Wednesday, April 04, 2012

How to Make a Rain Barrel

This is a first for The New Me - a guest post, written by my very own Nathan! If you've ever thought about building a rain barrel for your garden, look no further. Nathan provides clear instructions and lots of lovely photos (which were taken by yours truly. Teamwork!). 

Take it away, Nathan! 

Rain barrels collect rainfall and store it, so that it can be used later. There are 3 main components - The roof, the barrel, and the hose. These are not always a roof, barrel, and hose, but those functions will be present in almost every system (collection, storage, and output). A very common setup is to place barrels under gutters and fill watering cans with the water as needed. Our system will use a small awning as our roof (our gardens and barrels are located a bit away from the house), a barrel for each garden bed, and a soaker hose that runs into each bed from the barrel. Here's how we made the barrels.

Step 1. Procure the barrels. The most important thing about the barrels is that they hold water, and they never held anything bad. In Texas we could get 55 gallon blue plastic barrels from the Coca-cola bottling plant - they were used to transport soda syrup. Up here in North Carolina we got them from an independent farm supply store, and they were used originally to ship pickled cucumbers from Asia to America. Prices vary but I think more than $20 sounds high. Again, never ever ever use a barrel that previously contained anything toxic or even questionable. There are plenty of used food-material barrels if you look hard enough. When in doubt, assume the worst.


Step 2. Procure the pieces. There are probably tens of different ways to put a faucet into the bottom of a barrel, but I went to Lowe's and got this stuff and it has worked fine. What we have here is a faucet (~$6) that will accept a typical garden hose, some plastic plumbing fitting (~$1) that is threaded inside and will mate with the faucet (faucet outside the barrel, unknown plastic fitting inside the barrel), and a 4 inch x 4 inch piece of thick rubber (~$3) to be used to make gaskets to improve the seal.




Step 3. Make the gasket(s). Trace the diameter of your faucet's threads onto the rubber. Next, drill out the hole for the gasket. Select a drill bit that is close to the size of your faucet's threads. It's better to go smaller than larger due to the fact that you're improving the seal and it's rubber. My faucet came out to be 3/4"and the 3/4" hole is snug on the threads.


 


Step 4. Drill a hole in the bottom of the barrel to receive the faucet. This should be the same diameter as the hole you drilled in the gasket. Obviously you want to drill as close to the bottom of the barrel as possible, without compromising the bottom of the barrel. Plastic drills easily so hold the drill firmly to get a clean hole. Do not wiggle the bit around as this hole needs to be crisp and tight.




Step 5. Screw on the faucet. Since your hole is exactly the same size as your faucet's threads, it should be a little difficult to get the faucet going. Remember to keep the faucet perpendicular to the wall of the barrel, and that the plastic is going to yield to the metal. Push firmly while you twist, keeping the faucet in the same orientation the entire time so you don't end up widening the hole. Screw the faucet in all the way, stopping when it is in the correct orientation. Don't go further and then back out to straighten; this will result in a drippy faucet.



Step 6. Get in the barrel. Screw on the gasket and the plastic fitting.





Step 7. Install screen to keep out mosquitoes. Mosquitoes breed in standing water and that's what rain barrels do, so screen is essential. Our barrels have threaded rings at the top to retain a lid (sort of like a giant mason jar). We tossed the lid but kept the ring and just laid screen across the top of the barrel before screwing the ring on. Make sure the screen is tight.



 Step 8. Elevate! Just as water towers are elevated to increase pressure so that the water will come out of your tap (without energy-intensive pumping), the rain barrels will deliver better if they are elevated to increase pressure. Ours are going to have soaker hoses running down and through the garden beds. We'll be able to turn on the faucet for about 20 minutes and the gardens will be watered to perfection.


We still need to build the awning that will drain into the barrels (increasing the surface area will collect more water), but now we don't have to worry about mosquitoes, and we know they work!



Thanks, Nathan! If you have any questions about rain barrels, soaker hoses, or how to get out of an old pickle jar, feel free to leave them in the comments.

114 comments:

  1. Fun! My gramps made a huge rain barrel when I was a kid to collect the very, very few inches of rain they get per year down south. His yard was the lushest of them all. :) My friend Trey also made a HUGE rainwater storage system for Earth Day one year. Some day I'll get around to doing something like this...

