Did you know just ¼ inch of rain coming off of a 20 by 20 foot Rainwater roof will fill a 60-gallon barrel? And that those 60 gallons will cover up to 100 square feet with an inch of water? Rain water storage barrels are an awesome way to water your garden.
How Much Rain Water Can You Collect?
Here is a basic formula for calculating how much water is running off of your roof:
Roof (square feet) x Average Yearly Rainfall (ft)
x 7.48 gal/foot cubed
= Maximum Runoff (gallons)
This is roughly 600 gallons of water per inch of rain falling on 1,000 square feet of surface. Just be aware that some states have restrictions for rainwater harvesting!1)http://www.harvesth2o.com/statues_regulations.shtml
The Price of Water
Some pundits claim, and perhaps rightly, that the most sought after resource in the future will be fresh water. Certainly, if you’re not on well water, then it’s probable that you’re paying for water.
Do you know how much you’re paying for tap water? Whether it’s $150 per 100 gallons as in Santa Fe, or $85 in Atlanta2)http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/business/energy-environment/water-pricing-in-two-thirsty-cities.html?_r=0, rates are on the rise. 2014 stats tell us that, “For families using 150 gallons and 50 gallons per person per day, average water prices rose 6 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively.”3)http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/world/price-of-water-2015-up-6-percent-in-30-major-u-s-cities-41-percent-rise-since-2010/
Certainly, bottled water is a lot more expensive per gallon than gasoline. Those of you out west have likely heard the saying:
“Whiskey’s for drinkin’. Water’s for fightin’.”
We depend on our well and enjoy the advantages of pumping our own “chemical-free” water. But electricity does factor into the cost of getting it out of the ground. Power outages are rare, thankfully, but do happen. And while we’re not grid free (yet), it makes sense to capture at least some of the four feet of rain per year and use it on our plantings.
After over 25 years our well pump finally gave out, and then it happened twice in about a year. You can read about that here and also what water storage containers we used to make do during that outage.
Rain Chains for Fun, Form and Function
We love our rainchains! It’s one of the most popular posts and videos every time we share it, so here’s one of those videos followed by the most popular rain chains you can find on Amazon.
This is one of our rain chains flowing into our wood rain water storage barrel that we bought for $50 from a local vineyard.
Rain Water Storage Barrels
There are a host of methods on how to divert rainwater for home gardener use. Here are some we’ve used successfully. They’re based on a gravity-fed/soaker hose model, which you can read more about here.
Buy Wooden Rain Water Storage Barrels
We are lucky to have local wineries that sell these used casks – wine barrels, so we got a good price and saved on shipping by picking them up ourselves. With a little ingenuity we rigged it up with a hose bib and a soaker to service the foundation plantings. You can of course buy imitation versions that cost less than the authentic casks, still look nice for longer and are already equipped to be used for rain barrels.
You can also find wooden barrels on Amazon. Just search wooden barrels and it will pull up real wooden wine and whiskey barrels as well as look-alike versions.
Other styles we’ve deployed use a store-bought rain barrel kit like this one on Amazon, with a regular hose and soaker hose,like this setup in our garden.
If you want to go all out with “the look”, you might go for something like this barrel hand pump.
Rain Barrels for Water Storage and Gardens
For non-potable water storage, we’re using rain barrels for rain harvesting.
For DIY rain barrels, you can buy cheap 55 gallon drums or modify, used wine/beer casks. If there’s a winery in your area you can likely get a real wooden wine barrel for a discounted price. We got some from a local winery for $50 each, then retrofitted them with a spigot.
Where to Find 55 gallon drums?
This is the question we get all the time. You can sometimes buy cheap 55 gallon drums on Craig’s List. Gardens All Facebook community folks say they buy them for $5 from Pepsi, so if you have any of these locally, you can check there first. Similarly, other food manufacturers and wholesalers may have these, so just check around.
Of course you can buy rain barrels and new 55 gallon drum barrels locally, such as at Home Depot and Lowe’s Home Improvement stores. Currently, our Sam’s Club is selling them for the lowest prices we’ve seen for new ones. But, if you don’t have access to any of these, you can also get rain barrels on Amazon, in just about any style to suit you.
The rain barrels with the two spigots would be more convenient as well. You can buy them that way or retrofit your own.
You can get kits to connect your rain barrels to a soaker hose system directly for your garden.
We have rain barrels connected to soaker hoses in our upper garden and it’s working fine, but it can take some tweaking in rain barrel elevation ratio for getting the optimal flow rate.
But, back to adapting 55 gallon drums for water storage, (those blue ones and food grade only), you might also need a siphon pump.
Build your own or buy, rain barrels are a great way to save water for gardening, and save on water bills if you’re on city water, especially in drier climates.
Rain barrel storage systems can be as simple as a garbage can, or a 50 gallon drum barrel that’s plain or painted up artistically. Or, you can splurge on some cool wine barrel style rain barrels.
We got our real wood wine barrels from a nearby winery. So if you have one in your area, give them a call. We paid $50 each for ours which is still a lot less than online, though still more than a homemade garbage can version, but unquestionably more aesthetically pleasing if it’s going to be visible.
What you decide depends on your budget and tastes, but either way you go, rain barrels for watering, are a smart idea. We have some rigged with a soaker hose for our upper garden and plan to install more.
Traditionally, harvesting rain utilizing rain barrels and large rainwater cisterns, was more often the norm. In countries like India, with long periods of drought followed by monsoon season, large water cisterns are everyday rooftop fixtures.
Today, it’s more common to see decorative rain barrel fountains. While these are lovely garden accents, you’ll want something more functional and practical as well.
DIY or Buy Your Rain Barrels?
There are many choices and varieties of pre-made as well as options for homemade rain barrels for harvesting rain water. When it comes to deciding which way to go for any project, pre-made or homemade, it’s wise to consider the cost of raw materials plus your time, versus the cost of buying one ready made. We find that things tend to take twice as long in reality as we imagined in our minds, so whatever number we first come up with, we double it. Then, consider how much your time is worth and whether it makes more sense for you to buy the ready made, or do it yourself.
If you’re handy, and have time, then DIY is a no-brainer. If you—or your spouse—is artistically inclined, you may want to get a water drum you can paint and have fun creating yard art!
If you are an artist you may enjoy checking out this podcast for creators.
So again, if you love creative projects, then perhaps none of those details matter, and you just want to have fun making and creating. If that’s your thing, you will also love visiting this Pinterest page for ideas.
As a matter of conservation, economy, and resilience, we encourage everyone that can (some states have restrictions though, so check yours) to consider harvesting their rainfall.
For more kinds of water storage containers, you can check out this article to see what we use that’s gotten us through some power outages.
If you have a well and well water, you may enjoy our ‘well escapades’ here.
Next is a video on how to set up your own rain barrel system. Duane Combs uses his rainwater storage system for hydroponics gardening using a Dutch bucket system.
Rain Water Storage Barrel System
By Duane Combs
Good luck with your projects, now let’s get growing!
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson
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