Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Barrels of Fun

One of our site challenges is a lack of on-demand water. As you might note from the earlier post, there is plenty of water, but it is either falling from the sky or stuck in the ground. Or flowing across the ground, in which case we're not usually thinking of irrigating.
For all those other times, though, we need a source from which we can fill our watering can. Eventually we hope to get a well, maybe even a wind-powered pump to go with it. For now we can make use of one of our site advantages: an equipment shed with a footprint larger than the garden (upwards of 5,000 sq ft) and the roof that covers it. This means that for every inch of rain we get the roof can collect about 3100 gallons of water. Wow! Specifically, the downspouts at each corner spit out 775 gallons of water for each inch of rain. Doesn't that sound enticing? It did to us, too. So Margo and our friend, Knoll, went to a Rainwater Harvesting workshop at the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District this time last year.
They came away with two blue 55 gallon drums and some PVC accouterments. I put them up in relatively short order (made slightly longer by the fact that I lack the appropriate tool for cutting aluminum downspouts efficiently - you have no idea how a hacksaw will make them screech!) and was dazzled by how little rain it took to make them full to overflowing. In order to get the most out of each rainfall I put them on different corners, propped up on boards.
Now 110 gallons is a lot of water if you have an aquarium or a houseplant, but it doesn't go far if you have a garden, so we planned expansion. Being cheap, I didn't want to have to buy a plastic 55 gallon drum when there are certainly enough of them in existence already. Online I found a website, Rain Reserve, which sells rain barrel systems, but also has a page giving tips on how to find free or cheap barrels. So I went with that, and found a wonderful source, which I hesitate to divulge. But here's a clue: soda pop bottling plants get their concentrate in 55 gallon drums, and they can't reuse them. So we got four that smelled like Mountain Dew. A few weeks later I had a conversation with our southern neighbor, telling him about my big score. "What?" he said. "If you need 55 gallon drums come over to my place. I've got plenty." It turns out he already knew my source, because he'd gotten a large number from there for his daughters' equestrian practice.
Step two was adding my new barrels. I only managed to set two more up last year, one more on each corner. Since PVC was the going style, I decided to connect each pair with more PVC. This involved a lot of envisioning, and about two hours at Home Depot staring at all the large and small pieces, trying to figure out how I would fit them together. I settled on an upside-down U-shaped concoction to connect them, consisting of two right angles, a number of pieces of pipe, and a larger number of indescribable pieces to get a tight fit between the pipes and the barrels. At the bottom of the new barrel I simply added another valve. The whole picture was functional but clunky, and I found myself wanting something a little less obtrusive and a little more simple. And long-lasting.
So in May I set up both remaining barrels on one of the previously occupied corners. If you're having trouble visualizing it, there are now four barrels on one corner and two on the other.
This time I eschewed the PVC for brass hose adapters, plastic Y-connector valves, and garden hose (whatever that's made of). The result is a little more complicated to envision and carry out initially, but will last longer and look less industrial.
There are a couple of ways to connect four barrels, and I equate them to the little I know of connecting electrical "stuff", that is, in serial or parallel circuit. Since only one barrel is receiving the downspout's torrent, I thought it would be best to give it the maximum number of paths (making this a pseudo-parallel circuit). So I drilled one hole in the upper wall of each barrel, and screwed in a brass fitting that is threaded on one side and barbed (to receive a garden hose) on the other. I cut a piece of hose long enough to go from the barrel to the point between all four, and attached those to each brass barb. I connected the hoses from each pair of barrels with a Y hose connector, then cut a piece of hose to connect the two Y's. It's kind of hard to take a photo of the setup, 'cause it's in such a tight place, but I'll try with text:

O________-----------________ O
--------------- ->------<

Hmmm. Sorry, I guess I missed out on those wonderful years of drawing pictures with keyboard characters. But hopefully you get the point. The O's are barrels, the lines are hoses, and the <> thingies are Y connectors.

For the output valves I only had to worry about the new barrels, because the earlier ones already had their PVC valves. I drilled one hole towards the bottom of both new barrels, put in the brass thread/barb piece, put hoses on each one, and connected them at the front of the whole mess with a Y -valve connector. So I can turn on one barrel, the other, or both.

Someone pointed out that I could have saved resources by passing on the top connection and connecting them all at the bottom. Then I could use that as the drain valve, too. The trouble with that, as I see it, is that if one barrel gets a leak it will drain them all overnight, and if it can happen, it will eventually.

What I didn't mention before were the "hose repair" pieces, which allowed me to attach cut hose to all the threaded Y connections. Very similar to the brass barbed pieces (except that they are plastic), they have a barb on one side with a two-piece clamp to hole the hose on, and a male or female connection on the other side.

All in all this project used 6 brass fittings, two Y connectors without valves, one Y connector with valves, 8 pieces cut from a veeery long damaged garden hose, six female hose repairs, and three male hose repairs. Whew! At least I'll know what I am doing for the next few barrels!

So I have a lot of experience now (the kind that makes me cringe a little bit to consider). But there are many ways to skin a cat, I'm told, and so if anyone else has a suggestion I will probably take it into account.

(When scrutinizing the photos, most of the PVC can now be ignored. Like a certain structure in Alaska, it now leads nowhere.)

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, nicely used the barrels. So much useful information in a single post, going to try this out by myself as well. Thank you for sharing it with us