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  2. This is so cool! I can't wait to see pictures of your lush summer garden, all green and well-hydrated.

    Also, I love how the dogs had to come over and supervise. If they had opposable thumbs, you could have put them to work! :-)

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  3. Very nice! Nathan, I'd be on your team any day when the bad times come. You're one handy mo-fo.

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  4. That's great, yours is so professional. I have rain catcher barrels under my gutters, but I don't have a faucet on them, I have a flip top lid that I can open and use a bucket to get out rain water for my potted plants. I use mosquito waffers that float and kill the eggs!

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    Replies
    1. a piece of screen and a bungee cord work great and you can eliminate the wafers

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    2. Or a drop of cooking oil. Same thing they used to eradicate malaria in Panama

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    3. cooking oil? genius.

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    4. Was just wondering about how much this would cost?

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  5. Oooh I love that you have them by the garden. We have rain barrels that we put in last year - recenlty we added a third barrel and also a solar powered water pump. Just got our post up about the water barrels, but will be doing one on making the solar powered water pump.
    http://sistersplayinghouse.blogspot.com/2012/04/water-barrels.html

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    Replies
    1. Solar powered water pump?! I'll be sure to check out that post!

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    2. Yes I hope to get that up soon - we just got the hose reel cart for the hose, so now we have it completely set up - we've been using it for several weeks now and it's been sooo much easier than carrying buckets of water. But, I was tired of a hose laying all over the yard.

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    3. I'm hoping to get that post up by the end of the month. It's been working really slick. We just got a hose reel cart, so now I don't have a massive hose spread across my yard.

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  6. That's amazing. We started our first garden a few days ago. It's not nearly as awesome as yours and our water is currently coming from the hose at our house and the rain when it rains. If this spot proves to be a good spot (it's between two trees, so it might not be), we'll see about upgrading it some the next time we plant. We did very basic things that I just read about on the internet.

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    Replies
    1. It's good to start small. Nathan disagrees, but I'm pretty sure I'm right. ;)

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  7. Chrissy and Nathan, thanks for an excellent tutorial and informative post! I've wanted rain barrels for a while, but the cost has been overwhelming for the number that I need. I'm so jazzed about this!! Hope it's okay... I've chosen to this post as my "featured post" on tomorrow's Barn Hop!
    Blessings,
    Amy

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  8. Visiting from the Barn Hop. Great tutorial! We love the three rain barrels we got from our local extension center. When we move to NC, they're coming with us!

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  9. I love this set up. We garden on a hill and we have a dozen or so barrels just waiting to be cleaned out and set up. I love the look of this....and the screen idea is something I would never have thought of either!

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  10. Great idea! Thanks for this and love the pic of Nathan in the barrel - to funny :o)

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  11. This is great! Thanks for sharing! I love the pictures. I totally belly laughed when I saw the photo of Nathan inside the barrel! Good times!!! I am sending my hubby to your blog for the awesome tutorial! LOVE IT!

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  12. Great job on the tutorial! It's the details that can make or break a project, and your clear description of making the gasket and installing the faucet will save a lot of people from a less-than-successful result :)

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  13. wow, this makes our rain barrels (trashcans with lids, and a watering can) look very very naive.

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  14. This guy seriously needs to learn of the wonders of pipe thread compound. It'll solve all of his leak problems easily!

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    Replies
    1. I didn't see any leak problems. Maybe you could post a tutorial to teach people your method? Always something new to learn.

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    2. We haven't had any leaking, but I'd love to know more about pipe thread compound! Nathan may know what it is, but I definitely don't.

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    3. Is pipe thread compound safe for people and animals to ingest? I can see rain water being used for that purpose sometimes.

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    4. Pipe thread compound is a glue/lubricant/seal that is put on the threads of the pipe to sufficiently "seal" the joint... Plumbs tape can be used also... lot of options.. pipe compound is probably the more reliable and least hassle but .. they are chemicals.. completely harmless in the manner used (used on home water lines everywhere)... but chemicals none the less!

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    5. Pipe threads seal on the tapered thread. It should never get to the bottom where a gasket would seal. I agree pipe thread compound or teflon tape will avoid having the dogs wondering what is happening in the barrel. Great concept, I plan on catching the water from three sheads and backfeeding the up hill pump system I now use letting rain and gravity be my friend

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  15. I am curious-is there enough water pressure to actually run a soaker hose?

