Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rain barrel update

The rain barrel we installed last week has just had its official inauguration. Brian went out and watered the entire garden using only the rainwater in the barrel. Here's what we've learned about our new rain barrel and how to use it:
  1. It holds a lot. Brian watered all the vegetables in the garden, the old and new asparagus beds, the rhubarb plants, the cherry bushes, and, using a watering can, the raspberry canes and the wildflowers in the front yard, without emptying the reservoir. He isn't sure how much water is left in the barrel, but he was able to tilt it, so it's probably less than a quarter full. (If our estimates are correct, the barrel holds about 55 gallons, so when full, it weighs over 400 pounds, and it ain't budging.)
  2. It fills quickly. All the water that Brian used today was the product of just one rainfall last week, and not a particularly heavy one at that. In addition, that single rainfall sent so much water out the overflow hose that it dug a small hole in the asparagus bed. (We've now repositioned the hose so that it points off to one side of the bed, where the water can run off a bit more freely.) So unless we have an unexpected drought later this summer, I don't think we'll have any problems keeping it full all summer long.
  3. It does not, however, empty quickly. Brian found that, particularly when using the hose, the flow rate was very slow. That stands to reason, because a 55-gallon barrel of water on only slightly higher ground than the garden itself simply doesn't produce as much pressure as the entire municipal reservoir. When watering the larger plants, such as the cherry bushes, he found that the easiest way to do it was to remove the nozzle and place the hose directly at the base of the plant, then just let it sit there for a minute or two while he pulled a few weeds. This doesn't work, however, with the vegetables in the garden. It may actually be less work to water those by hand, using a watering can that we fill from the barrel, than to do it with the hose. The two beds on the far side of the garden have to be done that way anyway, since our hose isn't long enough to reach them from the barrel.
  4. The spigot, as we suspected, is a weak point. Brian had to turn it on and off repeatedly to fill the watering can, and each time he did, he could feel that it would be easy to tighten it beyond the point needed to stop the flow—which would most likely break it, since the whole mechanism is made of plastic. So that's something we'll need to be extra careful with when using it. Fortunately, if it does break, we can replace the part fairly cheaply.
So, in conclusion, it looks like, with a normal amount of rainfall, we should be able to do nearly all our watering this summer from the rain barrel. We won't be able to do all of it, since we can't fill our tree watering buckets without a hose, and it won't be quite as quick or convenient, but if we're willing to spend a little extra time, we can cut the amount of city water we use on our garden to a tiny fraction of what we use now. And, Brian notes, in the event that another water main breaks and our water supply is cut off for a prolonged period of time, we can use the water in the barrel to flush our toilets.
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