Environmentally conscious gardeners -- not to mention thrifty ones -- look for ways to keep from wasting water while minimizing run-off and the pollution and erosion problems it can create. Using a rain barrel to capture water running off a roof is one popular way to accomplish both. Whether purchased or constructed from a recycled drum or other container, the barrel is hooked up to a downspout to catch and store runoff from a rain storm for use later in the garden when the weather turns dry.
One of the challenges with any standing water is to keep it fresh and insect-free. Making sure the top of the barrel is screened will help keep debris out and mosquitoes from getting in to breed. You can also float mosquito "dunks," disks that contain the safe bacterial pesticide B.t.i., which prevents mosquito larvae from hatching.
To keep the water odor-free, clear, and free of floating or suspended organic matter, try Rain Barrel Water Cleaner from Bioverse. This natural product contains a proprietary blend of naturally occurring bacteria which reduce the organic debris that collects in rain barrel water by consuming the excess nutrients in the water, resulting in improved water quality and clarity.
Of course, you need to get the water out of the barrel and onto the plants in your garden. You can simply dip a watering can into the barrel, but if your barrel has a spigot at the bottom, you can attach a hose and let gravity move the water or you can raise the barrel on a support so you have room to set your can below to fill it. If you are looking for automated ease, consider RainPerfect™, a solar-powered pump from Rule?. This system, which mounts quickly and easily to the top of most rain barrels, provides enough pressure to run a garden hose spray nozzle or low-pressure sprinklers. A solar panel powers a rechargeable NiMH battery that can pump up to 100 gallons on a single charge.