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    Replies
    1. One gallon of water weighs 8lbs so the higher you can elevate it, the more pressure you will have. Naturally, when the water in the barrel drops, the pressure will drop also.

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    2. We currently have one 10ft and one 25ft soaker hose for each barrel and as long as the barrels are about 1/4 full, the soaker hoses have been performing perfectly. We still have to build the roof to keep the barrels replenished, but our bees and other projects have been distracting us!

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  16. Since I live on a hill, any rain, usually just washes down, so I have a rain barrel to water my plants, but this is a great idea and I may add another.

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  17. Very well done thanks for the info will be giving it a try ....Jim G NW Wisconsin

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  18. Thanks for this information! Rain barrels at the store cost soo much. I am going to follow these directions and make my own. Much appreciated!

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  19. OMG, I want this. Please post pictures and instructions on how to make the awning. Planing to move to South Carolina next year and since the rain fall is less there I will need something like this. Love your ideas.

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  20. Nice tutorial.

    It must rain a lot where you live! We have rain barrels but we use the roof of the house to collect the water. If I left my barrels open to the rain, we'd never collect enough to water anything.

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    1. We still need to build a roof/awning to increase collection to keep the barrels replenished. We've just gotten bees though and have been busy with that.

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  21. How many dogs does it take to help make it? Just two or does it depend on their size(s)? LOL

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    1. I was just going to ask if we can do this with just one dog, LOL!

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    2. How long did it take you to train the dogs to hand you the tools? I would like to get my dog to help the husband. lol

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  22. I have tried this, and my conclusion was that gravity feed systems do not provide sufficient pressure to make soaker hoses work. YMMV. Typical soaker hoses need between 10 and 25 psi to work properly. That equates to a water column height of between 4 and 10 feet.

    It seems that someone makes soaker hoses specifically for rain barrel systems. http://www.rainbarrelsoakerhose.com/ Maybe give that a try.

    The other problem I had with rain barrel systems is that just to put down an inch or so of water took way more than the entire barrel/system would hold. I had a 300 gallon system, which works out to 2" of water over 240 square feet. My garden beds were about 1000 square feet. This may not be an issue for the smaller beds pictured above.

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    1. While we still have to build the awning to increase collection-surface area and keep our barrels replenished, we have 35ft of soaker hose attached to each barrel and everything works fine so long as the barrels are at least 1/4 full. We do not plan to keep our gardens fully irrigated with the rain barrels, but to use them to reduce our groundwater usage.

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  23. Aloha, In Hawaii we use large tanks to collect rain water from our roof(s). We have two 10K gal tanks. The water tanks are covered to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. We use this water for everything and we filter it to remove anything that might make us sick. Most of our plants do not need to be watered due to gentle rains. Now and then we have no rain for a few months and we can use the rain we have stored in the tanks.

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    1. That's interesting! How do you filter the water to make it potable?

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  24. If you want to do this then support you local dairy farmer: go and buy their teat-dip barrels. They may give them to you. Use a saws-all to take off the top. Give them a rinse with soap.

    But WAIT...
    Allow me to be critical:

    I don't really see how this can be that effective without being at the corner of a barn or house. Esp when they're under a tree. At the valley of a roof works best.

    In the Charlotte area, if you have collected all of the rainfall this month (about 1.6 inches) then a single 55 gal barrel (23 inch barrel diameter = 415 square inches) then you would have managed to collect 2.8 gallons per barrel. (YTD you could have collected 18 gallons.) To fill 1 barrel in a month you will have to increase your surface area to 7885 square inches (~7'x7' awning per barrel). To fill them YTD 1245 square inches per barrel (~3'x3' awning per barrel.)

    If you start to figure in just how much water a single tomato plant needs, you can see that this system is very inadequate.

    The cost of one brass spigot can supply you with 2000 gallons of water or better.

    All this said, I do use rain barrels at the valleys of my barn and home. They make it handy where there is no water, but they are not adequate beyond supplying my seedlings with their first drinks of water.

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    1. As I said in the post, and in response to other comments already: While we still have to build the awning to increase collection-surface area and keep our barrels replenished, we have 35ft of soaker hose attached to each barrel and everything works fine so long as the barrels are at least 1/4 full. We do not plan to keep our gardens fully irrigated with the rain barrels, but to use them to reduce our groundwater usage.

