Rainwater Harvesting

As gardeners, conservation should always inform our daily horticultural practices. Climate change is driving extreme alterations in our local weather patterns. Winter storms are more unpredictable and summer droughts are more prevalent. Many major cities around the world are regularly instituting water bans for our gardens to accommodate short supplies. When drought hits, don’t get caught unprepared. Harvest your own rain water!

Note: Before embarking on this endeavor, check with your local ordinances to make sure that you are allowed to harvest rain water. As absurd as it may sound, there are some areas where it is illegal to harvest rain water (e.g., some US states have ordained that rainwater belongs to the state, not the individual property owner)! I will also preface this with a warning: This water is not safe for drinking! This is for plants only!

Where to begin?

So, you’ve made the important first decision to harvest your own rain water and made sure that it is legal for you to do so, but where do you begin? First, this process is best accommodated on homes that have rain gutters and down spouts (you can always modify your existing gutters if they do not have down spouts, but the remainder of this article will focus on those that already have them in place). You will need a few supplies.

  • Something to hold the water. I live in Kentucky, so bourbon barrels are more common than horses; hence, I selected bourbon barrels for my containers.

If these types of barrels are not readily available in your area, there are several types of barrels online that work well. In the above picture, I pressure washed these on the outside and inside (bourbon barrels are charred on the inside). I then coated the outside with boiled linseed oil; this is a more natural product that does not contain toxic solvents.

  • A connector kit to attach your barrel to the gutter down spout. I highly recommend this one due to it coming with all the necessary attachments. I used the attached drills to cut a hole into the down spout, then inserted the rubber catcher inside (this is designed to catch water along the outside rim, but once your barrel is full, it will backflow to the hole in the center and drain normally, thus avoiding overflowing your barrel). Make sure that the hole cut in the down spout is level with the hole cut in your barrel (use a level to ensure this or you could risk your barrel overflowing). Connect the pipe between the two holes and your are ready to fill! Since my barrels did not come with spigots, I used the ones included in the kit. I made sure to place them high enough on the barrel so that I could fit my watering can underneath. I also made my lids removable for cleaning purposes and so that I can dip the water out from above if desired. Keep in mind that this is not a closed system and mosquitoes can breed in these barrels. To prevent a mosquito infestation, I put a mosquito dunk in each barrel monthly; this product contains a natural bacteria that is exclusively toxic to mosquito larvae.

Final notes:

I would recommend placing your barrel on some type of solid pavers or bricks. This will prevent it from sinking into the ground under the immense weight of the water. You will also need to drain your barrels and remove the rubber inserts inside the down spouts during winter (freezing temperatures can damage your setup if water is present); the kit above comes with a cap for the down spout over winter. I have several of these around my house and use them exclusively as my source of water for the garden (5+ acres). I have not turned my home spigots on for water in almost 3 years. There have been times through drought that I nearly ran out of water, but we are fortunate in my area to receive regular rainfall. I typically give my barrels a yearly coating of oil to keep the wood fresh, but this is not necessary if you have purchased a plastic barrel online. Through this small act, I have save hundreds, if not thousands of gallons of water. Conserving our resources will become vital as we face an ever changing planet. Will you be part of the solution?

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