Rainwater harvesting for beginners
Make your own containers for collecting water
August 24, 2014
By Janet McCrea/Victoria County Master Gardener Intern
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon/Victoria County Master Gardener
PHOTOS BY JANET MCCREA/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER INTERN
I had heard about rainwater harvesting, which is the process of collecting rainwater, storing it and using it later. The idea intrigued me, and I wanted to give it a try.
I knew there were many benefits to rainwater harvesting. For one thing, I wanted to save money on my water bill. I also knew rainwater was great for plants. It is naturally soft and contains no harmful chemicals.
I also figured that as the population of Texas continues to grow, the supply of dependable water will become more limited, and by harvesting rainwater, I could use the water supply more efficiently. Rainwater harvesting also reduces flooding, erosion and pollution (because of fertilizers and pesticides in runoff).
Even though I wanted to begin rainwater harvesting, I didn't start right away because I thought it would be too complicated, too expensive or too much trouble to implement. I was wrong. Anyone can begin rainwater harvesting and do it economically.
Three things are needed to begin: a way to collect the water, a way to store the water and a way to move the water to where it is needed.
I decided to use my roof to collect the water. To store the water, I used some old cattle molasses tubs, which each hold about 20 gallons. I don't have gutters or downspouts on my house, so I positioned the tubs under the valleys in my roof. To move the water to my plants, I used an empty gallon-sized laundry detergent jug with the spout removed. Any large container can be used, but the larger the opening, the quicker it is to fill. A container with a handle is also helpful.
Shortly after I had set up the tubs, it rained about 1/10 inches, and I was delighted to see that my tubs had overflowed. As my plants needed water, I began dipping out the rainwater with my jug and carrying it to where it was needed.
This worked fine until mosquitoes laid eggs in the water and wiggly larvae appeared. Before the larvae could develop into mosquitoes, I drained the water onto my lawn and cleaned out the tubs. Then I cut some fiberglass insect screen to fit over the tops of the tubs and fastened it with flat bungee cords. I have not had any more mosquitoes, and the screen also keeps out leaves.
To prevent the growth of algae, which can occur if too much sunlight enters the container, tubs can be painted a dark color and lids can be used.
A larger container rain barrel
Since it did not take much rain to fill my tubs, I decided to invest in a larger storage container. Master Gardener and Rainwater Harvesting Specialist Kathy Chilek shared with me plans for making a storage container out of a plastic barrel. I used a 45-gallon trash can with lid.
To begin, I drilled a 3/4-inch hole near the bottom of the barrel where a 3/4-inch hose bib (faucet) would go. Chilek explained that the closer the faucet is to the bottom, the less water would be left in the container. The faucet should be high enough to allow room to screw on a water hose. I then secured the faucet to the barrel with a 3/4-inch bulkhead union washer and silicone.
Next, I cut a large hole in the lid of the trash can, leaving 2 inches around the circumference of the lid. Then I cut a piece of insect screen slightly larger than the hole. Around the hole, I drilled 16 small holes - evenly spaced. From the top of the lid, I inserted 1/2-inch long screws through the holes I had drilled. On the bottom of the lid, I put a bead of silicone all the way around the large hole I had cut, laid the screen on top of the silicone and over the screws and then attached nuts to the screws to hold the screen in place.
While the silicone was drying, I drilled an overflow hole near the top of my barrel and secured a pipe to it. Remember that while plants thrive best with rainwater, it is not potable and should be labeled as such.
Finally, I put the lid on my barrel and set it on the cinder block base I had built. Now, I am ready to harvest more rainwater.
Harvested rainwater goes a long way
With the extremely hot and dry conditions we are having in the area, why not make yourself a rainwater harvesting system and collect rainwater the next time it comes our way?
It will go an even longer way in helping provide water to your plants, natural habitats and wildlife - not to mention savings on your water bill.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.
• Secure all lids to keep children and animals out.
• Label as non-potable water so others know it is unsafe to drink.
• Be sure base for barrel is sturdy (50 gallons of water can weigh 400 pounds).
• Empty/wash out barrel at least once a year
• 3/4-inch hose bib (faucet)
• 3/4-inch bulkhead union washer
• 16 screws, 1/2 inch long; and nuts
• Insect screen
• Watering pets
• Filling bird baths
• Providing water for wildlife
• Water features