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drink up, plants…

From the Glenbow Archives, Elbow River, June 1923

Wheeeeeeeeee it’s raining!  And we managed to get our rain barrels set up just in time for Calgary’s most recent downpour – 63 mm of water over the last 5 days has given us over twice the amount of rainfall we need to fill both of the two barrels we have set up in the backyard.   

There really is water everywhere right now, the river has flooded into the low-lying areas around Prince’s Island Park, our garden has been thoroughly soaked, and some of the storms in southern Alberta were big enough that tornados touched down near Taber.  63 mm of rain doesn’t sound like a lot in places that get regular downpours, but for dusty Calgary, it’s pretty substantial!  

Maybe this is a little obvious, but I think the best part about the rain barrels is that, while they are filling up, the rest of your garden is getting watered at the same time, so you don’t even need to use your rain barrel water until a couple of days later when things have dried! Ha! It’s like two for the price of one!

Our rain barrels each hold just under 200 L of water and it takes roughly 100 L of water to given the backyard gardens a reasonable watering.  With the two barrels on the go, this should give us a good amount of rain water to keep things from getting parched in between rain showers.  

I was amazed at how quickly they filled up!  Just an inch of water on the first night was more than enough to completely fill both rain barrels to the brims from all that fell on our little roof.  We’ve only got about 740 sq. ft. of roof, so I can only imagine how much water could be saved from a more average-sized house!  The other inch and a half we got during the rest of the week just went through the overflow taps at the top of the barrels.  Now that we’ve seen how much water we could have available, we’ve added one more barrel to the front of the house for the herb spiral and grain patch.  


Rain barrels are great:

  • you’re using clean, fresh rain water that hasn’t been treated with chlorine or any other chemicals which can be hard on plant growth, it’s also a great temperature for your plants
  • because you’re not using city water on your land, you’re saving the equivalent amount of energy, resources, and chemicals that go into treating the water that would have come from the tap.  A significant portion of the City of Calgary’s electricity bill comes from water treatment processes alone!
  • free water! (‘nuff said)
  •  most of the barrels people use are food-grade containers that have been repurposed to catch rain (remember, reuse comes before recycle!)
  • they may actually help protect your home and basement in the case of a flooding downpour – see this article from CBC in Saskatchewan!

There are a couple of downsides to using rain barrels:

  • they are pretty big and cumbersome and you usually need to prop them up on something so that you’ve got enough room to fit a watering can under them or have enough water pressure to attach a hose.  (As we learned this week, they better have great supports or as the barrel gets heavier and heavier and the ground you’ve set your stand up on gets muckier and muckier, you could have a barrel tip over like we did and lose all your water… not to mention, crack your barrel!  Fixing rain barrel #2 is now on the to-do list for this weekend!)
  • they aren’t the most attractive additions to your yard (but free water definitely trumps aesthetics in our house!)
  • there could be some concerns about chemicals from your roofing materials leaching into the water as it drains through your eavestroughs into the barrel. After seeing how quickly the water flows, we’re not too worried about this, but we may spring for a water test at some point just to allay any concerns.  If you had a very new roof, or the water was somehow stagnating before moving into the barrels, perhaps you may have more concerns.

If you’re in the Calgary area, you can find rain barrels through Green Calgary and their annual rain barrel sales (coming to a neighbourhood near you) or any time during the year in their office in Kensington. We got one of ours there and one through the City of Calgary Healthy Yards program.

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