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Archive for June, 2009

      We have an arborist who comes by about once a year to check out the health of our trees.  Every year she shakes her head, frowns seriously and says, “drought stressed.”  Tell us something we don’t know!  Lack of adequate rain is becoming a serious problem in our area and I, for one, can’t stand the thought of losing any more trees in our precious urban forest.  The simplest way I could think of to address this issue in my yard was to install rain barrels.

New Rain Barrel before installation

New Rain Barrel before installation

commercial rain barrel

commercial rain barrel

      A few years ago I purchased our first rain barrel.  This spring I got a second one.  The first one is commercially manufactured, and the second one is made from a recycled food grade plastic barrel which was outfitted with spigots and a screen on the top.  Here are a few lessons I’ve learned so far.

1)  Get as many barrels as you can afford
      My house has an 800 sq ft foot print.  It has a pitched roof with a couple of dormers.  There are gutters and drain pipes at all four corners.  I figure that about 1/4 of the rain that falls on my roof runs down each drain pipe.  I have rain barrels at two corners. Each holds 55 gallons.  When we get one inch of rain, about 500 gallons of water falls on our roof. That means 390 gallons of water are wasted.   That’s extra water that could be protecting our gardens and trees.

overflow spigot on commercial rain barrel

overflow spigot on commercial rain barrel

 

overflow spigot on home made bararel

overflow spigot on home made barrel

2) Buy barrels that can be attached together

     Both of my barrels have overflow spigots near the top.  When you connect  two barrels together,  the overflow from the first barrel flows into the second one, thus capturing twice as much water. 
      The overflow spigot on the home-made barrel is only the size of the garden hose, so it isn’t as effective as the one on the commercial barrel, which is about 2-1/2 inches in diameter.  The water from the downspout runs faster than it can run out of a 5/8 inch garden hose so it ends up running over the top of the barrel.  This problem could be solved by adding a couple more overflow spigots.
      I run a hose from the overflow spigot on the home made barrel to the spots that need extra water.  Thus, when it is raining, your trees/gardens are getting a double dose of water.

3) Get barrels with a removable tops
      The water stored in the barrels can become stale and musty smelling.  When the barrel is empty it’s nice to be able to reach in with a long handled brush and give it a scrub out once in a while. 
      The top on my homemade barrel comes all the way off.  I haven’t had to clean it yet, but when the time comes I think it will be easier to clean than the commercial one which has a plastic guard on the top that’s not removable.

3)  A screen on the top is very important
      In addition to keeping debris out of the barrel, a screen prevents your rain barrel from becoming a mosquito incubator.  You definitely don’t want that.

4)  Consider hoses
      I made the mistake of buying a cheap plastic hose for the overflow on my newest barrel.  It kinked up at the outlet and was quickly useless.  Buy a good quality rubber hose.  Avoid vinyl.  It is pretty toxic. 

5)  Cost
     
The commercial barrel is available for about $100 in the garden stores.  I paid $60 for the home-made barrel because I didn’t actually make it myself but bought it from some one who is making them in bulk.  Do-it-yourself kits are available on line or from some hardware stores.  The prices vary widely depending on what is included in the kit, i.e. barrel, spigots, connections, screen. etc.  I decided that $60 was a pretty reasonable price for having one all put together and ready to go. 

So that’s all I know about how to buy a rain barrel.  I welcome your comments on this blog, particularly your experiences with rain barrel construction, use, set up etc. 

Check out my store at www.earthlygoods.net   for earth friendly products other than rain barrels.

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This is for those of you who are concerned about food safety, yet cringe
at the cost of organic produce. It’s research done by the Environmental
Working Group (www.ewg.org) on the chemical load carried by various
fruits & vegetables.

Safest conventionally grown produce (lowest pesticide load)
        Onion, avocado, frozen sweet corn, pineapple, mango, asparagus,
frozen sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli,
tomato, sweet potato, grapefruit, honeydew melon (onions were lowest with
a score of 1, the melon the highest with a score of 30 on a scale of
1-100)

Least safe conventionally grown produce (highest pesticide load)
        peach, apple, sweet bell pepper, celergy, nectarine,
strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, pears
(peaches were the worst with a score of 100; pears the lowest with a
score of 63)

Most of the produce they tested was washed and peeled (no, they didn’t
peel the peas).

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We have a pretty basic compost bin for our garden.  It has three fixed sides, and the fourth side opens up for unloading compost.  We use the lazy person’s system for composting, which is to throw everything compostable into the bin and let nature take its course.  This takes longer, but we really only need to dig out compost once a year, so it isn’t a big deal.

DSCF0020-1When we do dig it out in the spring, however, we need something to sift the compost and keep out the sticks, the not-quite-decomposed corn cobs,  and other detritus that needs more time in the bin. 

I built our sifter about ten years ago and it has held up just fine.  I learned how to do it by watching Martha Stewart. 

I used 2×2 lumber because it is lighter than 2×4 and it is really all you need.  The long sides are 47″ and the cross pieces are 24″.  This size goes well with my wheel barrow.  

LDSCF0018-1ay the 24″ pieces crosswise between the 47″ pieces.  One cross piece goes a couple of inches from the end and the other goes about mid-way along.  See the picture aboveThen drive nails through the long pieces into the ends of the short pieces to secure them.  Next, attach some sturdy L braces on the inside of the corners with wood screws to keep them secure.  This thing gets some pretty hard use so you want it nice and sturdy.

Next cut a piece of half-inch heavy mesh screen, about 27″ by 25″.  Or just cut it to fit the frame with enough extra to allow for attaching it to the frame.  Attach the screen to the frame with staples. 

Next, and this is important, nail some trim over the DSCF0021edges where you stapled the screen.  When I first built my sifter I didn’t do this and the staples came loose after about twenty minutes of sifting.  I just used some scrap trim that was laying around and fastened it with 1-1/2 inch nails.  It has held up just fine. 

As I said, we use our sifter about once a year for digging out the compost.  The long ends serve as handles for shaking and lifting.  We get about 10 wheelbarrow loads of good quality compost, which goes back into the garden and the rest of the yard.  Over time our very heavy clay soil has improved significantly and the level of the garden has risen about 6 inches. 

Have fun composting, and be sure to visit www.earthlygoods.net to see what new interesting stuff I have for sale.

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