Rain barrels are one of the hottest things to hit the gardening world. Despite the fact that the concept of water run-off collection has been around a very long time, it has only come into vogue in the western world fairly recently. Although installing a rain barrel is a project I support, there are few things to consider before plopping that giant bucket under your gutters.
What kind of rain barrels should I get?
There are many different types of rain barrels available, but since used barrels are readily available, I recommend purchasing or making one from a recycled product.
When looking for my rain barrels, I took the overall appearance into consideration because the locations of the barrels are easily viewable by my neighbors. I chose two old transformed wooden whisky barrels which I purchased online. A downfall of my wooden barrels is that they must remain moist. The first year I installed my rain barrels the summer was incredibly dry, the wood shrunk and the barrels leaked. After the mini-drought was over, however, they have not leaked since.
Recycled plastic rain barrels are also readily available in our area. Just the other day, I saw recycled food rain barrels at Whole Foods in Mt Washington in Baltimore for $99. If you buy a plastic barrel, make sure you get a plastic container that won’t let in light —translucent barrels can speed the growth of algae.
You can also make your own rain barrel. Classes are available with Baltimore Parks and People Foundation. The next Rain Barrel Construction Workshop is Monday, June 8, 6-8pm at the Parks & People Foundation location in the Steiff Silver building. For $60 materials, instructions, and assistance will be provided. RSVP to Sabrina Hudson at 410-448-5663, ext. 111 or email@example.com.
If you want to make a DIY rain barrel, CLICK HERE for an instruction sheet from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Rain Barrel Installation:
Installing your rain barrel is relatively easy and should only take a few hours. You will probably have to cut your downspout and may be required to buy an extra part or two. To figure out what you will need and how to install you barrel, I have found a little hokey, but very helpful 4 minute video on installing a rain barrel on You Tube.
Rain Barrel Maintenance:
You will need to drain your rain barrel on a regular basis to prevent mosquitoes and algae build-up, which can clog your pipes. I have my rain barrels attached to soaker hoses, so I can drain the barrels and water the garden automatically. If mosquitoes are a known issue where you live, you may also want to buy Mosquito Donuts, which are all natural rings containing slow release larvicide that will kill larvae before they can mature.
Rain Barrel Overflow:
A little discussed issue with rain barrels, but a common problem, is overflow. During consistent rains over long periods of time your barrels will likely fill and overflow. The small pipe that you have installed to lead access water away will simply not be enough to control the downfall. There is a reason that gutters and pipes take water away from the house and you need to take this into consideration so you do not end up swimming in your basement.
Generally, building a dirt slope that grades away from the barrel and house can solve this issue. This will help move water away and prevent it from pooling around the base of the barrel. If you find that overflow is still a problem, consider splicing your drainpipe and allowing a portion of the water to continue to drain away from the house.