Monday, June 10, 2013

Rain, Rain, Come To Stay

When we started looking for a house, we emphasized to our realtor that room for a garden was an absolute must. Although our garden still feels small in terms of what I was raised around, I am continually amazed at how much food we can produce in such a small area.

We all know the essentials for plants to grow: soil, sun, water. The soil and sun haven't been a problem, but when we have dry spells, using the hose and watering our plants from the borough water supply never sits well with me. Besides the fact that the water is treated with all kinds of chemicals and is considered pretty hard water, we have to pay for all those gallons running out of the hose, which certainly cuts down on the cost-benefit of having a garden.

The first year we had a garden, we did invest in a rain barrel from a local hardware store. We never rigged up a very efficient system for filling it, just setting it under the overhang of the garage and catching what we could (it has a roughly 4 to 5 square foot top with a screen in the middle for the water to run into). It was usually enough to fill the watering can out from for hanging baskets and potted plants, and occasionally after a big storm, we could run the soaker hose from it. It didn't really put a dent in our mid-summer water needs though.

At the end of April, the borough commission that I am a member of sponsored a rain barrel workshop. For $40, participants were able to see a presentation on making and using a rain barrel, and the importance of water conservation, as well as come home with their own barrel made out of a retrofitted 55-gallon plastic food grade barrel (the ones for the workshop actually came from a local Coca-Cola bottling facility). Keith was the first person signed up.

It took us a little while to actually get around to setting up our new rain barrel, because we had to get supplies to connect it to our downspout at the back of the house. Keith came up with a really great system to utilize both barrels, and to handle overflow.

First he placed some cinder blocks under the barrel to create more water pressure utilizing gravity. Because the patio is several feet higher than the garden, and the barrel is up on the blocks, the soaker hose is really effective.

Once the height of the barrel was established, Keith used his reciprocating saw to cut the downspout.

Then he used a flexible piece of spouting to connect the downspout to the opening in the barrel. The green "receiver," the red-handled spout at the bottom of the barrel, and the brass overflow nozzle at the top were provided through the workshop.

In an ironic move, he used the hose to put some water in the barrel because it was a really windy day and we didn't want it to blow away.

Then, in an inspired moment, he brought our store-bought barrel up to the patio and used a piece of hose to direct any overflow from the white barrel into the tan one. We had a few tenths of an inch of rain between when I took the picture above and the one below, and the barrel started filling up.

Keith's one remaining concern was that small debris from the roof would get in the barrel and be hard to clean out. We found this little mesh bag from one of Bert's toys that could easily be cinched around the spout into the barrel to catch anything. You could also use a small piece of screen or an old pantyhose.

In the heat wave we had the other week, we did decide to water a lot of the garden. Mostly we fill the watering can or use the soaker hose because there is not enough pressure to produce an actual spray from the hose.

With the storms that passed through the end of last week, both barrels are full to the brim. There is also a hose from the second barrel that passes back into the pipe that the downspout originally went into (situated behind the barrels), so any overflow is diverted away from the house and out into the yard. Though you can't tell from these pictures, the barrels are only collecting rain from the roof over the laundry room. Maybe this photo will orient you a bit: the barrels sit to the left, directly in front of the downspout. 

The laundry room is only about 6 1/2' x 13', so it doesn't take a lot of surface area to collect enough to rain to fill up both barrels, which total approximately 100 gallons.

I'm not looking forward to the hot, dry weather of summer (especially with this growing belly!) but at least we have our garden water needs covered.

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