Garden Variety: Preserving Liquid Assets with a Rain Barrel

By Jennifer E. Beaver

In November, my family crams a year’s worth of home repair and redecorating into a single month. Sure, we could spread the painting, grouting and picture-hanging around over the other 11 months, but where’s the challenge in that? With out-of-town relatives coming for Thanksgiving and friends dropping by throughout the holidays, early November is our last chance to spruce up our vintage 1930s Spanish home.
This year I was determined to do something about our termite-nibbled roof. When it rains, my gardener self rejoices while my inner homeowner twits. Craftsmen who understand clay tile roofs are in short supply. So I was delighted to find Phil Reno of Windward Roofs (windwardroofs.com), who is repairing the roof and installing a rear gutter. And then I thought, hey, if I get a gutter, I can get a rain barrel! I can collect water that would normally roll from the roof onto the ground or onto the wood deck. Then I’ll connect a hose and my plants will thank me for the chlorine-free water.
At first, I thought a standard 50-gallon barrel would have more than enough capacity. Wrong. According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, one inch of roof water on a 1,000-square-foot roof yields 600 gallons of water. Los Angeles averages 15 inches of rain per year, according to the Los Angeles Almanac. That’s 9,000 gallons per year for each modest-sized roof!
Since I’m not ready to devote my entire yard to rainwater storage, I’ll start small and add more barrels later. Here’s what I’m looking for: a 50-gallon barrel with a closed lid to keep out animals and debris; an overflow near the top; and a hose spigot at the bottom. Upkeep includes checking for leaks, blocking vents to prevent mosquito access, emptying between storms and scrubbing out with a vinegar solution at the end of the rainy season.
If you’re handy, you can make your own barrel. In the interest of completing this project in the next few weeks, however, I’m shopping online at Home Depot, Lowes and Gardener’s Supply, where the barrels range in price from $90 to $250.
Mark these Long Beach events on your calendar: Plant sale, Saturday, Nov. 7, from 9am to noon at The Wrigley Garden, 1950/1960 Henderson Avenue; and first farmer’s market, Sunday, Nov. 22, from 9am to 2pm, Longfellow School playground, Bixby Road and California Avenue.

Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California.

Garden Variety

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