April showers bring May flowers, so why not capture some of those showers with a rain barrel. Rain barrels are used to capture and store rainwater that drains off the roof. Using rain barrels helps conserve water, reduce runoff and save you money on your water bill.
Not only is having a rain barrel good for the environment and your wallet, it's great for your plants, too. Rainwater is much better for plants than tap water, which contains chemicals that can build up in the soil and harm sensitive plants. The water collected in rain barrels can be used for tons of home and garden chores. Just think of all the ways you could save money on your water bill by using rainwater:
Watering houseplants, outdoor potted plants and the garden
Filling up ponds and water features
Washing the car, boat and other recreational vehicles
Cleaning garden tools and equipment
Washing windows and screens
These are just a few ideas; the list of uses for rainwater goes on and on.
The first thing to think about when you get a rain barrel is where to put it. You'll want to place it under a downspout, and the location you choose should be fairly level. Also, it's easier to fill watering cans if the rain barrel is raised off the ground. I use inexpensive cinder blocks to elevate and level my rain barrels.
If possible, find a spot where rainwater overflow won't matter. Most rain barrels have an overflow valve where the excess water can drain out when the barrel is full. However, when there's a heavy rainfall, the release valve can become overwhelmed, causing excess water to bubble over the top of the barrel.
If you're concerned about water leaking into your basement, you can purchase a special downspout attachment. This attachment will turn off the flow of water to the rain barrel once it's full, allowing the water to flow through the downspout as it normally would.
Another concern with rain barrels is bugs, especially mosquitoes. Some rain barrels are made to keep bugs and debris out, but others are not. If your rain barrel doesn't have a screen to cover the opening, you can simply cover it with a piece of window screen.
Setting up a rain barrel only takes a few minutes; all you need is a screwdriver and a ladder. Start by removing the metal downspout at the seam and replacing it with adjustable plastic tubing. Next, attach the tubing to the gutter with screws so it won't blow away. Then all you have to do is adjust the tubing so it empties into the rain barrel.
In cold climates, rain barrels need to be emptied and stored during the winter. Storing it in a garage, shed or somewhere out of direct sunlight will help extend the life of the rain barrel. Barrels stored outside should be stored upside down or covered to avoid water accumulation.
Collecting rainwater in a rain barrel is an easy way to help the environment and conserve drinking water. Gardener or not, everyone could benefit from having one.