This is our rain barrel. I should give him a name or something. He's nice and full now because of all the rain (and that little bit of snow) we've been getting. I took this picture while it was raining and you can see it overflowing (and it looks like a couple of drops of water got on my camera).
Last summer was our first summer in this house, and it was brutal. It was one of the hottest summers on record, and we had a terrible drought. In my town we were only allowed to do outdoor watering Wednesday evenings after 6 pm. I managed to get a few plants in my brand new garden to survive, but I knew we'd better get a rain barrel for next year. According to the Farmer's Almanac, this coming summer is going to be like last year's. Great.
Rain barrels are a really good idea. If you live in a house with outdoor plants to water I encourage you to install one (or a few). It's free water, after all. Some day when I have my own house, it would be nice to rig up the washing machine and maybe even the shower to flow out into the garden, but for now rain barrels will have to do. Rain barrel water is not safe to drink (mainly because of whatever substances might wash off your roof), but plants don't need their water to be as clean, and watering the garden really made our water bill skyrocket last summer.
If you want a rain barrel you can either buy one already made or make one yourself. I've seen the rain barrels at stores like Lowes and Home Depot and they're not that impressive, so I would suggest either making one yourself or finding some local source for quality rain barrels.
This one we have is a homemade one. It's made from an old jalapeno pickle barrel Daniel's father got a hold of. I'm not sure how many gallons it is, but it's pretty big. It's made of food-grade opaque black plastic, which will prevent algae from growing. The top was in two pieces, a lid and a screw-on ring, kind of like a Mason jar. We discarded the lid and put a piece of window screening over the top to keep mosquitoes and debris out, then screwed it in place with the ring. The downspout was then turned around to pour into the barrel through the screen.
Daniel drilled a hole in the bottom and attached a hose bib. I can either fill a watering can from it or attach a hose to it. The whole thing is up on cinder blocks like a mini water tower which helps the water flow out (if you remember from basic physics, water will flow out as long as the hose is below the level of the water). One of the main problems I've seen in rain barrels at the store is that the spigot is too high up on the barrel. I'm not sure how they expect you to get all the water out once you've emptied it down below the level of the spigot. Tip it over?
So these are the basic elements of a rain barrel: some way to keep mosquitoes out but rain can still get in, opaque so algae can't grow, a spigot at the very bottom so you can get all the water out, and elevated to make it even easier for the water to flow out.
I'd like to get a second one to put on another corner of the house. I'm not sure if Daniel's dad has any more pickle barrels, so I might buy an already made one next time. That is, if I can find a quality one. One last thing to consider when looking into getting your very own rain barrel is whether your city has some kind of rain barrel program. Some of them give you an incentive of some kind to get one, and that's cool. My city gives a $50 rebate, but only if I buy a rain barrel specifically sold for that purpose, not if I make one myself. Maybe I should take advantage of that for my second barrel.