HARRISBURG — Rain barrels are a great idea in dry years. Last year wasn’t one of them.
The Midstate received 67 inches of rain in 2018, some 20 inches more than an average year.
“We didn’t need rain barrels last year,” said Lori Glace, Cumberland County Conservation District conservation analyst and rain barrel workshop teacher, after giving two rain barrel presentations at the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Show. “But they’re a good idea most years. There’s a lot of interest in them.”
A rain barrel collects rainwater running from a roof to a gutter to a downspout. That water can be used to water lawns or gardens or wash cars. Rain barrels provide water for plants and help reduce a homeowner’s water bill.
Glace said the idea of saving rainwater goes back to the early Roman and Greek civilizations and remains popular. She has done rain barrel workshops in Lower Allen Township, Upper Allen Township, Silver Spring Township, West Pennsboro Township and Shippensburg.
She gave a step-by-step talk on how to make rain barrels, usually made from food-grade barrels. They also can be made from plastic trash cans or wooden whiskey barrels.
First: Gather tools listed on the website’s directions on making rain barrels. Buy the parts listed at a hardware store.
Second: Prepare the barrel. Remove barrel lid. Using an environmentally safe solution, rinse barrel to remove any debris or food product.
Third: drill and cut holes for spigot assembly.
Fourth: Install plumbing parts including bottom drain installation, spigot installation and overflow installation.
Fifth: Install fiberglass screen across top of barrel to keep bugs and debris out.
Sixth: Place completed rain barrel on a level area.
Seventh: Prepare downspout by cutting it 6 to 12 inches above the top of the barrel. Slip the downspout adapter onto downspout and direct the other end onto the top of the barrel
Eighth: Wait for the rain.
Some people like to buy ready-made rain barrels, which the district sells for $60 each May to the first 50 people who order them.
Glace said the conservation district and Cedar Cliff High School students work together each year to construct 50 rain barrels from used food grade barrels.
The district in early April sends out brochures to its rain barrel mailing list telling people what date in May the barrels will be sold at the high school. Glace said she does not yet have a date for the 2019 sale. People should contact the conservation district for more information.
“Our rain barrels are 55-gallon black pickle barrels with lids that screw on,” she said. “They also have a screen on them to prevent mosquito breeding, a drain on the bottom where a hose can be hooked up, a standard spigot where a bucket can be filled, and an overflow hose to control extra water when the barrel is full.”
Glace offered some advice to rain barrel owners.
“People or pets should not drink water from the rain barrel,” she said, “because it could have bird droppings, pieces of asphalt or algae in it.”
She also advised people to keep the lid secure so children or animals can’t fall into the barrel, to disconnect the barrel in winter so the barrel and valves won’t freeze and break, and to divert the overflow hose toward a grassy area.
Rain barrel owners also should be sure the spigot is closed before it rains, use the water after a rain so the barrel is empty before the next rain, and clean gutters regularly to reduce the amount of leaf litter and other debris coming into the rain barrel.
Two Farm Show visitors said they plan to make rain barrels. Richard Boyle of Mohrsville said he doesn’t want to waste his well water on watering plants if he can use rain barrel water instead. Bob Holland of West Chester agreed.
“My vegetable garden is near my pole barn,” he said. “But we don’t have an easy way to get water from our well to the garden. I want to make a rain barrel to collect rain from the roof of the pole barn and use this to water the garden.”