We have a thirsty garden.
Growing our own veggies has saved us a lot of money at the grocery store this spring. Between the big bag of goodies from the CSA farm every week, and all the lettuce, carrots, beets, broccoli and mixed greens in our garden, we've hardly bought any fresh produce since March.
But the big savings on the grocery bill are being eaten into by the rather obscene city water bill. It's been a dry, dry spring here in North Carolina (USA). We've only received about half our normal rainfall, and are experiencing "moderate" drought conditions. As a result, we've been watering the garden just about every day.
We've done a lot of things to make the garden water-efficient: it's laid out in small, square blocks rather than rows, so no water or nutrients are wasted in the rows between plants. The soil is loaded with compost, because healthy soil high in organic matter retains more moisture, and we've even mixed in a bag of vermiculite to further stretch the water resources. But all that hasn't been enough in times of drought to keep us from needing to water daily.
Enter the rain barrel. We've known for a while that this would be a good idea, but it was just an abstract idea until we got the last water bill. Ugh! One water bill would easily cover the cost of a rain barrel, so off we went to the garden store.
For those who've never used one of these things, it's quite simple. You just detatch the bottom part of your gutter down-spout and route it into the top of the rain barrel. It then catches the water spilling off your roof in a rainstorm -- rather than running into the storm drains and the local creek, it runs into your rain barrel.
This barrel holds 60 gallons of water, and is made of an old pickle barrel. The screen on top keeps out mosquitoes, flotsam and jetsam, and a spout at the bottom lets you attach a hose or fill up a watering can.
My partner, HWWLLB, installed the barrel and we hopefully looked up into a hot, blue, cloudless sky, wondering when we'd get a chance to use it. Not a drop in sight, but a thirsty garden shimmered in the heat behind us. Later that night, we were awakened by the sound of thunder. HWWLLB ran around the house peering out the windows. It's raining! It's raining!
Normally the little splatter of rain that accompanies a chance thunderstorm does little more for the garden than a quick perk-up. But when we went outside the next morning, the barrel was running over. From our little roof, it took just slightly more than 1/4 inch of rain to fill the 60-gallon barrel. In general, 1 inch of rain on a 1000 sq ft roof yields 625 gallons of water. To calculate the yield of a roof, multiply the square footage of the roof by 625, then divide by 1,000. That's how much water runs off your roof in a rainstorm that generates one inch of rain.
Hm... looking around, we have 5 more downspouts - 3 more on the house and 2 on the shed. I think we need a few more rain barrels! I'm thinking of making the rest of them myself. I did build one once from directions in a back-issue of Mother Earth News (using a trash can), but we had to dismantle it at the request of our nutty former land-lady. If you know of good instructions for making your own rain barrel, please post a link!
And there's good news... a passing thunderstorm in the forecast. My barrel runneth over.