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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


Install and Use a Rain Barrel

R. L. Rhodes
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Watering your lawn and garden can account for up to 40 percent of your total household water use. Collected rainwater can be a great resource for watering gardens and can even be used for non-potable applications such as flushing toilets. It’s also a great resource for keeping your garden green during water restrictions and droughts.

A rain barrel is a system that collects and stores rainwater from your roof that would otherwise be lost to runoff and diverted to storm drains and streams. Because all the water collected and used is free, installing a rain barrel can save you money by decreasing your water bills. Additionally, a rain barrel can decrease your home’s impact on the environment. By capturing rain that falls on the roof, a rain barrel keeps some storm water out of the sewer system. This is a priority for many municipalities, which have antiquated, combined sewer-storm water systems that overflow when it rains. Contaminated storm-water run-off can pollute streams, lakes and rivers. In addition, rainwater doesn’t have the chemicals often contained in tap water, such as fluoride or chlorine, and is therefore better for plants.

Simple and inexpensive to construct, rain barrels come in a variety of styles. Most are made of food-grade plastic and hold about 55 gallons of water, but larger or smaller models are also available. Most rain barrels come with specific instructions, but the following are the main steps you should expect when installing one:

1. Scout around your house for the best location for your rain barrel. Choose an area with level ground. If you’re attaching a soaker hose or garden hose, the barrel should be close to the area to be watered. Check with your local neighborhood organization and/or municipality to see if they have any bylaws governing the use of rain barrels.

2. Select a style and color of barrel that works well with your house. Taking advantage of the benefits of a rain barrel doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice on aesthetics. Rain barrel manufacturers offer a vast array of shapes, styles and colors to suit most water storage needs. Depending on the material, rain barrels can be decorated to compliment the surrounding landscape.

3. Place concrete blocks, bricks, or pavers to create an elevated stand 1 to 2 feet from the ground. This allows easy access to a spigot near the bottom of the barrel so you can attach a hose or fill a watering can.

4. Install the spigot, overflow valve, washers and other hardware according to instructions. A drill and pipe tape may be required for this step.

5. Some rain barrels come with a downspout diverter kit, but this may be purchased separately. The diverter attaches to a downspout and channels rainwater to the barrel through a hose. When the barrel is full, water will back up into the diverter, which sends it to the downspout.

6. If no downspout diverter is installed, an overflow pipe that distributes storm-water away from the house should be. Also, the downspout is modified with an elbow piece for directing rainwater into the barrel. It’s possible to connect two or three barrels to increase capacity.

7. Cover the top of the barrel with a lid or screen to keep leaves and other debris from falling into the barrel. An enclosed top also reduces the chances of mosquito infestation. Finally, here are some tips for getting the most out of your rain barrel:

  • For safety, and to minimize intrusion by animals or breeding of mosquitoes, make sure that the collection system has a cover that adequately encloses the unit.
  • Keep the cutters and downspout on your roof clean and free of detritus like leaves. This will ensure that no trash collects in your rain barrel.
  • Periodically flush debris from the container bottom.
  • Inspect your system after a heavy rain and at the end of the rainy season for leaks, overflows or water in inappropriate areas.
  • Keep an eye out for overflow. An additional collection system or overflow container may be needed.

Once you’ve installed your rain barrel, sit back and wait for rain. Take comfort in knowing that you are protecting the environment by reducing storm-water runoff and taking advantage of a natural source of water for your garden. Using a rain barrel for rainwater harvesting is not only a popular green alternative to treated water, but also a great way to save money while protecting the environment.

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