My rain barrel rules

My gardening year ended with the first frost last week. The tomato plants have been disassembled, and it’s time to reflect on the best addition to my yard this year: the rain barrel.

The rain barrel greatly surpassed my expectations in the amount of water it provided. I set it up in May thinking it would take a few weeks to fill completely, and it was full after the first rainfall. From May until mid-October there was only one week when the barrel was empty and I had to fall back on municipal water to keep my garden happy.

Most of my flowers are drought-tolerant native species, but I have annuals in containers and 5 tomato plants that need to be pampered with daily watering. In hot weather I use maybe 10 gallons of water a day.

A rain barrel collects water a lot faster than you’d think it would. My 55-gallon barrel draws from approximately 300 square feet of roof area, and a medium-strength rainfall (more than a sprinkle, less than a storm) fills it in under four hours. As long as it rained once a week I had as much water as I could use.

If I were to make one improvement to my current setup it would be to raise the barrel a few feet on blocks or a frame so there’d be more water pressure in the attached hose. Right now the barrel sits at ground level, and there’s so little pressure that the water only trickles out of the hose, and that’s only if there’s no point in the hose raised more than six inches above the ground. Spraying water from the hose is completely out of the question. If I’m out in the garden working I lay the hose out and let it dribble for five minutes at a time on each plant, but if I’m in a hurry it’s much faster to just scoop water out of the barrel with a big watering can and dump it where I want it.

In some ways hauling a two-gallon watering can around is less of a hassle than wrestling and re-coiling a fully pressurized hose. Or maybe I’ve just gotten used to it. In any case, 55 gallons of free water a week is definitely worth the extra effort it takes to get it to the plants.

Next year I’d like to install another rain barrel to catch the runoff from the other 500 square feet of roof. Maybe work it into a nice little water feature or a tub with some pond plants. Yeah.

4 thoughts on “My rain barrel rules

  1. minnesotagardener

    I’d love to have a rainbarrel or two–did you build your own, and if so, is there a website with plans you could refer me to? Thanks so much!

  2. Clare Post author

    My husband assembled the rain barrel following my vague plan. I’m working on drawing the plan and the details of all the parts that went into it – I’ll post it soon!

  3. minnesotagardener

    Thanks, I’ll stay tuned! If I could leave some plans laying about for my husband to spot, he’ll think it was his idea before you know it.

  4. Marcus de la fleur

    Hi Clare, I am the guy with the web site (Residential Stormwater Treatment and Conservation) 🙂 Thank you for including the 168 Elm pilot project in your blog and for providing links.

    I read you posting on the rain barrels and the comment from minnesotagardener. I am glad to hear that you are working on drawings and details that explain your barrels. I am also getting a lot of questions on how did you do this and that… That prompted me to work on U-tube like animations/time lapses that show, step by step, how I put the rain barrels together, installed the porous pavement, etc. I hope to have that info up and running early next year.

    By the way, it looks like I will finally be giving a presentation on the pilot project locally (in Lisle), scheduled for January. You can find more details in my web calendar if you are interested:



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