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    2. I find the calculations helpful. We live in Phoenix and with 7 inches of annual rainfall, we have to maximize the catchment area to make sense of collecting and storing rainwater or there would be NO reduction in ground water use. Thank you for your comment and the advice about the dairy barrels.

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    3. I live in Oregon, and it definitely rains enough to fill barrels or whatever you have! (in winter) It is now June, 2014, and it just poured enough to fill a 1 gal container I set out to air.

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  25. This is great! I think im gonna try!

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  26. A light colored spray paint (they make specialty plastic paints for painting plastic garden furniture) would do two things. 1. It slows evaporation and 2. It can look nicer. Great job!

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    1. Good idea - I hadn't even thought about evaporative losses from the barrels!

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  27. Your instructions are amazing...love the dogs getting in the pictures. We have rain barrels (one with a spigot) and collect as much rain as we can. I like the idea of having the barrels at the end of the beds; but the beds are too far from the house (at least 50 feet) to run a downspout that far. I just started My Gardening Blog - Inside & Out and will be sharing this with my readers. Thank you for such informative and step-by-step instructions.

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    1. Our garden beds are removed from our house too - that's why we are building a self-standing awning/roof that will cover our firewood and drain into the barrels to keep them filled.

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  28. Perhaps the following link may contribute a little of the rest of the story towards the successful resolution of making a lush kitchen garden in a dry arid area with little or no rain?

    One of my most beloved cousins grew up as a missionary kid in Africa. A few decades later she is now returning on trips to Africa sharing a simple gardening trick for dry cracking soil in countries where people are dying of starvation due to lack of water...

    Here's the link to her kitchen gardening trick...

    http://www.afrogarden.com/eng.html

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  29. also belly laughed at him in the barrel, and then again at the dogs making sure he was ok! never would have thought about rubber sheeting to make a gasket, and also loved details about drilling plastic so as not to booger it up! great post

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  30. OH MY I am glad a friend posted this on facebook!! I really love this idea because where I live I miss out on the free help one could get if you live in the city limits..

    I am going to hook one of these up for watering my chicken... you attach it to a PVC or pipe system with nipple attatched to it and water only comes out when they peck at nipple. This is awesome.

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  31. I wish I'd known that you had to climb inside the barrel to connect the faucet. We cut a big hole on the top of ours (this is years ago) and reached in from the top to screw in the faucet, using a seal to secure it. Unfortunately, we didn't drill quite low enough on the barren and at the end of the season, we need to dump out the stuff that's collected on the bottom. I also like your placing the barrels right over your garden plot and using a soaker hose.

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  32. Love the pictures in the rain barrel. Someone must really trust his dogs, Seriously, though, rain barrels are high on my to do list; in the Pacific Northwest where it rains almost daily, $80 a month is a steep price to pay, and such barrels are a necessity to a farmer. I found your instructions clear and concise for all skill levels. Watch my blog to see how I do in my attempts.

    http://thewillowsfarm.blogspot.com/

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  33. Similar systems (larger scale) help in developing countries where water is either scarce or plentiful but there is no collection / storage system.

    Great information.

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  34. I've had fairly positive results putting gold fish in the barrels to eat the mosquito eggs. Gold fish can live in pretty nasty water, and also add a bit of nourishment to the water.

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  35. WHERE can we get those Barrels????????

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  36. Will you have gutters on your awning?

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  37. I recommend not putting the faucet so close to the bottom. Despite the screens, they still collect a bunch of crud. The crud sinks to the bottom. I clean them out when they are almost dry but think the water is clearner with the crud at the bottom.

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  38. Is the farm supply where you got the barrels the one on Oleander near where it veers off from Dawson?

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    1. Yes, that's the one! Farm Supply Store, I think it's called. Last I saw they still had them for sale, but that was a few weeks ago.

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    2. Thanks. That's one of my favorite stores in town.

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  39. Almost forgot - if you need any more barrels, I heard you could get them for just a couple of dollars each if you drive up to Mt. Olive and get them from the pickle factory. I'm trying to decide if I prefer to pay a little more and save myself the trip, or make the trip and pay less.

