My grandfather’s rain barrel was an amazing thing. At least to an 8 year old adventurous boy ready to explore everything, from my grandparents garden, to the woods behind their home, my grandfather’s rain barrel was an amazing thing. I am sure I was told not to drink from it. I am also sure I broke that rule, for nothing more than, to prove that a sip wouldn’t kill you instantly (exactly the type of story my older brother would tell me daily). I remember finding cool things in or around that rain barrel. Like snakes being trapped in the barrel, or at least it being a common place to find a snake. Either way snakes were pretty damn cool to me at the time.
The rain barrel was a rusty 55gal metal barrel located at the back side of the garage/shed. It had no lid and was open on the top. I don’t think it had a spigot. I think about how I liked it being open at the top. We would simply submerge watering cans until they were full and on we would go watering.
Today on our little homestead I have a 50 gallon black plastic rain barrel. The top is enclosed with a small opening on the top, big enough for the downspout to fit in. I would prefer an open rain barrel like my grandfather had. In addition to using it to collect rain water to water the gardens, I use it to measure how much rain we have had. An open top would make this easier.
Instead of watering daily, I wait until my plants and trees are in need of watering. When I do water, I start with what my rain barrel has collected, and use all the water in it before going to the hose. This practice allows me to answer questions like “did it rain last night”? If I am away from my gardens for a few days, the amount of rain collected tells me if the gardens have been watered. I simply peek into the small hole and I can see what level the water is. I am thinking a lot about the amount of water my plants and gardens get these days. Many of our plants, and hugelbeds are still getting established. Once established the constant task of watering will be minimized.
If you are looking to live a more sustainable lifestyle and nurturing your gardens in a sustainable way, installing a rain barrel is a great starting point. Rain barrels harness and capture the resource of water naturally. Best of all it is given to us for free to do just that. And for me it is a small connection with my childhood and memories of my grandparents homestead.