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Making a rain barrel

Save rain water and maintain your landscaping

When a hefty thunderstorm rumbles through, the amount of rain that falls and runs off to who-knows-where is just mind-boggling. The E.P.A. estimates most gardeners save about 1,300 gallons of water each summer by using a rain barrel. Capture that free water in a rain barrel and use it later. This will also help prevent runoff and erosion. Collected rainwater is better for plants because it's not chlorinated. It’s mildly acidic, which helps plants take up important minerals from the soil.

There are also numerous options for rain barrels in garden centers and online. But you can also make a complete rain barrel for about $50. A local food business is a good place to start looking for the barrel itself. You don’t want anything that stored gasoline or petroleum products because the residue could be toxic. 

Master Gardener Rosanne Sherry with the University of Rhode Island says you can find parts to put it together online, but it’s just as easy to cobble bits and pieces from a hardware store. "You just simply need a simple little faucet like you would use out for your garden hose anyway," Sherry says. "Years ago, a friend of mine built one for me. He got a rain barrel and he drilled the hole and he put a sleeve in it for my gutter. He put a little spicket down near the bottom, maybe about 6-inches or so up from the very bottom."

You can be as elaborate as you want.  Some people devise complicated watering systems with hoses and pumps, but there is one component that’s a must-have: a removable cover on the top. "A plastic barrel you can actually fit a top on it whether it’s screening or not," says Sherry. "You can take that off you can dismantle the whole thing, take it off the gutter system maybe once or twice a year and get the gunk out from the bottom.  And the top is at least preventing the majority of that debris getting in there, and certainly the mosquitoes. So really from a health standpoint, that’s really critical."

Depending on where you live, more than one rain barrel might be a good idea. For example, a gully-washer rain on the roof of a 4,000 sq. ft. house will fill up a 55-gallon drum in 10 minutes. Make overflow fittings that connect to a hose and allow the excess water to be diverted into another barrel. Or even into your garden.


For more information, we recommend the following links:

Recycle the rain: Here is a list of supplies and complete instructions for building your own rain barrel.

Garden with less water: Scrimping on water doesn't have to mean scrimping on your landscaping. Here are several tips for gardeners interested in conserving water.


Radio interview source: Rosanne Sherry, coordinator, University of Rhode Island Master Gardener Program

Listen here for the radio story

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