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  40. Chrissy, Thank you for the post about the rain barrels and the fact they are located where you need them most...in the garden. I am most interested in the awning. Please in your next post explain the construction needed for that to happen. I will look forward to your gardening post in the future. We live in Asheville, NC

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    1. We actually haven't built the awning yet! Been way too busy, but we hope to have it done sometime in the next few months... maybe after the wedding. I'll post an update to this entry when it's done!

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  41. !)What kind of screen will keep the mosquitoes out? 2) Do you bury the soaker hosees?

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  42. This is illegal in Utah as well as park strip gardens....

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    1. water collection is illegal in utah? can you tell me exactly where to find this utah law please?

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  43. I have a question: would the pressure be higher if all three barrels were connected together with a single outlet? Then, would it work to connect several soakers to a hose manifold that connects to the single outlet? That's how I water our large garden, using city water. There is one hose from the house, and it connects into the manifold. Then four soaker hoses connect to that. Some of my hoses are 50 feet long, or more, and I connect two soakers together sometimes for more length. It works great.

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    Replies
    1. water presure in base on the inches of the water level above the fauset, that is why water tanks are found in towers or in pressurised tanks.

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  44. Thanks for showing a good method to making a seal on the spout. I am making a solar farm and the basic idea I had was to collect the rain water that runs off each solar cell then run it through a basic filter into the rainbarrel through a trap door. then have a pipe that comes up to about a foot fromt the top. then feed them into another barrel with the a pipe feed a foot shorter still and then tie all those second barrels tother to a large storage tank that I can feed through a whole house filter into one of two potable water tanks that I would keep under 40psi for actual use. It rains 8" average per year here so that is about 5 gal/sq.ft a year so a solar farm would gather more and more water depending on how large it is. Enough of a solar farm to make a living would be more than enough water to homestead with but as I go, I was also going to collect water form every roof from the house to the chicken coup and even the greenhouses. We where are also planing to recycle the water with arobic ceptic feeding algae but that system will take more time to develope so well water will continue to be important for now.

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  45. water presure in base on the inches of the water level above the fauset, that is why water tanks are found in towers or in pressurised tanks.

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  46. We have done this for years. We however put the barrels at the end of the rain gutters on the house. We take the gutters off in the fall and put them back on in there spring. We then carry the water in buckets to the garden or use a hose on the end. Great informative post. Hope everyone uses nature to water instead of paying for a water bill or if in the country an electric bill to pump it out of the ground.

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  47. i think that piece is useless as the relation between water out for garden and in from rain is about 10000:1

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  48. This is interesting; however are you aware you can garden with much less water via ecosystem based on Aquaponics? Here is a basic explanation of how it works - http://www.endlessfoodsystems.com/how-does-it-work.html - There is a push to spread the message of Aquaponics via a new documentary film called Aquaponics Across America "Food Freedom Rebels" - however funding is needed to spread this message, here are some details http://kck.st/RAD71b

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  49. In cold weather all of this is aggravated as the oil or grease stiffens and turns into a very effective gun stopping glue.
    threaded barrels

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  51. “Why buy when you can make?”, that’s what I always say. I have a total of four huge water barrels. Why you ask? I use those barrels as an alternative source of water to droplet feed my plants instead of using my garden hose. Now I don’t need to worry about my plants nor the water bill when I use the barrels for the garden, and I am happy with that.

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  52. Thanks so much for sharing this! This is a way cool idea. I wish I lived in a place where it rained enough to do this. I think having your own water tanks in Edmonton is a good idea. It's better to be safe than sorry!

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  55. Oh, why didn't I see this before we put in the new garden beds last year?! I have 12 rain barrels (we pump into them from the catch barrels around the house), but have to dip a bucket or watering can. I do have a hand pump that fits on some of the barrel tops, that works pretty well. And since we use the Square Foot Gardening method, the garden doesn't need all that much water to stay well-hydrated (plants closer together use less water--also less weeding!). Very nice set-up you have!

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  56. Thanks for sharing this! I love the pic with the dogs going, Dad what are you doing? Can we get in? Anyway, could you instead of the rubber gasket use caulk?

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  57. The dogs are thinking "I hope he hurries up so I can have a turn."

