As utility bills continue to climb and conservation becomes more of a public issue, rain water barrels or rain water tanks are once again the focus of popular attention. What is a rain barrel and why do you need one? How can a rain barrel save you money when it comes to gardening?
Rain water barrels come in all shapes and sizes. Rain barrels can even be purchased as parts of complete systems designed to catch and retain as much rain as humanly possible; water that can then be used to water your garden.
A 55-gallon rain water barrel will water a 4-foot by 10-foot garden for a week at the very most, so if you want to get all your gardening needs met with rain water, you will want a fairly large system. But even a single rain barrel is saves more money than no rain barrel at all.
The simplest is a simple steel drum or plastic drum (the kind used for trash cans) set beneath the rainwater runoff from your roof to catch and hold water. The trouble with that kind of homemade system is that using the stored water requires scooping it out of the open barrel and toting it to the plant by hand.
That gets old fast.
Open containers of water can also become breeding grounds for mosquitos and other insects, and evaporation is another issue. Homemade rain barrels are a fine start, but the drawbacks are many.
A covered rain barrel equipped with a hose at the bottom that you can fasten to a standard garden hose or use to fill a watering can without opening the barrel itself is a much more pleasant and efficient option. Prefabricated PVC and metal rain water barrels are readily available, from sites like Homeclick (or sometimes Woot has a great deal on them), and usually come in 35, 45, 55, 75, or 100 gallon sizes.
Larger tanks of up to 242 gallons are also available. Any of these systems will conveniently trap rainwater runoff from your roof and dispense it as you need it to water your garden. Some of the larger rain water barrel systems can also be hooked up to store ‘grey water’ (water used to wash dishes and clothes), which is especially helpful in arid parts of the U.S. where water shortages are a big issue. Many such areas have periodic bans on watering with tap water, so a rain barrel can really save the day, especially if it includes grey water too.
You can also buy stacking PVC units that give you the capability of expanding your system as your garden grows and your water needs grow with it. Even a small barrel can save you an enormous amount of money over the course of a growing season. It’s easy to just turn on the tap as necessary, forgetting that 99 out of a 100 cities do charge for water use, and in some areas of the country that charge is very high indeed.
A rain barrel or a system of barrels can easily save an avid gardener hundreds of dollars in water charges over the course of a single season, paying for itself in no time. Check out some of the rain barrel options available online to get an idea of which system might work for you, and then give it a try. When the water bill comes, you’ll be happy you did!