In Praise of the Humble Rain Barrel

By Nolan Marciniec

I con­fess to water anx­i­ety.” I wor­ry about hav­ing enough water to last the grow­ing sea­son, espe­cial­ly giv­en the exi­gen­cies of cli­mate change. I have this afflic­tion in spite of being blessed with two wells. Like most coun­try dwellers, I have a drilled well (82 feet deep) for house­hold use. I also have a dug well that ser­viced the orig­i­nal milk­house (1905), 38 feet deep, hand-set stone, a work of art, with a hand pump, good for lug­ging water to thirsty trees or flush­ing toi­lets when a pow­er fail­ure shuts down the elec­tric pump. Only the lat­ter well has ever run dry.

Rain barrel

But to allay my fears and to salve my eco-con­science, I have four rain bar­rels to col­lect a free resource off the roof of both my home and milk­house. Each bar­rel col­lects about 50 gal­lons of chem­i­cal- and min­er­al-free rain water. Unlike the well water, which is hard,” it is soft,” and the plants seem to love it, espe­cial­ly indoor plants like orchids and bromeli­ads. Two hun­dred gal­lons is a lot of water for any home gardener.

You can cal­cu­late the yield of your roof in gal­lons by mul­ti­ply­ing the square footage of your roof by 623 and divid­ing by 1000. Or sim­ply: just ¼” of rain on the aver­age roof will fill one 50-gal­lon rain bar­rel.1

Rain bar­rels, these days, are most­ly plas­tic. (My grandfather’s bar­rels were wood­en.) They may be pur­chased com­mer­cial­ly, but all mine were food grade” plas­tic con­tain­ers that my neigh­bor, who worked for a food dis­trib­u­tor, secured for me. They smelled of olives, but I rinsed them with a bleach solu­tion. Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!

Instruc­tions for con­struct­ing and con­nect­ing your rain bar­rel to your rain gut­ters are read­i­ly avail­able online. The project is well with­in the skill set of the home handy­man. (I am not one, but have friends who are). 

Some gar­den­ers are con­cerned about the water in rain bar­rels attract­ing mos­qui­toes. I’ve nev­er had a prob­lem, per­haps because my bar­rels have fit­ted lids. I under­stand that there are nat­ur­al non-tox­ic dunks” that will mit­i­gate that problem. 

If you intend to attach a hose to your rain bar­rel – it is great for slow soak­ing the plants in your gar­den — remem­ber that water does not flow uphill! It is also con­ve­nient if your bar­rels are locat­ed near your gar­den or patio or deck. 

A full rain bar­rel is very heavy: about 600 lbs.2 Make sure that your bar­rels rest on a lev­el and secure base.

You should also have an over­flow hose – even if you link two or more bar­rels togeth­er. One of my over­flow hoses waters my rose beds. Why waste water?

Emp­ty your bar­rels and store them before freez­ing tem­per­a­tures move in – well after the end of the grow­ing season.

Rain bar­rels were once a com­mon fea­ture in back­yards and on farms, and they seem to be mak­ing a come­back. They make eco­nom­ic sense when munic­i­pal­i­ties are increas­ing water and sewage fees. Of course, they make envi­ron­men­tal sense as well. 

And they are an effec­tive cure for water anxiety. 

1 how​stuff​works​.com

2 Ibid.


Summer 2022

Volume 40 , Number 2

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