My use of rain barrels helped me achieve my conservation goals and improve garden watering

By Bill Manns, Master Gardener Intern

Anyone who lives in this region of Virginia is very familiar with how hot and dry it can be each July and August due to the lack of rain.  As one who has planted an annual vegetable garden for more than 40 years, I always used a hose or sprinkler to water my garden.

After moving to a new home in 2006 that was completely absent of anything green, I planted 100+ trees and shrubs over several years. I really did not give a lot of thought to watering everything.  All the planting sparked my interest in having rain barrels or some method to capture rainwater. In addition to rain barrels, I found information about using a 1,000+ gallon rain water harvesting pillow tank or bladder tank stored under our deck and also large above-ground standing tanks that hold rain water.  I believe it was 2008 when I attended a class and bought three barrels from the Henrico Extension Office.

I connected one barrel at a downspout on my house and bought tubing to connect a second barrel so that overflow from the first would fill the second.

Water barrel connection
Connection from downspout to first barrel and hose connection to second barrel.

In order to water the first dozen or so trees and shrubs I planted, I placed the third barrel in a cart, and transferred water from the two connected to the downspout to the empty barrel in the cart which was pulled using my riding mower. A hose was connected near the bottom of the mobile barrel and watering was completed by gravity.

In 2010, I found and bought seven more rain barrels and placed them on one side of my utility shed that is not viewable from the street. Barrel prep was the same for the seven as it was for the other three. All eight barrels beside the shed are connected one to another on the side, at the top and bottom so that as one fills, the overflow goes to the next barrel. Each barrel holds 55 gallons for a total of 550 gallons.

Hose connection to third barrel beside utility shed. Short hoses connect all eight barrels beside shed.

The backyard slopes and a hose connects the primary barrel connected to the downspout to the first barrel beside the utility shed.

Hose connection at bottom of first barrel runs downhill and is connected to top of third barrel.

After all 10 barrels are filled, I redirect downspout rain water connector from the barrel so that rainwater is carried away from the house. One rainstorm fills all 10 barrels quickly. I keep an inventory of mosquito dunks for the barrels.

Watering My Garden
There was a time when I connected a hose to the bottom spout on the last barrel and connected it to soaker hoses in the garden. That technique worked fine.

Later I placed drip irrigation throughout the garden with a hose connected to the last barrel in the chain. Water flows from all the interconnected barrels to the drip irrigation tubing.

Over the past 10 years using rain barrels to capture rainwater for use in my garden has helped me achieve use and conservation goals. Water from the barrels is also used to water potted plants on our deck, patio or porch. It is impossible to calculate the benefit of using rain barrels. We conserve and we use water from barrels by hose or watering can. Other than rain itself, captured rainwater is our primary choice for caring for outside plants.