Many East Bay organic vegetable gardeners are harvesting the delectable, tender greens of late winter – lettuce, spinach, pak choy, chard, and kale – plus plump cabbage heads, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. But during the wet month of March there is another resource you should consider harvesting: rainwater!
We are blessed with a mild Mediterranean climate that allows us to grow year round but, unlike most parts of the United States, we rarely receive any summer rains and must rely on irrigation to water the garden during the long dry spell between May and October. Consequently, many gardeners are installing rain barrels to capture the runoff from their roofs and store the water until it is needed later in the season.
Harvesting rainwater is not a new idea. It is a practice that has been in use for centuries to collect and store a reliable water supply for homes, farms, and gardens. Methods have changed over the years and modern homeowners are finding rain barrels an easy and convenient way to capture and store rainwater.
Most rain barrels are made of plastic and range in capacity from 40 gallons up to 156 gallons for homeowner use, and hundreds of gallons for commercial styles. To set up a rain barrel you need to remove a section of downspout to redirect the runoff water from your roof into the barrel. You also have to be careful about directing the barrel’s overflow valve or pipe away from your house because the barrel can fill surprisingly fast. A typical half-inch rain can easily fill a 55-gallon barrel and a one-inch rain can produce about a half gallon of water per square foot of roof. (Click here for a handy rainfall harvest calculator.) Once your barrel is properly installed, however, it is a trouble-free way to save potentially hundreds of gallons of “soft”, chemical-free water for the garden.
You don’t want to be hauling water from the rain barrel in a bucket during the hot days of August and September so you might also consider a clever gadget call the RainPerfect™. This is a solar-powered pump system recently released to the consumer market by ITT Flow Control. It runs on a rechargeable NiMH battery powered by a solar panel and is adaptable as a top mount installation on most rain barrel styles. It is also compatible with all major hose brands and, since a single charge lets you pump up to 100 gallons, you can water directly from the barrel or use the hose to fill your watering can. The RainPerfect™ will also provide enough pressure to run low-pressure sprinklers. And since it runs on solar energy you don’t need an electrical outlet! Check out the RainPerfect™ website for online retailers and further information.
Using rain barrels and a solar pump is a great way to harness the sun’s energy to harvest and recyle your rainwater. You save water, energy, and money and get a great source of irrigation water without chlorine, lime, or calcium! Consider installing your own system!