Rain barrels have become very popular, each time I log onto the Farm & Garden section of Craigslist I see several folks hocking their ready made rain barrels for $80 or more. Now I guess with what some folks spend on their gardens $80 seems like a fair price, but to me, that works out to something like $200/hour in labor to have someone else complete a ridiculously simple task of putting a valve in a bucket. I can find barrels of all different colors, blue, black, grey and even sometimes terra cotta, for $15 each. The valve itself will run you around $7-$10, a roll of screen will make far more rain barrels than I need and the only other necessary component is pvc cement. All told I can spend about $30 for the material to make the first barrel and have enough screen and cement left over to make countless others at $22-$25 each.
To make a barrel into a rain barrel, simply drill a hole slightly smaller that the size valve you buy. Typically the valves come in ½” and ¾” sizes. Apply contact cement generously to the threads of the valve and screw it into the hole. Then cut a hole in the lid and attach a slightly larger piece of screen material to the inside of the lid where the hole is with contact cement. Let the contact cement set up…and you’re done.
The biggest drawback to using rain barrels is that the water pressure is non existent. If your barrel sits at a higher elevation than your garden then the use of a soaker hose will work, just slowly. Another option is using cups or buckets if soaker hoses aren’t viable.
My problem was that my rain barrels were almost at grade level with my garden, and slightly below the height of my raised beds, but even this was a simple fix, a small pump with hoses, and now a sprinkler. The local ag supply store had some ½ hp Chinese pumps for $37, a couple of fitting, a short section of suction hose and a cheap sprinkler and I was off and running. I can now water my entire garden in a matter of minutes from water collected from my roof tops.
The benefits to rain barrel collection far outweigh the troubles associated with making the system work. I can collect as much as 330 gallons of water from a couple of good rainstorms and use them in times of drought, without the demand placed on my well or pump. I also use one of my rain barrels to supply water soluble fertilizer through the sprinkler system. It’s also great piece of mind to know that should a power outage effect us I have a good source of water for non potable needs and in a pinch could very well sterilize the water for consumption. Yes, rain water is safe, but I certainly wouldn’t trust water that has run across my shingled roof, down a pipe and into a barrel to sit for months on end.