I spent a couple of hours at the Lauderdale County Extension Office on Wednesday, July 6, making rain barrels. Mom and I learned a great deal about how to use the rain barrels to catch water and, more significantly, how to use the rain barrels in a systematic way to run a drip irrigation system to our gardens and landscaping.
Chris Becker, regional extension for home grounds, gardens and home pests (“Home Hort” for short, he said), led the workshop. Did you know that a 1″ rain flowing off a 1,000 square foot roof produces about 620 gallons of water? That’s enough to fill 10, 55-gallon rain barrels. The rain flowing off of the roof of a small shed will produce more than enough rain to fill a single 55-gallon barrel. If you have gutters, the volume captured will be greater than if, like me, your house or shed doesn’t have gutters. Regardless, you’ll be able to capture plenty of water to use to water your garden, landscaping and lawn.
Chris did a great job explaining how to make the barrels and how to use them most effectively. For example, he pointed out that it’s possible to daisy-chain the rain barrels to make it easier to irrigate larger areas using one system that maximizes the amount of rain captured. The placement of the hose-connectors used to daisy-chain the barrels determines the amount of water pressure and the extent to which the water from one barrel will flow into and refill the adjacent barrel. If you connect at the bottom, the barrels will fill at the same rate. If you connect at the top, the overflow from each barrel will begin to fill the adjacent barrel.
As someone who absolutely adores olives, I was thrilled to learn that the barrels we would be using are olive barrels used to ship olives in bulk from Greece to New Jersey. The NJ company had thousands of barrels and no further use for them. An entrepreneur saw a business opportunity and began selling the barrels to use in rainwater collection. Barrels aren’t sent to a landfill. No need to put them through a recycling process. And the barrels are actually made in Greece. How cool is that!
Before we began constructing our own barrels, Chris showed us the finished barrel he created for display purposes. One matter to consider when connecting the rain barrels to a gutter-system is the issue of overflow. Apparently, if you don’t take into account overflow, it’s possible for the excess water to back-up and clog the gutter system. Information on how to deal with overflow if you have gutters can be found here.
To make your own barrel, you need a barrel, of course. You’ll also need a spigot. We used a standard brass boiler drain type of spigot. We drilled a hole about 4-5″ inches up from the bottom of the barrel using a 7/8″ drill bit. We then used a 3/4″ tap to thread the hole to make it easier to insert the spigot. Taps are very expensive, though, so if you don’t have a tap you can still get the spigot into the hole. It may take a bit more “umph,” though (umph is also know as “elbow grease”).
It’s important to have some type of mesh covering over the barrel to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the water. We used a simple 24″ x 24″ tight-mesh fabric. The mesh fabric comes in 24″ wide rolls so we simply trimmed from the roll in 24″ lengths.
There some extra steps if you want to make “tighter” rain barrels, i.e. that never leak around the spigot, such as using washers between the spigot and the barrel and, perhaps, some caulking. We went the simple, less-expensive route. If a bit of water leaks from the barrel, it won’t matter.
If you plan to daisy-chain two or more barrels, you’ll need to buy double connector hoses or make your own from a section of an old water-hose. Chris demonstrated using a connector hose he made for a few dollars.
To power a drip-irrigation system, Chris recommended using a submersible sump pump. Chris said a 1/4 hp pump is sufficient because the drip irrigation can support a maximum of 10 psi. Drip tape is the best way to go, to get equalized pressure at all points along the system.
Mom and I made three rain barrels. At $40 each, these were much less expensive than the store-bought kind available at big box retailers. I was less-than-thrilled that I didn’t have my barrel in place late Thursday when a surprise storm dumped about an inch of rain. I’d just returned home and hadn’t had time to set it up. Next time, I’ll be ready. The barrel will be in position shortly.
Clean Virginia Waterways Guide to Making Rain Barrels — These barrels look very similar to the ones we used at the Lauderdale County Extension office workshop. The photos are helpful and they give a bit more guidance on the details about the specifications of parts needed to make rain barrels.
Times Daily (Florence, Ala.) news story, Save water, collect the rain by Dennis Sherer.