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  58. YES! NO GLUE .
    Bernard

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  59. Love the step by step explanation on how to make the rain barrels. We currently have 3. Two are located next to downspouts, with spigots. We have a soaker hose on one barrel that runs the length of the house. We have a diverter which directs water into that barrel with a hose, and in the case of overflow, the water then proceeds back down the gutter. We have started setting up a plastic trash can on wheels to put the hose into, when the barrel is full. We then use a 5 gallon bucket to fill the rain barrel located behind the greenhouse and when the trash can is half full we wheel that trash can to the interior of the greenhouse in the winter. We put a hose on the barrel behind the greenhouse and water the flowerbeds around the outside of the greenhouse with the rain water. We have planted veggies in our flowerbeds, and use the flowerbeds to make compost each winter. Our vegetables seem to love all of this, even though we just have one season of experience so far. Our dogs are very interested in all of this also. Especially when we add horse manure to the compost pile. We add lots of leaves on top to cover the smell, but also have laid those little metal flowerbed fences (that I use as an initial climbing feature) on top of the leaves to make it more difficult for the dogs to roll or dig. The bees are a great addition. Good luck with it, they are great little pollinators.

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  60. Hey! I live in NC also and was wondering which farm supply store you got your barrels at. So far I have been unable to find some reasonably priced. I love the ideas you have here and cant wait to craft something for my own place. Thanks again!

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  61. I want to do this in my gardens. Adding a rain collection system and a gravity feed drip irrigation system!
    www.facebook.com/Homegrownandhappiness

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  62. Mate we would have you over here in Oz any day, brilliant idea really well executed. Thanks and congratulations.

    Mark

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  63. HAHAHA! The pics with the dogs made me giggle madly at 1:44 in the a.m.!! Thanks so much for the info, it will save on my water bill.

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  64. Connect a hose between them and tie this into your rainwater collection off the house and make a really crazy system.

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  65. Was the stands tall enough for you to get good water flow (pressure)?

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  66. It surprises me this technology isn't used more. Many homes used to be set up to collect rain water in there attics for drinking . Today almost nobody uses this method and there is always a water shortage somewhere it seems.

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  67. Those pics in the rain barrel with dogs very funny. Mine might not last as long as yours but u used water from my overground pool and never use chemicals

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  68. If you are the law-abiding type make sure collecting rainwater is legal in your area or that you have the proper permits as collecting in illegal in many areas. If you aren't, camouflage and don't get caught.

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  69. My garden is far away from my water source (sun issues) and I've been wondering what I was going to do. I have a water barrel by my house that I love, Love LOVE! I didn't think I could have a water barrel away from the house. This would solve my problem. Did you ever get those awnings on there to collect more water?

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  70. WE HAVE ONE RAISED BED 16X16 AND 6, 30X16 SO I DOUBT WE COULD CATCH ENOUGH RAIN WATER BUT WE HAVE CONSIDERED IT, WE LAID WATER LINE ALMOST TO THE GARDEN AND I DO USE SOAKER HOSES.

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  71. Be careful with treated (Wolmanized, etc.)lumber. It can contain toxic salts and other substances that you don't want in your food.

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  72. THIS IS GREAT> however my only concern would be of BPA's(toxic chems.)leaking into to water from the plastic of the container. Especially when a black plastic can reach in excess of 115dgs. in direct summer sunlight.

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    Replies
    1. The problem is, black plastic like this does NOT allow for the growth of algae, whereas clear or white or other colors do. These are, I assume food grade barrels, that have housed (pickles i remember reading) or other food items.

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  73. I was wanting to put a spigot in a barrel for a portable waterer, found myself standing in the Lowe's plumbing department, consulted Google, and found this post! Thanks so much for the simplicity. Here's the result of my effort (thanks to your inspiration!): http://youtu.be/79A6DLFPstU

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  74. What kind of awning are you installing? It would be great to see, I am thinking if it is possible to use this type of system in a community garden, if the garden doesn't have a water source. I know communities have regulations for such a thing, but if it is secure and safe, it might offer opportunities for more community gardens! Thanks!

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  75. great idea .. i will make it for my backyard

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  76. Love, love, love!

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  77. awesome, i did similar but added another mesh on a removealbe lid that just sits on top, this allows me to pick it up and off easily to remove debris.

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  78. I built something similar a few years ago using the gutter system from my home for a small garden we have next to the house. They work great.

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  79. Did the barrels you got from Coca-Cola have removable tops like the barrels in your post? I have only found barrels with small spout holes in the top. There is no screw ring with a lid like you described, but I haven't looked for one at the Coke bottling plant, either.

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