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Questions? Write me at fullcirclegardener @ cableone . net.

Thinking Through Making Your Own Rain Barrel

As I said a couple of weeks ago when I first posted about rain barrels, "What could be better than storing free water to use later when it is less abundant!?!"  I am always watching for ways to save money in everything I do and when it comes to gardening, water can be one of the biggest expenses.  To reduce this expense, I mulch to retain as much water as I can in the soil and I have rain barrels to catch the free water God provides and use it to water when the soil is dry.  When I do need to water I am careful to water long and slow as I talked about in my post on watering basics.

You can buy a rain barrel at home improvement stores & garden centers or you can easily make your own.  Homemade rain barrels can be very simple to make and do not have to require a huge monetary or time investment.  In the most basic form, all you need is a large leak-free container, a source of water and a way to get the water out.  We made ours several years ago & I don't remember enough details to give you a detailed & specific 'how to', but here are some points and the basic steps to help you make your own in an afternoon or weekend.

The Container
I purchased two large barrels that were used to store untreated wood scraps from a local store, but you could use any large food grade container or garbage can.  Just be sure your barrels were not used to store chemicals or oils in their previous life.  Review point #2 in my Capturing Rainwater post as you consider what you want in a rain barrel.

First, review point #1 in my Capturing Rainwater post as you consider the location for your barrel.  You might also consider setting your barrels on a stand of some sort to give a little more room to get water out of a valve, if you want one.  Several cinder blocks could be used to form a simple but study platform.  My barrels are sitting next to each other on the ground on the northeast side of the house.

Water Access
You have to be able to access the rainwater in some way for a rain barrel to be useful.  I have two options.

#1: Dip from the top.  This requires no extra investment of time or money.  You just have to make sure that you have a way of opening and closing the top so that you can dip in a bucket or watering can to access the water.

#2: Water valve.  My husband installed water valve that I could attach a hose to on the bottom of one of the barrels so that we can gravity drain the water.  This required us to purchase a valve, drill a hole in which to insert the valve and seal it so that it would not leak.

Covering the Barrels
This is the most important step in making a rain barrel!  Invariably, where there is water, there are children, insects (especially mosquitoes) and critters attracted to that location.  The very last thing you want to find is a child in your barrel so covering the top is essential.  Until recently, I molded some chicken wire over the top of my barrels to keep children out.  This did not keep out insects or keep kids from dropping rocks & other things through the holes into the water.  Recently I replaced the chicken wire with screening that I salvaged from an old screen door we replaced on the house.  I am securing the screen with bungee cord so that I can access the water from the top easily if I need to.  (I realized tonight that I do not have a photo of my new cover.  I will insert one tomorrow.)

Direct the Water
(These pictures were taken as I transitioned from chicken wire to screen to cover my water barrels.  They were at no point left unattended and uncovered.  PLEASE be sure your barrels are covered at all times!)

Shorten your rain water down spout and direct the outlet into your container(s) so that water from your roof is captured.  My husband just removed one section of the downspout and attached a curved piece so that we'd be sure not to have water shooting down behind the barrel.  When the first barrel is full, I have to attach a second piece to re-direct the water into the second barrel.  It is my 'someday' plan to connect the two barrels so that they feed into each other without my help.

Upgrades I'm Still Wanting
 As I just eluded to, I want to connect the two barrels so that I do not have to manually move the spout to fill each one.  My plan is to connect them at both the top and the bottom so that water can freely pass between the two as the water level goes up and down.  Once I have made this connection I will also be able to install a more permanent top on the second barrel & have one less point of water access for all creatures!

The other thing I want to add is an overflow spout that I can attach a hose to and direct water further away from the house when the barrels are full.

I sincerely hope that this post has inspired you to add a rain barrel to your watering arsenal.  Don't let it be intimidating.  Start with a simple dip barrel and upgrade as you have time/energy and money.

Happy Gardening! :)

Other Post in this Series:
Garden Watering Basics
Mulching Basics
Capturing Rainwater for Drier Days
Thinking Through Making Your Own Rain Barrel


  1. great idea to save on the expense of water! Free water! awesome! I found your blog through a link party and LOVE it! I am your newest follower and would love it if you would check out my blog and follow me too! Thanks!

  2. Welcome to The Full Circle Gardener Nikki. I'm glad you stopped by. Congrats on the new addition! I look forward to seeing what you have coming up. :)


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