Rain Barrel Revisited

Chrissy grinning over our rain barrel
Chrissy grinning over our rain barrel
Earlier this year, my wife, Chrissy and I attended a workshop on making a rain barrel. Since then, the rain barrel has sat in the corner of our garage awaiting someone1 to prepare a suitable home for it in our garden (more commonly referred to as a yard round these parts).

While my wife was eager for someone to get the rain barrel set up immediately, I was formulating a plan.

Then

When we were looking for a house, we had a list of things we wanted. One of the top three items on our list, alongside a fireplace and a finished basement, was a deck. The house we eventually bought, our house, not only had a fireplace and a basement that had enough potential to overlook its unfinished state, it also had a deck. Perfect.

Now

Looking back now, we were merely young and naive. We didn't have a clue what we really wanted, we just guessed a little. It turns out that while we love the fireplace that we don't use often enough and we're excited about finishing the basement sometime in the future, the deck was an impostor, a dictator that divided and overpowered our back garden. When we bought the house, a deck had sounded like a great idea but in reality, it turned out to be a bit rubbish. What we really wanted was a patio. My plan was to put our rain barrel on that patio.

Of course, that meant getting rid of the deck and building a patio. I'll leave the patio building to another post (I'm waiting for the grass to grow to take the last few "after" pictures) but I can tell you that it looks great and we are much happier about the way our back garden is looking (not to mention that the garden is quite pleased to have been liberated). And with the patio in place, someone2, with the fantastic assistance of our neighbour, was able to install the rain barrel.

Installation

The rain barrel is best positioned near a downspout (also known as a drainpipe in some parts) so that water from the roof can be collected. I earmarked a spot on the corner of our patio where the barrel fit perfectly. Next, my neighbour reveled in the opportunity to use his Dremel as he neatly cut the bottom of the downspout. We inserted the spout into the elbow joint that came with the rain barrel and screwed them together. Unfortunately, the elbow wasn't long enough to reliably deliver water to the barrel, so we took a short length of the trimmed downspout and attached that. This extended the spout all the way to the top of the rain barrel.

The modified downspout
The modified downspout
The downspout feeding the barrel
The downspout feeding the barrel

That was that. The rain barrel was ready to be filled. We had no idea when that would happen or how long it would take until a day or two later when it rained for a few hours, filling the rain barrel to overflowing. This was a bit of a problem as we hadn't yet redirected the overflow to something useful, so it just spilled out and washed away the topsoil I had been landscaping around the patio.

A full barrel
A full barrel
The washed away soil
The washed away soil

Overflow

Fortunately, we had two spare hoses. We had just bought a new garden hose to replace the two shorter ones that had come with the house. The best of these newly spare hoses was already destined to become the main outlet for the rain barrel, delivering lovely rain water down to the vegetables growing in our garden3. This left the second, leakier hose for me to use on the rain barrel overflow.

I attached the hose to the rain barrel, but where would it go. I didn't think having it draped across the lawn to the vegetable garden was really going to work and having the water just drain away seemed a bit of waste. So, I lay the hose out across the topsoil that was to form the flower bed next to the patio. Once I had reached the end of the bed, I cut the hose to length and discarded the remainder. I then proceeded to bury the hose along the bed, making sure to cut notches in it every few inches so that any overflow could irrigate the surrounding soil.

Cutting holes for irrigation
Cutting holes for irrigation
Rain barrel in place with overflow connected
Rain barrel in place with overflow connected

To finish things off, we purchased some white marble chips, rinsed them free of dust and distributed them on the lid of the rain barrel to discourage mosquitoes and other undesirable things from getting inside.

Finishing touches with a spot of marble
Finishing touches with a spot of marble

Where can I get one?

I hope the tales of our rain barrel have inspired you to get one (or more) of your own, they really are a great way to get some inexpensive fresh water to your garden. Look for someone in your area who is working to re-purpose food-grade containers just like Maxi Container and MI Rain Barrel are here in southeast Michigan. That way, you're not only going to conserve water but you'll also help to recycle these containers.

If you already have a rain barrel or are thinking of getting one, I'd love to hear about it.


  1. From this point on, just follow my wife's lead and assume "someone" is me. 

  2. Still me. 

  3. Chrissy has been tending a garden for a couple of years now, giving us some lovely fresh vegetables. 

Making a Rain Barrel with Project Grow

Outside the workshop
Outside the workshop where we selected our barrel

A couple of weeks ago, my wife, Chrissy and I headed over to the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor, MI to take part in a workshop on building your own rain barrel. The workshop was organised by Project Grow – a private, non-profit organization supporting community gardening in the Ann Arbor area – in partnership with Maxi Container, Inc. – a local, family-owned and operated Detroit-based company.

The cost for participation in the workshop covered all the pieces in the rain barrel kit, including the barrel, brass fittings, and caulk as well as a donation towards the Leslie Science and Nature Center. The barrels used in the workshop were food-grade, having originated overseas filled with pickles, olives and other tasty morsels. Unlike their darker cousins, which are used to store solvents and other nasty chemicals, these food-safe, terracotta-colored containers are perfect for storing water that ultimately waters gardens. Their re-appropriation as rain barrels is one of several recycling kits provided by Maxi Container, which also include composters and drum stoves.

Josh Rubin tells us where the barrels came from
Josh Rubin tells us where the barrels came from

The workshop was introduced by Lucas DiGia, the Vice President of Project Grow who then handed over to Josh Rubin, the Creative Director of Maxi Container, Inc. and grandson of its founder, Max Rubin.

The back of the faucet with caulk applied
The back of the faucet with caulk applied

Josh started out with a demonstration of how to make the rain barrel, ably assisted by Lucas. Each rain barrel had been pre-drilled to provide a hole for the rain to get in at the top and another for it to get out again at the bottom. The first step was to fit a faucet in that lower hole. Caulk was applied around the back of the brass fixture where it would meet the barrel, then the faucet was inserted (with the application of a little brute force).

At this point, it was time for power tools. Even though the barrels had been pre-drilled with two holes, another hole was required for the overflow. This step had been left for us to do because its placement had to be chosen with an idea of where the rain barrel would ultimately be used. With Lucas steadying the barrel, Josh carefully drilled the third hole. The overflow fixture (suitable for attachment of any regular garden hose) was screwed into place using a wrench.

The mesh over the inlet
The mesh over the inlet

The final touch for the rain barrel was to affix a mesh over the inlet hole. This mesh not only prevents debris from entering the rain barrel but it also provides a base over which to scatter pebbles. The pebbles discourage mosquitoes from using the rain barrels for their offspring, avoiding the need for mosquito tablets to be added to the barrel.

And that was that. With Josh's demonstration over, the workshop participants were directed to complete their own rain barrels, with appropriate over sight and assistance from Josh, Lucas and the Project Grow volunteers. Chrissy and I managed to get our rain barrel completed quite quickly, barring a few arguments over who got to use the power tools. It's now sitting in the garage waiting for a sturdy base to be built for it to stand on – a full water barrel of this size will weigh over 300lbs!

Chrissy supervises while I fix the mesh in place
Chrissy supervises while I fix the mesh in place

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. This is in no small part due to the efforts of Project Grow and Maxi Container, Inc. I would encourage others to attend the next workshop Project Grow is considering for later in the year. If you can't make a workshop, check out the kit on Maxi Container's website. Finally, you can check out more pictures from the workshop over at Project Grow's page on Facebook.

Chrissy grinning over our new rain barrel
Chrissy grinning over our new rain barrel