Rainwater collection has many benefits from reducing your utility bills during rainy periods while helping offset the cost during dry periods. Rainwater has more oxygen than water from a treatment facility. Unlike tap water, rainwater is not treated with chemicals, salts, minerals, and chlorine which can build in your soil over time. Rainwater is considered naturally soft, meaning it contains fewer concentrations of dissolved minerals. Rainwater collection can also help reduce run-off and erosion.
Water collected in a rain barrel is not considered a potable water source, meaning it is not drinkable and has not been tested to meet microbial water quality standards to protect public health. This means you should not apply rainwater directly onto any plant parts that you would consume. This is especially important in the weeks leading up to harvest. With proper watering techniques, water should always be applied to the soil.
Most home gardens use a 50- or 55-gallon barrel for their rainwater collection. You should clean the barrel at the end of each garden season. Clean by draining the barrel, remove any debris, scrub the sides of the barrel, sanitize the barrel, then rinse with clean water. During the winter season, reattach the downspout using flexible tubing and turn your barrel upside down or store in building for best protection.
Insects, especially mosquitos, love standing water. While barrels are designed to keep insects out, they are not foolproof. Mosquitos will try everything they can to lay their eggs in your rain barrel. The best rule of thumb is to drain a barrel completely within 5 days of the barrel filling up to help deter this from happening. If this is not possible, try to add one tablespoon of ecofriendly liquid dish soap each week or after a big storm. You can also add ¼ cup of vegetable oil to your barrel each week or after a big storm. Both methods make it difficult for mosquito larvae to break the surface, therefore they suffocate before emerging. If necessary, you can also look for a mosquito dunk, found at garden stores or online, which contain a bacterium that allows for mosquito control. Look for a product containing BTI or Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis , the ingredient that kills mosquitoes. These dunks are used once a month while mosquitos are no longer a threat.
- A rain barrel needs to be in a location where it has a catchment (roof on house, building, greenhouse, etc.) Ideally the spot should be within a few feet of a drain spout. This location needs to be level so your barrel doesn’t roll and can fill up entirely. If it is not level, you need to level the ground. Do this by digging the sod, add sand or some other filler if necessary, and then add pavers. Ensure the spot is flat by using a level.
- Elevate the spot for the rain barrel, this makes using a spigot on the barrel much more accessible. It also helps make sure you get all the water out of the barrel. Use concrete blocks or another sturdy material as a full barrel can weigh 400 lbs.
- Install the attachments following the instructions on the rain barrel kit.
- Install a screen to catch any debris such as leaves, animals, seeds, sticks, etc.
- Install the overflow to prevent the barrel from overflowing. This can be directed to the garden, a tree, or anywhere else away from buildings and walkways.