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Using Rain Barrels in the Organic Garden

Organic gardeners can use rainwater barrels to collect and store chemical-free water to irrigate their flower and vegetable gardens.

Keeping rainwater out of the sewer system and redirecting it to the landscape is a natural and economical way to nourish the organic garden. Whether featured as a decorative element in the garden or tucked behind the shrubbery in the backyard, there’s a rain barrel design that suits every homeowner.

Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting

The most obvious benefit of using a rain barrel to collect water is the ability to save money and natural resources by harvesting what Mother Nature provides. In fact, according to the University of Florida Extension Service, a typical homeowner can save about 1300 gallons of water by using a rain barrel during the summer months.

Of further interest to organic gardeners is the ability to irrigate the garden with chemical-free water. Water from the spigot is treated with chlorine and other chemicals to kill harmful pathogens in drinking water. These chemicals aren’t beneficial to plants, and they may be detrimental to sensitive microorganisms that make up healthy soil.

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Plastic Rain Barrels

Plastic is the most popular material used to construct rain barrels, as it’s cheap, lightweight, and durable. Gardeners can buy plastic rain barrels in earth tones, or they can purchase plastic finished to resemble natural wood grain. Some rain barrels are made from recycled plastic, which matches the earth-friendly philosophy many organic gardeners subscribe to.

Wooden Rain Barrels

Some traditional gardeners are willing to pay more for a spruce or oak rain barrel for the landscape. Wood rain barrels are ideal when they are used in a conspicuous location, or for gardeners that eschew plastic materials. Gardeners can extend the life of wooden rain barrels by draining them and storing them in a sheltered location in the off-season.

Using Rain Barrels in the Organic Garden
Using Rain Barrels in the Organic Garden

Rain Barrel Accessories

One drawback of using a rain barrel for many organic gardeners is getting the harvested rainwater from the barrel to the garden. Those with large gardens may not care for the idea of hauling a watering can to and from the barrel to the garden a dozen times.

Gardeners can solve this problem by purchasing a rain barrel pump. Gardeners can dunk a battery-powered pump into the rain barrel, which draws water into a hose, allowing gardeners to irrigate their gardens as they would with any hose attached to a water spigot.

And gardeners for whom rain barrel pumps are impractical may consider buying or building a rain barrel dolly to transport the barrel from downspout to garden. A full 50-gallon rain barrel weighs over 400 pounds, so gardeners must purchase or build a dolly that can support the weight of a full barrel over time without buckling or cracking.

Depending on the design of the rain barrel, mosquito larvae can be problematic. Even with built-in screens meant to exclude the pests, a few mosquitoes may still slip into the stagnant water in a rain barrel, laying hundreds of eggs that soon develop into mosquito larvae.

An organic solution to this problem is treating the rain barrel with a product made with Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis, or B.t.i. This bacterium is lethal to mosquitoes but safe for animals and people.

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