Rain- The Best Gift of All

Homegrown Neighbor here:

It is Christmastime, I am stuffed full of food and my house is brimming with yet more stuff. I have enjoyed the holidays, but I’m even more excited about the rain we have had and that there is perhaps more in the forecast. When it comes to what really counts, well, rain is pretty high up there.
The past few years have been extremely dry here in the West. The year before last we literally had 3 inches of rain in L.A. So rain really feels like a gift from the gods.
We had a decent rain recently and I have been using the water I harvested. As you can see in the photo, my downspouts go into a rain barrel. A slight design flaw I have discovered in hindsight is that the spout doesn’t attach directly to the barrel. There is screening over the top of the barrel but it isn’t a very fine mesh. I meant for it to keep leaves and large debris out. I forgot about mosquitoes. It would be ideal if the spout was attached directly to the barrel and there was no point of entry for the bugs. But these are home made rain barrels and I have lived and learned from my mistakes. But I do get to harvest a decent amount of water and it feels very satisfying to see that barrel full after only a light rain.
So due to the mosquito issue, I use my harvested rain water as soon as possible. Once the soil has dried out, usually just a couple of days later, I attach a hose to the barrel and let it drain. I will set it in the garden and move it around to a few different spots. I have five 55 gallon barrels set up so far.
Rainwater really helps flush out salts that can build up in the soil (an issue here in the West) and unlike tap water there is no chlorine. The plants just love the rain water. I also planted beet, carrot and onion seeds right before the rain. They are now starting to sprout.
In the new year one of my projects is going to be upgrading the rainwater harvesting system. In addition to the existing rain barrels, I want to make sure that any excess water is absorbed by the landscape. Currently a lot of water runs down the driveway during a rain. This is made worse by a downspout that feeds directly into the driveway. The driveway of course channels the water straight to the street where it goes to the ocean. It would be better to have that water sink back into the earth. So I want to redirect that water into a detention basin instead. It will be a small depression planted with native plants adapted to our weather patterns. More water for me, less water wasted! Directing rainwater from your roof into the landscape is often simpler and lower in cost that harvesting in a barrel or cistern.

The small 55 gallon barrels I have are great, but they fill up very quickly even in a light rain. You would be amazed at how much water you can collect. There are many cistern options out there. They just tend to be very large and expensive. But I recently saw a display from Bushman Tanks who offer water harvesting and storage tanks suitable for the average homeowner. I thought the prices were reasonable and I love the slim line tanks that are designed to store a lot of water in a small footprint. I know what I want for Christmas next year…..

[Mr. Homegrown here–hopefully Santa will bring us a Bushman Tank too–in the meantime, see our rain barrel here.]

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  1. Hi, I’ve heard the west coast of the USA has been receiving low rainfall recently. I live in Melbourne, Australia and this winter and spring is the first year we’ve had any decent rainfall since 1996. As a consequence we Aussies have become very adept at rainwater harvesting. If you’re thinking of upgrading your rainwater harvesting system here’s a link you may find interesting http://harvestingmorerainwater.com/
    I hope you get some more rain soon but what I’ve found over the years it’s not so much the amount of rain you get that makes the difference it’s how you go about harvesting it.

  2. Do you know that it’s actually illegal to harvest water in Colorado? There’s some law about not diverting water from downstream users. The thing that gets me most is that we have to pay yearly sewer fees for rainwater runoff. Jerks.

  3. Something in the back of my mind leads me to think there are organic ways to control mosquitoes in your rain barrels.
    I know here in the Portland area our local county gives away a small breed of fish.

  4. In california the native mosquito eater is the Arroyo Chub. I’m sure though that one could infuse some neem tea into the rain barrels somehow. just developing a passive system to do so would be challenging. It’d have to be an active process

  5. There are products available for water features which keep mosquitos in check. Don’t know how organic these are.

  6. here in Florida I use comets (a type of fish that sells 5 for $1 in pet stores) in my rain barrels. And while they are far less than professional (rubbermaid garbage cans w/ completely open tops), I have a rain water source that doesn’t contribute to our mosquito problem. I feed the fish occasionally in the winter. Its hard to get hearty ones and so many die in finding one to occupy each barrel, but once they’re established, they live for over a year. This means you can spread your water out until the next rain. However, I do recommend some covering (as you have) on barrels. I need to get some on mine as I’m scared one day I’ll find a snake when I reach in for my watering can.

  7. Yeah, fish in the rain barrels sounds like waaaay more work than necessary. Just using the water in a timely fashion is good enough for me. I get to really deep water a few things. Easy enough. Plus it makes my fruit trees really happy.

  8. i live in wisconsin, and have mesh on my rain barrels (i got them through our city). i’ve never had trouble with mosquitoes, even if i don’t get them emptied quickly. it’s like window screening.

    this year i’m thinking of getting some more and having them overflow into each other. they sure do fill up quickly in a storm!

  9. women’s tights over the bottom of the downpipe offers a fairly good solution to debris (choose 40 denier) and a thin layer of cheap vegetable oil will stop mosquitoes from hatching (clearly if you drain the water very fast then the oil slicks against the edge of the barrel but if you drain slowly then the oil remains as a thin layer on top). Admittedly the oil works best on wooden barrels (the sort they make cider and beer here in England) as it eventually gets absorbed into the wood.

  10. I’ve also hear that putting a penny in the barrel stops mosquito problems.

    The barrels you posted a link to are nice but very expensive. I have found 55 and 275 gallon food grade drums/totes on Craig’s List (for only $15 and $100, respectively) that we easily converted to rain barrels. I live 30 miles east of LA and the guy delivers. Let me know if you’d like to see pictures.

  11. My father once told me a story about how in Australia people would put kerosene in their rain barrels to keep the mosquitoes at bay. He theorized that any other oil that could sit as a top layer in water would work just as fine and probably be a lot safer than kerosene. I bet a nice layer of olive oil would keep the mosquitoes away. Organic and everything! Drain from the bottom or siphon out the water and all is good.

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