Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cleaning the Water Butts

God made rainy days so gardeners could get the housework done.
~Author Unknown

Now that the title has got your attention, I have to explain to my American readers that we’re talking about rain barrels here…what did you think?? No surprise to my UK readers. What ever you call it, it’s a great way to collect free, clean water to use in your gardens. And I might add, house plants love it too because it has nothing added to it to ‘purify’ it.

I made all 3 of my 55 gallon rain barrels and a compost bin from former pickle barrels that I got from the Nalley’s Pickle Co before they closed the business in this area. They have a two part cap-and-ring style lid in which I drilled several holes so water from the downspout can drip in. I used nylon window screening just under the lids to screen out debris. They each have an overflow outlet near the top with tubing running down to the garden below so I don’t have to go out there in a downpour to open the spigot when they overflow. Then I drilled holes as low as possible, but high enough so I could reach in to be able to attach the spigots/washers/nuts for the outflow. It would probably be boring to read about all the parts and pieces I used. So I’ll just say I just went to the hardware store with a mental plan of how I wanted to make them and spent more than an hour finding parts that would accomplish it. All the parts I used were found in both the PVC plumbing and garden sprinkler departments. Back and forth I went more than once. Of course you can buy rain barrels already complete, but I’m a do-it-yourselfer, a problem solver and like to build/design things.

Naturally the size of roof you connect it to will determine how quickly it fills up. I have one attached to my house downspout…that one fills up in a day during a heavy rain. I have two attached to the smaller garage roof and they can take more than a week to fill. It would be better to attach two or all three to the house but aesthetics are important to me and garden space wouldn’t allow.

Two of the barrels are in the sun and one in the shade. I think it’s best to keep them in the shade if you can but even that one got ‘fragrant’ if I didn’t use it quickly enough. Each summer when I use up all the stored water, I open them up and give them a good rinse out and brush down (on the inside) with a long handled car wash brush. A quick, easy and not particularly unpleasant job.

Still, all that stagnant water can get foul at times. What to do? As a kid, didn’t I have a fish tank and didn’t the filters always use charcoal to keep the water clear? Why not charcoal for water butts? So I bought a bag of natural BBQ briquettes. Natural, with nothing added, as many manufacturers have added chemicals for better combustion. I put them in a nylon mesh bag (actually made for straining paint found in the paint dept), tied a long string to it and lowered it to the bottom of the barrel. By golly I think it really does help! It does seem to keep the water cleaner longer, at least by the time I use it up now.

So every year at cleaning time I re-supply the briquettes, about 6 or 8 per bag. They do eventually dissolve into a mucky ooze which I just turn out into the garden. Briquettes are wood ash, which is potash, the third nutrient on the NPK fertilizer list. Potassium (potash) is necessary for the development of strong plants able to overcome disease susceptibility and maintaining balanced nitrogen use. Potassium (potash) also alkalinizes soils that are too acidic. Then with clean, scrubbed insides and a fresh bag of briquettes they are ready for our next PNW rainstorm to fill them back up again.

Rain barrels don’t have enough water pressure to run a sprinkler but are great for filling watering cans, topping off water features, bird baths and rinsing off tools and boots. I can hook up a hose to them to run water anywhere the hose can reach, but it’s only gravity fed so the water runs slower. The lower the water level, the slower the water runs. That said, they do have their uses.

Do you have rain barrels? If not, do you plan to install any? If you get a lot of rain like we do here in western Washington they are great, and we can use them most of the spring and early summer months until the rain dries up!

In bloom in my garden today: Hardy Geranium, Peas, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Armeria latifolia ‘Joystick’, Dianthus, Day Lily, Aquilegia (Columbine), Rose, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’, Iris, Geum ‘Lady Stratheden’, Saxifrage, old fashioned Coral Bells (Heuchera), Alpine strawberry, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’

Author’s photo


Shari B. (FitFeat) said...

We don't gather rainwater yet because as long as I can remember it had been illegal to collect it in Colorado (unless you also own the water rights to your property, which you don't in the burbs.) Colorado has always been a stickler for water - guess it's cause we don't have a lot of it! Supposedly new laws were enacted last June that changed it and made it no longer illegal for some, but we haven't looked at it further. We DID however see some cool rain barrels 2 weeks ago at Home Depot and considered picking one up at the time.

We could use one today, as it's been raining like crazy!!

Joan said...

Wow I never knew there were laws controlling catchment of rainwater! Especially in dry areas where you need all you can get. Would love to hear the reasoning behind that one!

Illegal to use and yet they can sell rainbarrels...that's a head scratcher...or maybe it means its ok now.

Rain for you and the first day of summer weather for us!

Thanks for reading!

Cindy said...

gosh, what a great and perfect way to re use water that would have otherwise just gone down the drain!

and I cannot believe Colorado has laws against collecting rain water.

if it's already dry??? duh.

I'm telling you!
Great post Joan. I'll be elbowing hubs on this one (not sure if we get much rain..its so hit and miss here)...that and bees.

gosh are we are slow to do anything!


Joan said...

well conversely we get so much rain my barrels have overflow outlets! haha!

Colorado's reasoning is a head scratcher isn't it?? Oh well,there's hope, things change. Like bees...NY city had laws against beekeeping for ages but just this year they overturned it and now it's ok. Yay!

So did you get your equip and get those meter bees?

Cindy said...


it's now on the "DO IT" list.


Hubs prepped the back yard area and is about to order the supplies.

we take forever to do anything. haha

but we love to plan.

I am still looking for that perfect lilac too.

see, it's just how we roll...but if it's a new gadget...LOOK OUT. we'll run you over if you get in our way!

have a great week Joan!

Shari B. (FitFeat) said...

I think the laws have something to do with the fact that it IS so dry here. Since it's scarce, the gov't has to get their mitts involved and find a way to make money (??) I know when I first moved here my ex-father-in-law had me all freaked out about buying any house because he made SUCH a big deal out of 'you need to make sure whatever you buy you also have the water rights'. I think it's just a way for some people to capitalize on something other people don't have enough of.

Gosh, I sound cynical don't I??? :)

Joan said...

well as an unabashedly cynical person I'd say you are right on, no doubt!!