the overflow from a barrel will go.

Make sure yours doesn’t overflow near the foundation of your home, or you could have water damage from letting water pool around the foundation.

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