“Use what nature gives you”.
That is a great mantra to live by and no truer when it comes to water. Water is a precious resource so why not use what falls from the sky to help water the garden long after it rains. For every thousand square feet of roof space, one inch of rain will produce 620 gallons of runoff. That is a lot of water that can be put to good use.
Like all things, doing so is only effective if a few simple rules are followed.
Place the rain barrel in a location where it can be useful. There is no point of the rain barrel is placed so far from your garden that it cannot be used to water anything.
Make sure the rain barrel is a dark color. Light-colored rain barrels let in the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which will cause algae to form in the water. Clear-colored drums that are available from some sources can be painted.
Install an outlet as close to the bottom of the rain barrel as possible. This will help in draining all of the water from the barrel.
On that note, make sure the rain barrel is set high enough that gravity will allow the water to flow to the end of a hose. This is a gravity system so the final outlet (hose end) must be lower than the rain barrel outlet. Consider setting the barrel on concrete blocks or timbers to get a little higher elevation if needed.
Ensure the rain barrel has an adequate overflow outlet. Because rain barrels are typically attached to a downspout beside a house, overflows potentially can cause serious problems. Most manufactured rain barrels come with an overflow outlet near the top of the barrel.
Screen the inlet. The mesh on the screen needs to be small enough to keep mosquitoes from getting to the water and breeding.
Choose a rain barrel with a removable lid. This will make it easy to periodically clean the interior of the rain barrel. Occasional simple maintenance, generally once a year, will also help prevent algae from forming. Believe it or not, there is a lot of gunk on rooves that will flow into the barrel.
Consider how you plan to use the water. Will a hose be used to water plants by hand, or a soaker hose to water many plants over a period of time?
Source your rain barrel locally. They are large and bulky and cost a lot of money to ship.
If not using a manufactured rain barrel, make sure to know what was stored in the barrel previously. Some were used to store chemicals which could be harmful to your garden.
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