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By Cynthia Raxter Cynthia Raxter is a writer, storyteller and comedian. She lives in Bynum with four cats, two kittens and a "Jack Russel Terrorist." She loves to cook and spend time at the Bynum Community Garden.

Dollar Bills Coming Down In Drops

By Cynthia Raxter Posted June 23, 2013 at 8:58 am

As I watched the rain blow in sideways Tuesday afternoon, I could almost see dollar bills coming down in the droplets. Around 0.2 inches of rain on a two car garage will make a 60 gallon rain barrel overflow. And 60 gallons will water a 10 x 10 garden for a week. Chatham County Water is $30 for 1000 gallons. One rain barrel and one quick thunderstorm per week would save $7.20 per month in water. See – rain would almost pay for my Netflix obsession!!

And you can use the water for more than just the garden or lawn! It can be used to wash the dog or the car or muddy shoes. You can add the water to fountains, pools and hot tubs. You can use it to clean deck furniture and windows! (Yes. I am getting overly enthusiastic here. Windows? Really? Me? Much mirthful laughter…!)

What can’t you do with rain barrel water? You should not drink it! You should not water the dog with it! You should not use it in fish ponds. Birds … soot from car exhaust… grit from shingles – you understand.

I was inspired to research rain barrels by the deluxe models I saw at Small B&B Cafe in Pittsboro.

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Their eclectic rain barrels are almost as creative as the breakfasts they serve. Their garden is equally as funky and inspired.

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But beyond great aesthetics, your plants will love rain water! It is neutral – lacking chemicals found in city water and even well water. It washes away salts in the soil so plant roots absorb nutrients better — helpful fungi, microbes and earthworms in the soil grow without chlorine and fluorides. Pollutants are washed off leaves without residue. Rainwater is slightly acidic – a dose of tonic for azaleas, rhododendron and blueberries. It is super oxygenated too – again rejuvenating the soil for microbes and earth-eating and living critters.

Oh!! But recognizing a great idea is usually easier than following it through. The more I researched rain barrels, the more I was overwhelmed!! I could make my own using a new trash can or purchase a clean food grade barrel at a local co-op kitchen or surplus recycler. With a drill and a few plumbing parts, it would be done in an hour. Online retailers also have barrels and storage urns from $49.95 to $500 and up. Then there are stands, concrete blocks, fake rocks… pseudo fountains… a variety of gutter to barrel options. There is a slew of connectors kits to join multiple tanks, lids and overflow pipe kits…. And I definitely started smelling snake oil!! One retailer wanted $10 for a four foot garden hose for overflow. Another was asking $39 for a kit with a plastic turn-cock, two washers and rubber gaskets. There are large scale systems and small scale systems…. It was like buying a car or a digital camera — or, even yogurt these days!! You eventually have to just close your eyes and grab something and just trust it will be pretty good!!

I decided my best option is to start small with the idea of maybe expanding in the future. For my first round I am going to purchase two tanks from a local building supply store. There I can also get advice from the sales staff on how to connect the two tanks. I can buy concrete blocks to raise the tanks up off the ground. (You can tell I like the “one trip and done” shopping trips!)

I am going to buy a gutter diverter from an online source. After much looking at zoomed in pictures of customers’ systems and photos on boxes — I like the Fiskars brand gutter diverter the best. It is a closed system to prevent mosquitoes. It can handle heavy downpours without running over the rain barrels and has a built-in and easily cleanable filter to keep leaves and debris out of my barrel.

Now, 14 things you need to know about rain barrels:

#1 You either need a closed system with pipes fitted to the barrels and sealed with silicone, or you need all openings screened. Mosquitoes lay eggs and hatch in 4 days.

#2 The rain will fill your barrel quickly. Rainwater will still need to be diverted away from your house. Run your overflow hose to your garden or a French drain….

#3 If you make your own barrel, it’s hard to reach and seal the spigot on the inside if it is extremely low. One neighbor laid his barrel on its side and slid his 8 year old inside to tighten fittings. I don’t have an 8 year old!

#4 Raise the barrel up off the ground a bit so you can get your watering can or bucket under the spout.

#5 Get it up on concrete blocks or on the ground bare bottomed — make sure the barrel is on a solid foundation and all is on solid level ground. At 8.3 pounds per gallon, 55 gallons of water weighs 456 pounds. Don’t put it on the deck or balcony or near a basement window well.

#6 Several neighbors have rain barrels beside their front steps and the barrels are BRIGHT ROYAL blue. In my old neighborhood the juxtaposition is kind of funny actually! Where HOA’s rule however, paint it to match the house — the lid and tubing too. Put it beside the garage or behind a big bush. Disguise and obfuscate!

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#7 White reflects sunlight and black absorbs it. Paint the barrel top a light color and the bottom ⅓ a dark color (to match your house!). The low sun in early spring will hit the dark and warm the water some. The high sun in summer will hit the lighter color on top and not make the water scalding.

#8 Algae will grow in sunlight. It won’t hurt your garden plants but it looks yucky and can stop up tubing!! If you get a clear barrel paint it or wrap it with black plastic.

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#9 Drain the barrel in the winter. Divert the gutter. Loosen hoses and open the valves ½ way. Or, put it in the garage where it won’t freeze.

#10 Make sure the lid is always secure! You don’t want a squirrel or, horrors! — a child to fall in!!

#11 Seal everything with silicone — around gutters and diverter valves, tubing and clamps, washers and barrels. $8 a tube — it is worth it!

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#12 This looks like it would work right but doesn’t!! One neighbor has a row of 500 gallon tanks. He stair-stepped them lower and lower so water would flow from one to the other. Half the water in the upper tank runs out and is wasted now. Water finds its own level. If you connect two or more barrels, the water pressure of gravity will push water out the lowest point until all is level.

#13 If you are making your own barrels, connect them near the bottom. You can open the faucet on one barrel and water will flow from all the barrels to your hose or watering can.

#14 Standard soaker-hoses and sprinklers do not work with rain barrels because there is not enough water pressure. There is a special soaker-hose made for rain barrels but I have never tested it.

Here are links with more information:

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/41/rainbarrel-2008.pdf

http://www.epa.gov/region3/p2/make-rainbarrel.pdf

http://www.townofcary.org/Assets/Public+Works+and+Utilities+Department/Public+Works+$!26+Utilities+PDFs/water/waterconservation/rainbarrelinstructions.pdf

http://www.bhg.com/gardening/yard/tools/make-a-rain-barrel-save-water/#page=1

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