Our Mission:

Our Mission: To enable individuals and communities to take an active part in the cultivation of systems that provide the highest quality fruits, vegetables, herbs and other yields, in a way that benefits themselves, cares for the land and environment, and provides a surplus to use, share and reinvest into the system.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rain Barrels are great, but...

"...they're not growing their own food. Like the 55 gallon rain barrel, they deceive themselves by thinking that by toying with inadequately designed rainwater collection systems...
Thirty five thousand gallons of rain falls off my roof but I want to hold fast to the cute idea that a little 55 gallon barrel will hold it all and I can feel like I've saved the world. That’s simply poor design and living through your concepts rather than your observations." 
While not all of us can have a 100+ acre Permaculture farm that utilizes the landscape to harvest rain water, we can gain some insight from Mark's comments.  When you consider the amount of rain we typically get in central Iowa and the surface area of our roofs, you realize that we cannot hope to contain it all in one, or even several, 55 or 75 gallon rain barrels (see calculator).  Ideally you would have several modified 275gal. Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs) which can be an eyesore if not properly disguised and take up a large footprint.
What we can do to bridge the gap in our urban/suburban rain water harvesting systems is to utilize the rain barrel as storage for use in our potted plants, etc. that we want to benefit from using rain water over the municipal water supply. More importantly, though, we want to manage the overflow so we can use the rain to maintain soil moisture for longer periods of time. 
There are several ways we can Divert, Disperse & Conserve the overflow to our planting areas:
  • This picture below is of my prototype rain catchment system.  It utilizes a smaller barrel and simple overflow into 4" drainage tile (8' solid to get away from the foundation, then 16' perforated to allow the overflow to slowly drain into our mini-forest garden. 
  • This next system utilizes a more intricate overflow irrigation system.  The overflow drained into a series of PVC pipes that were set-up with multiple junctions, runs and 1/4" drainage holes that allowed the overflow to go to targeted areas of the planting.  The tricky part was running a split under the walking path and back up into the "island".  Make sure your system completely drains all water so the lines will not freeze and burst in winter.

Before hiding the barrel behind a trellis

Dividing the overflow to multiple areas

The lower levels prior to covering PVC with straw 
  •  Another way to enhance water retention is through mulching.  Mulching keeps direct sunlight from heating and drying the soil.  It also holds a layer of moist air that won't blow away in drying breezes and steal moisture away. 
  • "Swales on Contour" will also slow runoff and allow it to sink into the soil.  Typically swales in modern construction flow with the slope of the land to route rainfall quickly to drainage ditches, rivers and streams.  Two days after a rain suburban homeowners are out with the sprinklers trying to keep the grass green.  With swales on contour, the "ditch" runs across the slope where the runoff slows, giving it time to percolate into the soil.
I hope this post gives you ideas for ways you can go beyond the rain barrel.  If you have any questions feel free to post in the comments section below.  Or if you would like to have a rain catchment system installed at your home send me an email!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog,


  1. It is true that the best use for a rain barrel is to keep water for your garden and lawn. Many municipalities often tell residents to not water their lawns during hot summer days to save water. I find your irrigation system interesting for this. Do you have any suggestions for "hiding" the irrigation pipes?

    Bert Aguilar @ Rainfill Tanks

  2. That really depends on how you will use the "irrigation" lines. If it will be directing overflow to an annual garden or tree planting you could cover them with mulch, like straw or wood chips. This will also protect PVC from sunlight that can make some kinds brittle. Larger drainage tile, like in the first pictures, would need more mulch and/or could be partially buried to reduce the bump.
    But from your question I think you are wanting to go into a grass lawn. I would dig a very small, shallow trench that is just deep enough to mostly bury the pipes. The grass will fill back in and should camouflage the buried lines pretty well. Ensure they are low enough that the mower won't hit them, too.
    Provide adequate "fall" so that the water will flow well, ~1" per 10'. This will really depend on your sites contour and may require some tricky runs.
    Setting the mower higher will help the soil to stay cooler, retain more moisture, and give the grass plenty of solar collector blades to drive root growth deeper. These deeper roots will also be able to reach more soil moisture.