Rainwater harvesting

rain barrel
The wrong way to install a rain barrel.

Many municipalities are starting to promote the use of rain barrels for rainwater harvesting to reduce storm water runoff. When properly planned and installed, a rain barrel can be a useful way to get fresh water to your garden. I tend to recommend a cistern, when practical, over a rain barrel because of the amount of water stored will last through the dry spells.

Rain barrels are what most people think of when setting up a rainwater harvesting system. These are a good start when properly installed and maintained. Planning is key when installing a system that will be storing large amounts of water by your home. First, you need a location so if there is a blockage you do not get water pooling up by your foundation. You need a way to divert excess water safely away and there are many options available. You need to calculate the square footage of roof that will be going to the rain barrel. A rain barrel is usually 50-80 gallons and will fill quickly even with a small amount of rain. You will also need easy access to the rain barrel for maintenance and cleaning, yes they need ongoing work to safely function properly.

Rain barrels are fine for small gardens and potted plants, but you will find them too small for larger gardens. I have installed a few cisterns which capture hundreds of gallons of rainwater that gets my vegetable gardens through dry spells easily. Cisterns are more involved than a rain barrel but they are much more useful for me. I will have my system design posted in the projects section this spring when I install my new design.

Distributing the water is another important part to consider. For a rain barrel, dipping a watering can is fine for your potted plants. But, I water a thousand square feet of organic garden space so I need a better system. I use a sprinkler pump to transfer the collected water into rain barrels located above my garden. One turn of the valve and my garden is watered for the day. I also connect sprinklers so I can water my putting green (yes it is maintained without the use of pesticides and I test the soil annually).