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If you want to attract a bunch of gardeners to a seminar, promise to send each of them home with a free rain barrel.

Every home kitchen garden with room enough should have a rain barrel. Minimally, a rain barrel catches water as it falls from the sky. More typically, a rain barrel sits under a downspout from your house’s rain gutter system, and runoff from your house fills the barrel.

For seven or so years, I’ve figured to build a large water tank against the side of my house. Of course, each year has passed with no cistern, and every time I’ve run the hose to water the garden I’ve cursed my own sloth. How much water could I save if I collect the runoff from my house?

Happily, I got the answer to that question and more just a few weeks ago when I attended a seminar presented by the local Cooperative Extension office. Newspaper advertisements alerted me to this seminar and promised a take-home rain barrel to the first 25 people to register. The free seminar alone would have been two well-spent hours.

Home Kitchen Garden Bonanza

If you’re new to gardening, or you’re struggling with unsolvable problems, or you simply want some fresh perspectives, find a Cooperative Extension office in your neighborhood. These state-run offices are very much about agriculture… as is a home kitchen garden. Cooperative Extension offices may offer information about lawn care; pest control; vegetable, fruit, nut, flower, and decorative gardening; house plants; and composting. Cooperative Extension offices may sell (or give away) soil-testing services to help solve your growing problems. They may offer free individual consultations. They may offer seminars about useful gardening topics. They may even offer speakers willing to present at your garden club events. Chances are, you can sign up with Cooperative Extension to become a certified master gardener.

Don’t overlook this resource. Every owner of a home kitchen garden can get something useful from Cooperative Extension. Here’s a link to help you locate a Cooperative Extension office in your area.

The Rain Barrel Seminar

I heard some cool stuff at the seminar… but only captured some of it.

  • Of all the water from Pennsylvania that flows into the Chesapeake Bay, 93% of it comes from the Susquehanna river (which runs through Lewisburg, PA where I live).
  • The Susquehanna River delivers 50% of the fresh water that flows into the Chesapeake Bay.
  • If a sewage-treatment plant can’t handle the volume of sewage running into the plant, the overflow goes directly into our waterways (a situation that arises during heavy rains—especially where people’s downspouts feed into the sewers).
  • One inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot house equals about 600 gallons of water.
  • 40% of the water that people use through the spring, summer, and fall goes into such outdoor applications as washing cars and watering lawns and gardens.

There were many other fascinating statistics, but the ones I’ve mentioned paint the picture so clearly: You can save a lot of money and help preserve your area waterways by installing a rain barrel and using the water it collects to maintain your home kitchen garden.

A downspout adapter sits on top of the rain barrel (left). The overflow port on the side of the barrel (right) accepts a standard garden hose to redirect runoff away from your house. Any of my downspouts would deliver a higher inflow than this overflow port could handle; I’ll need to modify the rain barrel when I install it.

The Attendance Bonus

The typical rain barrel has a few limitations. For example, a barrel might hold 60 to 100 gallons. This means one inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot roof will produce at least five times more water than a barrel can hold. The typical rain barrel allows for this by including an overflow port near the top of the barrel. If you have space, you can run the overflow into a second rain barrel, and from there to a third, and so on. If you don’t want to manage so many barrels, you run the overflow out to your garden, or well away from your house, or back into the downspout that you redirected into the rain barrel in the first place.

A faucet mounted near the bottom of the rain barrel accepts a standard garden hose. To provide adequate pressure for typical gardening applications, I’ll need to place the barrel on a stand several feet above the ground. Once it’s elevated, I’ll also want to strap it to the side of my house so it doesn’t fall over at an inopportune moment.

The seminar explained how to install a rain barrel, and the presenters assembled a rain barrel so we could see how to make our own. Amazingly, despite having about 90 attendees, the Cooperative Extension speakers had made enough rain barrels for each of us to take one home. A small grant had paid for the materials, and for the Extension-workers’ time.

In future posts, I’ll show how I install my rain barrel (won’t happen until spring), and I’ll explain how you can make your own. If you don’t want to build your own, jump out to the Home Kitchen Garden Store, and order one now so you can reduce your water bills and grow a greener garden in the spring. By all means, get a water barrel and install it.


Here are more articles about rain barrels. Please enjoy:

  • Use a Rain Barrel for Easy Greywater Diversion Systems « People … – Oh and…remember if you live up north, your rain barrel parts could freeze (just like hoses) in winter so that is something to consider when designing your greywater system. Southern climates…well lucky you! …

  • Rainy Review of Rain Barrels at Jackie Koerner – You can also build your own rain barrel with instructions from the Maryland Environmental Design Program’s website. Some municipalities sell rain barrels at a discount to assist with the reduction of rain water runoff. …

  • Time to Winterize Your Rain Barrel – Move your rain barrel into a garage or storage shed if you have one. If you do not have the storage space, turn the barrel upside down to prevent water from entering. Cover the spigot opening to prevent water from collecting there as …

  • Head Spring Farm Blogs » Blog Archive » Reclaimed Whiskey Rain … – The rain barrel concept has been around for a very long time and I recall we had a cistern at the farm house where I grew up. Rain water stored in a barrel or cistern is not quite ready for drinking water unless treated, …

  • Back Porch Rain Barrel – This summer we finally constructed a rain barrel. We’ve had a 55-gallon drum sitting in our yard for several years. We finally made the commitment to convert it into a rain collection barrel. It was so simple, I wish we would have done …

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5 Responses to A Home Kitchen Garden Rain Barrel

  • Another important feature for a rain barrel is some kind of mesh screen guard to prevent debris and insect larvae from breeding in any stagnant water inside.

  • admin says:

    Of course, this depends on the design of the rain barrel and the downspout. As you can see in the photos in my post, the downspout connects to the rain barrel rather than hanging over it; insects would have to start on the roof of the house and travel the downspout into the barrel. Their progeny would then have to reverse the course to get out.

    If you have a covered rain gutter, debris shouldn’t be a problem. Otherwise, there are inserts to put in the top of the downspout to prevent leaves from washing in.

    I’ll plan several posts about installing rain barrels and will explore differences in design. There are many valid approaches. Doesn’t matter which you use as long as you get a rain barrel and put it to use!

  • Mike C says:

    Hello. Thank you for the post of my blog. I had a few phone calls on the solar charged rain barrel pump. Much appreciated. Mike C.

  • J Brown says:

    I live in Ireland and have 8 such barrels around my house. Nothing fancy with taps,etc., just open barrels. My well can run out of water in the summer and the barrels serve to water the garden, flush the toilet, etc. I have no covers on them, and have noticed that in 2 of the barrels, there are tiny, brown mite-like things swimming about underwater. Do you know what this could be?

  • admin says:

    I’d recognize mosquito babies if I saw them, but after that I’m fairly ignorant about insects. In the United States, mosquitoes carry enough diseases that I recommend not having rain barrels open to the elements. Mosquito babies start in standing water and swim around a bit like tiny tadpoles. Even rainwater captured in an abandoned tire provides a place for them to grow.

    Here’s a link to a page with photos of mosquito larvae. If the things in your barrels look like these, you’re incubating blood-suckers!

    If mosquitoes are common in Ireland, you’d do well to cover your rain barrels. Perhaps you can stretch a fine mesh cloth or nylon screen across them. Or, find a rigid cover, cut a hole in it for a water inlet, and stretch mesh over the hole.

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