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Wednesday, 07 November 2007 00:00

Saving rain makes sense

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By Kathleen Lamont

This month’s column was a tossup. I was encouraged by a recent article on the Haywood County landfill to carry on my persistent campaign for backyard composting and was going to shelve the rainwater collection idea. That was until I ran into my next-door neighbor on her way to shower at her daughter’s house.

She told me her spring had nearly dried up and she was conserving the water she did have. The spring, harnessed 59 years ago as her family’s primary source of water, has never failed in all that time. Suddenly the drought became real — it had arrived at my back doorstep. Though I have my house circled with rain barrels at every downspout, I went home and filled a couple of 5-gallon containers for good measure.

Collecting rainwater first caught my attention 10 years ago when I read an article in Back Home Magazine about a 3-barrel rainwater collection system hooked up to a roof downspout. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and since I had recently built 4 raised beds some distance from a water source, I decided that setting up rain barrels nearby was a good idea. Work began on this project and the handyman du jour stacked some cinderblock behind an outbuilding, laid the barrels on their side just like in the magazine picture and set about installing pvc pipe and spigots. In due course, I hooked up a line that fed a watering trough inside the chicken coop. Very slick. This set up worked well for several years until the middle barrel was squeezed to the point of an incessant leak.

Shortly thereafter another set was installed. This was a 4-barrel arrangement next to another outbuilding. Luckily, this time the barrels stood upright and upside down, so that the pvc plumbing could be installed underneath with a spigot on either end. Like the first set these particular barrels were sealed except for a hole in the top that miraculously fit the pvc pipe. These particular barrels were purchased at the janitorial supply warehouse across from Enmark in Hazelwood and were $5 apiece. I now had seven 55-gallon barrels full of water.

Next, while thumbing through a Real Goods catalog one morning, I spotted in-line downspout diverters at http://realneo.us/about-realneo/downspout-diverters-with-or-without-rain-barrels. I immediately ordered six of them and found six white 55-gallon food grade barrels with black lids for sale in the Iwanna. I have since looked for these barrels and they are nowhere to be found. The ad referred to them as apple juice barrels so I imagine when the Gerber baby food factory in Asheville closed a few years back, the source dried up. The barrels were fitted with spigots. If I had this part to do over, I would still put the spigots at the bottom of the barrel for good drainage, but I would have put the barrels up on cinderblocks to allow clearance for my watering cans. As it is now, I must use a hose to get the water. I then put plastic screening over the opening and when the barrel is full the diverter is closed, and the lid placed on top. These barrels were $8 apiece.

I now had thirteen 55-gallon barrels full of rainwater with which to cook, water my gardens, flush toilets, water the chickens, and to drink. That was the good news. I then had a lapse of common sense and discovered the bad news the hard way — you must drain all your barrels before the first hard freeze. After the winter thaw I found that some of the plumbing had cracked and needed replacing. The white apple juice barrels simply fell over on the spot and rolled around the yard like drunken snowmen. Since rain barrels cannot be kept full in the winter in our area, you might want to buy some used five-gallon water jugs from a water delivery company and pick up caps for them at Earth Fare or Greenlife Grocery.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Be grateful for your good health and loving family and look ahead to preparing just in case. It couldn’t hurt.

(Kathleen Lamont is the owner of Back to Basics. Her Web site is www.backtobasicsnc.com and her email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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