Using rain barrels to collect and conserve water creates an alternative supply that will not tax the groundwater supply or hike up your water bill. For each inch of rain that falls on 500 sq. ft. of roof, you can collect 300 gallons of water. It has become a rather popular do-it-yourself project for gardeners. I have four of them and can tell you they are very easy to make. Here’s how I made mine.
Gathering the materials – it is important to use a food grade barrel. Do not use one that had chemicals stored in it as residue could remain and kill plants. Some people have also used large, plastic, lidded trash cans. You can use whatever size fits your needs. I was able to order clean 55-gallon barrels from a large farm store. You will also need a spigot, a bung or bulkhead adapter, a gooseneck elbow, riser blocks, landscape fabric or screen, spray paint and silicone caulk. Some folks use a diverter system for excess water. I simply drilled a hole in the side, near the top of the barrel for the water to escape. I also bought a rain chain that hooks into the gutter drop hole and hangs into the rain barrel. This is for decorative purposes only and not something you have to have to make the whole thing work.
The first thing I did was to paint my barrel using a spray paint made for plastic. Using a drill bit that is a little smaller than or the same size as your bulkhead adapter, drill a hole near the bottom of the barrel. I made mine about four inches from the bottom. Don’t make your hole too low. You will need room to place your watering can underneath to fill. Unscrew the washer from the bulkhead adapter. Place a ring of silicone around the neck of the bulkhead adapter and, from the outside of the barrel, thread it into the hole of the barrel. Screw the washer onto the bulkhead adapter from inside the barrel. When dry, attach the spigot and gooseneck elbow.
Carefully cut a hole in the lid of your barrel. This hole should be positioned so it sits under the downspout of your gutter. Cut enough landscape fabric or screen to cover the top of the barrel and bring it down the sides enough to secure rope around the circumference of the top. This will create a barrier that will keep mosquitoes, birds and pests from getting into your rain barrel. Drill a hole or two near the top of the barrel for overflow. It is possible to use a length of hose or PVC pipe to connect to another barrel so you don’t waste the overflow water.
Set your rain barrel on some sort of blocks to raise it up off the ground, positioning it directly under the gutter downspout. I used some decorative landscape pavers. Now all you have to do is wait for the rain.
Using this water for edible crops is questionable since it has the opportunity to contain petrochemical compounds from asphalt shingles or treated wood shingles. If you are going to use this water for your veggies, avoid getting it on the leaves or fruit and water just the soil. Give your rain barrel a good cleaning at the end of the season before putting it away for the winter.
As always, Happy Gardening!
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.