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How to Guarantee Rain for your Garden - Even During Drought!!


How to Guarantee Rain for your Garden - Even During Drought!!

by Jesse Froehlich, Owner, BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment Systems

Despite heavy rains in December and February, the North Bay region—and in fact most of California—is still in a state of extreme drought. With so much of our landscape paved over, and much of the uncovered land parched from recent years of drought, heavy rainstorms aren’t enough to erase the shortage. The problem is worsened because much of the water takes the hardscape-accelerated route to our sensitive waterways as polluted runoff, without the opportunity to infiltrate and recharge groundwater as rainfall does in nature.

Yet all winter long, my Santa Rosa garden—and the gardens of many of my likeminded neighbors—have benefitted from abundant rain from a replenishing source. We’ve also helped to funnel some of that water back into the ground where it can recharge depleted aquifers.

What’s our secret? With 10 rain barrels collecting runoff from my roof, I had 550 gallons of pure, soft rainwater to irrigate through yet another dry January. In fact I made a point to use as much of that water as I could during the dry weeks of winter to free up capacity to catch more in the next winder storm.! My family lives in an 800-square-foot cottage on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. We collect rain from 2 of our 5 downspouts. We have a 150-square foot section of rooftop draining into a daisy- chain of 3 barrels in the front yard, and 200 square feet draining into a 7-barrel daisy-chain in the back.

Once you understand that a mere 100 square feet of rooftop will generate over 60 gallons of runoff for every single inch of rain that falls on it (hint: a typical rain barrel is usually 50 - 60 gallons)—you’ll know that we easily caught enough to fill our systems with December’s rains. Our only challenge was to find ways to use the water during the dry times between storms so that we could free up capacity to catch more!

Our plan for next year is to add 4 more barrels right next to our garden beds. There’s no downspout there, but we’ll pump water from our existing 10 barrels so that the beds can be irrigated with a gravity-fed drip line. But in the meantime, our existing 550 gallons of storage will serve to capture at least 3 times that much this season because we’ve gotten quite good at using the water in the dry spells between storms.

Here are some water-use ideas garnered from years of experience as a collector of this rare and valuable resource we call rain:

•  Plant a winter garden. If the pattern from the last few years persists, you’ll catch rain in the fall to irrigate through a dry winter. Then you’ll catch more in the spring to use in the summer. The added perk is garden fresh veggies to bolster your health through all four seasons.

•  Water your houseplants. They need water year-round, and they’ll show extra appreciation for the rainwater as it’s free from the salts, minerals, and treatment chemicals that tend to accumulate in those planter pots.

•  Wash your car. In these dry winters, our cars are missing the ‘natural’ carwash they get when it rains. When you use your stored rainwater, you’re not drawing from our depleted reservoirs, and you free up capacity in your rain barrels to catch more.

•  Defrost your windshield. Keep a bucket by your rain barrels and pour some water over all frosted windows for visibility and safe driving on cold mornings.

•  Water pets, livestock, and wildlife. While us humans can’t drink untreated stored rainwater; if your animals drink out of toilets or puddles, they can certainly drink from your rain barrels.

•  Rinse patio furniture, compost buckets, garden wares and more. Anything that’s gunky from outdoor use can benefit from a nice rinse with rainwater.

•  Flush your toilets. You’ll need a permit to plumb rainwater indoors for automatic flushing, but short of that, you can carry buckets indoors and pour directly into the toilet bowl to stimulate a flush. Alternatively, you can remove the lid from your toilet tank, flush with the lever as usual, and pour the rainwater into the tank before it has a chance to refill from its normal source.

•  Bleed extra water into an infiltration basin to recharge groundwater. If you have absolutely nothing to water in the winter (or if you’ve caught more than you can use), consider bleeding off some of your stored water into a simple infiltration basin or raingarden during winter dry spells. This will allow it to infiltrate and recharge our depleted groundwater. At the same time you’ll free up capacity to catch more water in the next rain, taking the peak off of damaging storm water loads.

For further resources on rainwater harvesting, visit BlueBarrel’s website at There you can register for hands-on installation workshops, and finds tips and tricks for rainwater harvesters. If you’re ready to install a system yourself, the site will take you through the steps to size and site your very own multi-barrel system. You can find your nearest source of local recycled barrels and order the parts to build your own system from the online store. Go local and recycled for your rainwater catchment needs, and build your system better, faster, and cheaper with BlueBarrel!

Photos caption: A 7-barrel BlueBarrel System collects from 200 square feet of rooftop, filling with less than 3.5” of rain! This system features a gravity-fed drip irrigation connection, and two spigots—one for easy outdoor access, and the other right outside the back door for indoor water needs like house plants.