A Guest Column by Jackie and Peter Hull
When we first moved to Virginia fifteen years ago, we had no idea that the entire state was in a drought which had been ongoing for a couple of years. In order to help water the garden we wanted to grow, we decided to construct rain barrels. We had seen the master gardeners of Bedford, VA, demonstrate how to put them together.
To begin we bought four 55-gallon barrels from Southern Flavorings for $10 apiece. The faucets and pool filters added another $15 bringing the total to $25 a barrel as opposed to $75 to $100 a piece fully equipped from a company. When we modified our barrels a few years later no longer using pool filters, we had to add the cost of screening and bungee cords which made a total of $30 a barrel.
In outfitting the barrels Peter cut circular holes in the top of each barrel and fitted them with pool filters to catch debris and give an access to help clean out the barrels in the fall. About five inches from the bottom of the barrels he cut holes just large enough to insert the faucets and rings. To help seal this entrance he used caulking compound. He modified the down spout of the rain gutter to arc over the pool filter to catch the rain. The remaining barrels sat adjacent to the first barrel and each was attached to the other with a short piece of PVC pipe that was inserted from one barrel to the next so the water would flow filling each barrel. The last barrel had an overflow spout at the top pointing to the ground so once it was filled the rain water could dribble to the ground.
As we added more barrels, Peter changed from cutting holes in the top of the barrels to cutting the entire top off and covering with plastic screen and using a bungee cord. Fortunately, the top of each barrel has a lip so the bungee cord fits snugly around the barrel holding the screen securely in place. His thinking was this would make cleaning the barrels much easier. It is. To keep mosquito larvae to a minimum, we put a mosquito donut into each barrel. The screening also protects the birds which was initially my concern when he decided to cut the tops entirely off.
All the barrels sit on benches that we constructed so that the water is gravity fed to the garden through a number of hoses. Over the past several years we’ve added more barrels for a total of eleven rain barrels containing 55 gallons each for a total of 550 gallons of water collected from the metal roofed house and garage. This year we’ve emptied them twice over the growing season as we’ve had alternating rain and warm sunshine.
Winding Pathways Notes: Some people may prefer to buy rain barrels ready to install. Most large home improvement stores sell barrels as do many nature centers. Also, be aware that in some arid areas harvesting rain water is in dispute or illegal unless a person owns the water rights. These laws are changing as times and uses change.