When it rains, it pours. And when it pours there is an awful lot of nutrient-rich, usable water just waiting to be collected and put to work. Water is a precious commodity, especially during the hot summer months. Why not help conserve this natural resource but “harvesting” it or collecting it. Here’s how.
Rainwater harvesting is a basic and timeless technology used for collecting and storing the rainwater gathered from rooftops, the land surface, or rock catchments using simple containers such as jars and pots as well as more complex systems including, but not limited to, underground check dams.
The history of rainwater harvesting is found in Asia and Africa where early civilizations caught rain to drink and irrigate. Today rainwater is harvested for similar uses but can also serve as an outdoor sink, a garden soaker, and even commodes. And because rain doesn’t contain the minerals found in wells or the chlorine in municipal supplies, it’s ideal for watering the lawn, washing the car, doing the laundry, taking a shower–even drinking if it’s properly filtered.
The basic harvesting setup is constructed of three principal components – the catchment area, the collection device, and the conveyance system. In the case of a simple rain gutter – barrel system, the catchment is the gutter and downspout on a rooftop, the collection unit is the 50-gallon drum, and the conveyance system is a simple spigot valve.
Depending on the complexity of the system you either purchase or DIY build, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- To prevent mosquitoes from breeding in tanks, make sure the tanks are covered or screened.
- During winter months, barrels should be kept only three quarters full to allow freezing water to expand.
- Gravity is the easiest (and cheapest) way to move rainwater out of the tank. Systems that work by gravity are good for watering landscapes and gardens. If you choose to move water to a level higher than the tank, you’ll need a pump.
- To water a garden with harvested rainwater a system such as a spigot with hose attachment (or using a watering can to “drain” water into) must be in place.
- There are municipal restrictions that need to be considered if collected rainwater will be used for anything other than gardening or cleaning.
- Although fiberglass and plastic containers are the easiest to clean there is no limit to how attractive or artistic a catch water system can be made. They are as much a part of landscaping as annuals and hostas!