Rain Barrels 101

Rain barrels are one of the easiest sustainable living projects to implement.  With about 5 minutes of set up, you’ve provided yourself a constant supply of free water.  With a bit more investment of time and money, you can even set up a nifty drip irrigation system, feeding water directly to your gardens.  We’ve seen it done–unfortunately, our garden is uphill from our house so we haven’t made that happen on our own property yet.  Anyway, there are a variety of rain barrels on the market.  We sell only one kind, Jack’s Rain Barrel.

We like this one because it is made out of a reclaimed food barrel, previously filled with olives or pickles or something along those lines.  So, no additional plastic created, and lots of plastic diverted from the landfill.   It’s easy to install–simply lop off your gutter at the appropriate height and set on a cinder block (or other raised item that allows you access to the spigot).  That long black tube hanging off is important–that’s your overflow tube.  Make sure you direct that tube somewhere away from your foundation (that’s what the greenish thing on the ground is for in the picture on the right.)  Rain barrels will collect an astonishing amount of water in very little time.  A half-inch rainfall will easily fill this 55 gallon barrel.  If you want to calculate exactly how much you could collect on your own roof, the general rule of thumb is during a 1 inch rainfall, you can get 1/2 gallon per square foot of roof.  We have never managed to empty our rain barrel, no matter how much we water the garden and the chickens and rinse muddy hands and feet.  Of course, we live in New England, where drought is not often an issue.  In more arid climates, multiple rain barrels would be a wise decision.  Or consider rainwater harvesting, which is a more in depth process that is a phenomenal solution for capturing, diverting, and storing water, especially effective in dry areas or areas with so much water it is impacting your residence.  Brad Lancaster is an inspiring researcher, author and practitioner of rainwater harvesting, and his website has tons of resources as well as his books.  Texas A & M has also done a lot of work on the practice.

Whether you’re on a well or city water, in a dry climate or wet one, a gardener of an acre or just a couple pots, rain barrels make sense.  Fresh water is a renewable resource, but not an infinite one.  If we can capture just a bit of the rain that falls naturally and use it directly where we need it, with no energy or filtering cost, why wouldn’t we?

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