Rain Barrels - Project for Fall
This was a tough year in terms of rainfall. As a result our water bill was through the roof this summer. We've intended to have rain barrels, or cisterns, to collect what rain we could to offset costs but also provide "better" water. Though they don't make a huge difference if there is no rain, they do and can make quite a difference with at least just some rain.
A cistern or rain barrel is simple. Something to hold water in that you collect through rainfall. Though it is simple, there are a few aspects to a good collection and holding device to make sure it works well and isn't a breeding ground for mosquitos.
Most home cisterns collect water that runs off the roof of the home - the roof surface is large so it tends to collect over a large surface and direct to just a few areas. In other words a barrel sitting out in the open will collect however much water falls in a given rain shower. If it rains a half an inch, that's how much will be collected in the cistern. If half and inch falls over 400 SF of roof and is directed into a single gutter system that's quite a lot of 1/2 inches! You'll be surprised how fast a properly located rain barrel can collect in even a lighter rainfall.
Some systems are tied directly to gutter systems, others like ours, are located at places under the roof eaves where the most rain collects and pours off the roof (our home doesn't have gutters).
WHAT WOULD MAKE THE WATER "BETTER"? In most cities drinking water or tap water is treated and often treated with chlorine to make it safe to drink. Your plants aren't big fans of chlorine. It's fine to water them with, but more "pure" water that has simply fallen from the sky isn't treated like this and your plants will love it.
WHAT ELEMENTS DOES A CISTERN NEED?
*First and foremost, an opening to collect the water. As mentioned above collection through a gutter system provides a direct collection method. For ours which aren't connected to gutters the opening at the top is pretty much the entire area of the top.
*Screening at the opening and at any opening that would allow mosquitoes inside. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in still water, exactly what you are collecting and holding. Screening will keep them out and prevent you from adding mosquito farming to your urban farm!
*A spigot - for obvious reasons! You need to hook the hose up somewhere.
*An overflow spout or opening. Water could just flow out of the top if the barrel is overfllling, but most have a separate valve to do this. Many, like ours, have a fitting that would allow a hose to be hooked up so water overflowing out of the barrel could be directed elsehwere.
*A platform - while not a "must", a bit of elevation helps with hooking up the hose, but more importantly raising the water above the level that you'll be using creates pressure that pushes the water out of the hose. The pressure, generally, from your cistern will not be nearly as high as water from your home spigot.