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Harvesting Rainwater: What You Need to Know

July 26, 2013 | By | 2 Replies More

harvesting rainwater

Cool old rain barrel

It’s true: the weather is getting wackier all the time. Looking out my window today, I saw a brief rain coming down in the middle of a sunny sky. I had hopes for clouds and a good steady rain because, for the last 10 days, we’ve had excessive heat with no rain. Everything in my garden is moping.  Prior to that, it was rain, rain, and more rain. If only we could bottle all that rain and save it for drier times, when we really need it. Oh wait…you can!

Harvesting rainwater can make watering more convenient by storing water closer to where it’s needed. Every year, I crowd my patio with pots of herbs and flowering containers that need to be watered frequently when the weather heats up. I don’t like to fill the watering can on the other side of the house and lug it around the yard. It simply feels great to water them easily and without ever turning on the hose.

Catching rainwater on its way through your gutters and before it travels out to your yard helps reduce storm runoff.  This runoff has become problematic because it picks up pollutants as it travels over miles of asphalt and ground that eventually make their way into waterways, killing wildlife and otherwise disrupting nature’s delicate balance. If you want to be a green gardener, harvesting rainwater should part of your routine.

Did I mention that rainwater is FREE?

Harvesting Rainwater is Easy!

1.  Select a site – Installing a collection barrel next to your gutter makes harvesting rainwater easy and fast. Try to locate your barrel near where you’ll be using the water. At our new home, I just installed one next to our front porch. We don’t have a hose connection in the front of our house, so having the water collected there will make watering much more convenient.

harvesting rainwater

My front-of-house site for our rain barrel

2.  Pick out a barrel – There are so many choices these days, from strictly utilitarian to downright pretty with built-in planters at the top. If your barrel will be out of view, there’s probably no need to splurge on a fancy version. If the barrel is an integral part of your patio like mine is, the more attractive, the better.

Harvesting rainwater

When you’re from Indiana, you can do anything with cinder blocks!

3.  Level and elevate – Your barrel needs to be level. Use a dirt rake and shovel to move the dirt until you have a good, level surface for your barrel to sit, and check it with a level.

Because rain barrels don’t have water pressure, it’s best to elevate them to create pressure. The higher your barrel sits, the easier it will be to fill a watering can quickly.

I made a level platform using two layers of cinder block. It’s a tad unsightly now, but I’ll plant some low-growing ground cover around it that will soften the look.

Harvesting rainwater

Make sure your base is level!



4.  Attach the barrel to the gutter – Some people simply cut off the bottom section of their downspout and install a large-diameter, flexible piece that directs the water into the barrel. This is the easiest solution, but it can result in lots of water coming out of the overflow holes during heavy rains and landing right near your home’s foundation.


For us, the right solution was a downspout diverter. This cool contraption directs smaller amounts of water into your barrel and, when it’s full, water is “diverted” right back into your downspout and away from your home. Good diverters work automatically provided you’ve installed them correctly. The most important consideration is to measure properly according to the instructions so you end up with a hose going from the gutter to the inlet on your barrel that’s horizontal and not sloping much in either direction. Get your barrel set up and leveled before you start drilling holes in your gutter.

Harvesting rainwater

Most diverters will require you to cut through your downspout.

Make sure the diverter you’ve chosen is appropriate for your downspout. Standard downspouts are 3×4 inch rectangular. Mine happens to be round, so I needed a “special” diverter.

5.  Control mosquitos – Rainwater can be the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos that can spoil your outdoor bliss. Try mosquito dunks which contain an organic substance that kills mosquito larvae.

6.  Cash in on “free” water – Rain barrels are commonly used for filling watering cans and hand watering potted plants. However, you can also use harvested water to water your lawn or perennial beds. Again, rain barrels are not capable of producing enough water pressure on their own for using a hose. You can use a pump made specifically for this purpose – some are even solar powered!

Harvesting rainwater

Done! I’ll plant flowers in the top tomorrow…

You can even link rain barrels along the length of your house to double or triple your capacity. Use a high-powered pump that will allow you to use a sprinkler during the hottest months of the summer without using a drop of public water.








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Category: General, Green Living

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  1. Mommy says:

    Splendid!!…Can’t wait to use our submersible rainbarrell pump…had to charge for 12 hours.

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