Area residents learn benefits of collecting water
Say, say, oh playmate,
Come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three
Climb up my apple tree
Shout down my rain barrel
Slide down my cellar door
And we'll be jolly friends
My mother taught me this nursery song when I was little, and I recall it every time the subject of rain barrels comes up. Which has been quite often lately: Rain barrels are making a splash this growing season. One Wichita man is selling two to four a week, even Lowe's touts them, and you can learn to make your own at a Botanica seminar on June 14.
It takes only a couple of rainy weeks followed by a few sizzling-hot dry days to show the wisdom of collecting rain. Not only does it save money and resources and reduce pollution, but gardeners know that the water that falls from the heavens is better for plants than what comes from the tap -- it's softer, purer, of the right temperature.So it's no wonder that what's considered environmentally friendly these days was common-sense necessity in the days when the nursery ditty was written. And the water went not only for plants but for cleaning
I actually have a cellar door these days, but the closest I get to a rain barrel is a collection of watering cans and pot saucers that accidentally catch the rain. They usually don't make much of a dent in my watering rounds.
But some area gardeners are quite sophisticated in their use of rain barrels. Diane Dorsch of Derby, who will be giving the seminar at Botanica as well as a lunchtime lecture next week, diverts rainwater to a rain garden that was once a swamp in her backyard. Peter Daniels of Wichita, who has become an accidental rain-barrel maker, runs soaker hoses from a couple of his barrels to three raised vegetable beds.
Both Diane and Peter had started out looking for rain barrels to buy but found no stores offering them. The rain barrels they found online cost around $200 -- plus $50 shipping. So they got on the Internet and learned to make their own.
Peter, who lives in Riverside, made a rain barrel for himself last summer, and then a neighbor wanted one, and then another neighbor did, too. Peter and his wife had a new couch to pay off, so he made a few more barrels and took them to the farmer's market. One couple bought all three, and the couch was paid off.
"I thought, 'It was fun while it lasted.' I never considered going any further with it," Peter said.
But after local garden and water experts showed interest in buying barrels, Peter's dad mentioned trying the garden show. So Peter set up a booth there at the last minute and ended up selling and taking orders for 60 barrels.
"I've sold two to four a week since," Peter said. "It has been very unexpected."
Peter charges $100 to $125 per barrel (at www.wichitarainbarrels.com) and each comes with a downspout adapter, a spigot and an overflow hose. The new owner has only to supply a couple of cinder blocks for the barrel to sit on and about five minutes of hacksawing on an aluminum gutter to accommodate the barrel.
The barrels start out white, recycled from their use as holders of Pepsi and Mountain Dew syrup. Barrels slated for rain collection should be food-grade because chemicals from other barrels would kill plants. But the barrels aren't pretty.
"People use these around the world, and most people who have them don't decorate them," Peter says. But he painted the one in his front yard green and has another that's been painted with flowers. He can also make a privacy-fence-type enclosure to hide a barrel in a covenant community, but that's a pricey option that kind of defeats the purpose of the barrel. His neighbor's white barrel is hidden on the side of her house by a large, lush bush.
Diane Dorsch notes that now that she and her husband have perfected their barrel-making -- they found 100 ways of making a barrel on the Internet before putting their first one together one cold day in January -- many stores are selling them. But Diane likes the idea of recycling food-grade barrels discarded by restaurants. The restaurants have to pay to have them hauled off by a trash service, and Diane has gotten some of her barrels from a trash service. But she'd like to cut out the middle man and get them straight from restaurants.
Diane says rain barrels are an answer to what used to be constant flooding in her backyard. The Dorsches put in a rain garden year, making it a bit of saucer at the back of the yard. Extension hoses carry water from two rain barrels to a French drain down to the rain garden.
"We've had tremendous success," Diane says. "It'll have 3 or 4 inches of standing water in it, and 24 hours later it's gone."
She taught a seminar at the garden show about making the barrels and has been asked to reprise it at Botanica. She'll give a lunchtime lecture about rain gardens and rain barrels at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday and a workshop in which participants will make their own barrels from 1 to 4 p.m. June 14. (The cost for the workshop is $45, or $40 for Botanica members. Class space is limited; register by Friday by calling Karla Jahn at 316-264-0448.)
Diane expects the Botanica workshop to fill up as quickly as her rain barrels do, and she said she would do a repeat in that case.
"I'd be glad to do it every month as long as we had people who were interested."
Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now you know
INSTALLING A RAIN BARREL
Here are some tips for installing a rain barrel:
• Make sure the area where you place the rain barrel is level; otherwise, the barrel tips over.
• Set it on cement blocks so that it is high enough for you to be able to get water out of the bottom.
• If it is in a really windy area, you may need to put a stake on each side of the barrel to keep it upright when it's empty.
• Connect a short piece of hose to the overflow spout at the top of the barrel and direct the hose away from the foundation of the house and impermeable surfaces such as the driveway or sidewalk.
-- Extension agent Bob Neier, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)