There are many benefits of barrels for your rainwater collection system; whether you live in a desert climate and drought conditions where water is extra precious, or you are looking for ways to be more water-wise and put the rainfall to work in your garden. Read on to see all about the why and how of using barrels to collect rainwater for the garden.

What is Rainwater Harvesting?

woman dipping watering can into a barrel full of water

Rainwater harvesting, also known as rainwater collection, is collecting the run-off rainwater from a roof or other surface to use later. There are many different types of ways to collect rainwater, from barrels to cisterns, or tanks. The rainwater collected can be a great source for all your primary water needs, or it can be a good backup.  You can use it to irrigate your garden or use it for water needs in the house.

Why would you want to collect rainwater?

  1. Rainwater is free. It will make your utilities bill cheaper.
  2. Rainwater is clean. It doesn’t have any salt it chlorine added to it. No wonder plants look so lovely after it rains. Rainwater is pure and clean, you’ll be giving your plants the best.
  3. Collecting rainwater to use in the garden helps to conserve water and is environmentally proactive and responsible. It’s also very self-sufficient.
  4. Rainwater harvesting can solve draining/flooding problems that can occur from rainwater runoff.
  5. Rainwater systems are generally very easy to install.

The Benefits of Using Rainwater in the Garden

rain falling on a garden.

There’s a reason the grass looks greenest after a spring rain! Plants love rainwater and rainwater has benefits for the garden that just can’t be duplicated from your drip line or sprinklers. Unlike many yard water sources, rainwater is 100% soft water — no salts, minerals and treatment chemicals that can be found in your city water, groundwater and surface water. The salts and chemicals from municipal water build up in your soil over time, and these extra residues are tough on plants. Rainwater helps wash out the extra junk that comes with our hose water and provides the kind of soft water plants drink up the best.

Rainwater is also naturally slightly acidic. Most plants prefer soil pH to be between 5.5 and 6.5 — just on the acidic side of a neutral pH of 7. Guess what? The pH of rainwater is between 5.5 and 6.5, just how your plants like it! City water is treated to be alkaline to protect metal pipes from corrosion. Rainwater helps to keep your soil in a happy pH balance for plants optimum growth.

Another benefit of  barrels for your rainwater collection system is that the barrels will naturally collect some organic material. As the rain runs off your rooftop, the rain collects traces of organic material from the exposure to leaf litter, pollen and bird droppings. The barrel hosts all sorts of beneficial biology that acts as a light fertilizer every time you water from your rain barrel!

Finally, rain water contains nitrates which are the most bio-available form of nitrogen. Nitrogen is one of three key macronutrients that plants need to thrive and many types of artificial nitrogen that are added to gardens are not nearly as absorbable by plants as rain water. Plants absorb the needed nitrates from the soil and those nitrates come from rain.

State Restrictions on collecting rainwater

Collecting rain is legal in every state, but each state has different regulations regarding rainwater harvesting. Click here for a map of all the states and the rainwater regulations for each one. As you can see, collecting rainwater is, for the most part, a highly encouraged thing to do.

The amount of rainwater one can collect depends on a couple of factors. 1. How much precipitation does your area get, and 2.  How much water does your rainwater system hold?

The procedure for counting rainfall is 1″ of rain x 1 sq. ft. = 0.623 gallons

Click here for a precipitation map and a rainwater calculator to find out how much water you can collect.

Best harvesting option to collect rainwater

water flows from spout into a barrel as part of a rainwater collection system

There are many options to collect rainwater. Barrels, or tanks that go right by the house, or tanks that can be anywhere in the yard with an underground system to carry the rainwater from the roof to the tank. Tanks are bigger and can hold more water, but they are also more expensive and harder to install. Here at Home Grown Foods HQ we prefer rain barrels for rainwater collection systems because they are so simple to use and easy to install.

Benefits of rainwater barrels

Rain barrels sometimes get a bad rap because of their smaller size, but their size doesn’t prevent them from being one of the best rainwater collecting tools. Rainwater barrels are pretty great. Here are some reasons why

  • Barrels are a great starting place. If you just started your rainwater collection system, then it is encouraged to start with a barrel because it’s smaller and simpler, and you’ll get the hang of it in no time. If you decide you really like collecting rainwater and want to try out a bigger tank, or install an underground system, then go for it! But it’s better to be absolutely sure you love collecting rainwater before you spend a lot of money on a tank.
  • Barrels are cheaper than tanks or other rainwater collecting options.
  • Barrels are easy to install and simple to use.
  • Barrels have connection points to link other barrels together, making more storage space for rainwater.
  • Barrels are light and pretty easy for someone to move around.
  • Barrels are typically made with recyclable material, so it’s a win-win for the environment.
  • Some barrels come disguised as rocks, etc if you want a barrel that doesn’t look like a barrel.

How long can rainwater stay shelf-stable

Rainwater can be stored forever, but it’s important to care for the tank and store the water well so that it can. You want to protect your tank from algae and mosquitoes, store the water well, and purify the water if you plan to drink it.

To protect your rainwater in your rainwater collection system from algae you want to make sure that not a lot of light gets in. Opt for a darker-colored rain barrel, and try to put in somewhere with more shade.

Nobody wants mosquitoes or mosquito larvae in their rainwater collection system. You can put mesh or netting over the top of the barrel to prevent mosquitoes from landing in the water. You could also put a little bit of vegetable oil at the top of the barrel. The oil and water won’t mix and the mosquitoes will suffocate in the oil before getting the chance to lay eggs. Other suggestions could be goldfish at the top of the barrel, dish soap, or certain types of insecticide.

Keeping your rain barrel clean and washing it at the end of the season and properly storing it will help it last longer. Washing it weekly would be needed if you were using your water for more than just the garden.

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