Considering what our recent rain has done to the plans I made for almost every other aspect of my life, it only seemed appropriate to scrap what I’d started to assemble for my next blog and go in a totally different direction- rain barrels.
Within your garden, I encourage you to figure out how to use every input and output to it’s fullest, wasting as little as possible. Obviously growing your own food is a great way to use your resources more fully; recycling your food scraps in various ways to make compost for your garden is another, and another yet, is to see how long you can maintain your garden without turning on the spigot.
Making a rain barrel (or making several) is easy, and the real fun happens when you get to put them to use, watering your garden with harvested water, rather than water that you have to pay for. Decrease your expenditures, and increase your self-sufficiency.
As usual, try to minimize making purchases of new materials for your project. Keep your eyes peeled for food-grade plastic barrels. They usually come in blue or white. Enclosed barrels, or barrels with tops are good for a lot of reasons, but if you only have access to those without tops, you can make due. There are several different styles of barrels that you may come upon, so rather than making a how-to article here, I’m going to make a couple of suggestions which you might consider when assembling your rain barrel water catchment system.
• Think functionally- One downspout or another may seem like the best location appearance-wise, but you should weigh that against how close you can get to your garden. You’ll need to run hose to cover the distance between.
• What about a filter? Keeping leaves and other debris out of your rain barrel will do you well in the long-run. Depending on the materials you use, you may be able to discourage a mosquito breeding ground as well. A simple piece of screen-door patch will probably work great.
• Your barrel will probably fill to capacity at some point. Consider a bypass system or an over-flow for your barrel so that any excess runoff can be dealt with in an intentional way.
• Consider more than one barrel. If you have a great source for barrels, or higher water needs, consider hooking barrels up to each other, so that when one fills, it will spill into the next, and so on.
• Other water reclamation- Depending on your situation, you may consider harvesting water from your sump pump for your barrels. Obviously it depends on the condition of your basement or cellar, and your comfort level, but it something to think about.
• Don’t pay too much- I expect that the average person should have a finished, installed rain barrel for less than $50. With a little scrounging and persistence, your total expenses may come in well under that. I see finished units for $75 to $100 and up from there, and that’s too much in my opinion. Put a little elbow grease in, and you’ll probably be more enthusiastic to keep your barrel in service. It’ll be something you made, not something you ran out and bought.
I can already guess that I’ll be receiving emails and comments about possible health risks associated with the use of rain barrels due to commonly used roofing materials, etc. This is a choice that each reader should make for themselves, however, once I consider what’s already in our rainwater, in our tap water, in the air we breathe, and what animals may roam in or near our gardens, the fact that harvested water may not be as pure as the driven snow is not that big of a deal. Conventionally raised produce has likely been sprayed with more offensive materials.
In closing, do your homework. Spend some time on the internet answering every question you can think of before you start your project. After that, spread your knowledge with people you know and build as many rain barrels in your community as you can this season. Start here...
(Mike Ryan is a member of Support for Local Urban Gardeners (SLUG) — The Lawrence-based volunteer group is a great way to pick up gardening skills. It’s the busy time of year, so they’re looking for more. A great way to learn is to help out! Email: slug [at] lawrence [dot] com)