Use Rain Barrels: Score Free Water for Your Garden

Our spring gardens are producing vegetables, our summer plants are growing, and now the heat and humidity really arrive—and with it comes a potential for a water shortage. What is a gardener to do?

Rainwater collection is an interest of mine. It is legal in this state and does provide a source of water for outdoor use. Using rainwater does save on your water bill while offsetting a water shortage and helping reduce storm-water runoff. Rainwater should not be considered drinkable, though, as it does collect roof debris and bird droppings on its way to your storage container.

If you want to get started now, local stores do offer completed barrels. If you make your own, be sure it is a food-grade barrel that you use. You will need a spigot and an overflow valve, as you will most likely have overflow. A half-inch of rain on a 1,000-square-foot roof will yield 650 gallons of water. A 55-gallon rain barrel will not be large enough to collect it all. You have the option to connect rain barrels together or use a larger container.

Position the rain barrel under a downspout, preferably on the north or east side of the building to minimize the solar heating of the water. You want to try to raise the bucket, as the height will assist with water flow. Put a screen on top of the barrel to keep mosquitoes out. I also learned to put a screen in the gutter at the top of the downspout to minimize leaves and twigs from entering the barrel or clogging the downspout. It is recommended to store the rain barrel at the end of the season as freezing temperatures could crack it. You do need to clean out the rain barrel with an organic soap at the end of the season to kill the mold and bacteria growth potential.

Some studies recommend that rainwater not to be used directly on the edible part of the plant, but instead used to water the roots. I would be cautious and avoid watering the leaves of vegetables like lettuce and collard greens with rain-barrel water. Just water the roots.

I have raised my barrels by building a cement block base several blocks high. A hose can be attached to the spigot of a rain barrel. The hose can feed directly into the garden or you can use it to fill buckets. The higher the barrel, the greater the distance of water flow. My rain-barrel hose did not have enough pressure for a nozzle, so I just let it run into the ground near the roots. I periodically moved its location to water another area of the garden.

When you use the rain barrel hose to fill buckets, the bucket often feeds a driptape system. The driptape system is rolled throughout the garden and the water feeds directly to the roots.

Rain barrel and irrigation classes were offered at the Rutherford County Farmers Market Education series last season. I learned much from Master Gardener Reggie Reeves and Justin Stefanski from the WC Extension. I recorded their classes and the videos are on my video channel: dailymotion.com/OurLocalPride. At another class, the Murfreesboro Stormwater program demonstrated how to build your own rain barrel. That class will be offered this year on Aug 21.

Another thought that I have for free garden water was learned from Reeves; you can harvest air-conditioner water. The pure distilled water from air conditioners is safe to put on your plants. You need to find the drip pipe of your air conditioner. Package systems will have the white discharge pipe directly leaving the unit. Split systems will have the discharge pipe exiting the wall of your home. You can put a 5-gallon bucket under the pipe so that it drips into the bucket. Expect 5–15 gallons of distilled water a day while the AC unit is running.

I hope this gives you a few ideas about alternate ways to water your plants.

chickenUpcoming Farmers Market Classes:

June 9 – Doug Berny, Farm at Four Springs: Backyard Chickens 101
Raise chickens in your backyard for egg production.

June 12 – Mitchell Mote, Extension Agent: Top 10 Tree and Shrub Problems
What’s wrong, what to do about it and when to throw in the towel.

June 16 – Catie Beth Thomas: Beginning Weaving on a Cardboard Loom
Weave a warm and beautiful wall hanging for your home.

beehive511June 19 – Susan Welchance, Rutherford County Beekeeper Association: Beekeeping 101
Learn about honey bees, what they mean to our environment and the many products from the hive.

June 23 – Mitchell Mote, Extension Agent: Organic Pest Control for Landscape
Use a different sort of ammunition in the war against pests.

June 26 – Belinda Letto, Extension Agent: Tai Chi for Better Health, Integrating Mind and Body
Acquire the basics of this ancient practice, renowned for its benefits to both body and mind. All ages and abilities.

June 30 – Carla Bush, Extension Agent: Seasonal Eating and Menu Planning
Hear the reasons why you should use various temperatures, colors and textures to meet your family’s nutritional needs.

July 3 – Reggie Reeves, CMG: Organic Gardening I
Safe, effective options and methods for your home use are addressed.

July 7 – Edwina Shannon, CMG: Garden Signs
Create your own humorous or practical signs to decorate your garden.


Contact Janie Becker at jbecker8@utk.edu or call (615) 898-7710 for further information or questions.


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