It seemed timely that the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service’s workshop on making rain barrels took place in between showers Tuesday at the farmers market in Mount Airy. The event was led by Extension Master Gardener Joe Sloop.
“I’m a retired teacher that still loves to talk if I can find anyone who will listen,” joked Sloop at the beginning of the workshop.
He explained to the group that rain water can be used for any type of plants. It is good for plants because it is highly oxygenated and free of salts and other minerals.
“With so many chemicals like chlorine in city water, it’s like drinking pool water to your plants,” said Sloop. He said that setting municipal water out in a container to let the chemicals evaporate would cure that particular problem. He also told the group that rain barrels let the water come up to “room” temperature, so to speak.
Sloop cautioned the group against directly using well water or tap water that may be too cold and can shock plants. He also demonstrated ways inexpensive PVC pipe can be used to direct water from rain barrels to plants. He told participants that one-sixteenth-inch holes can be drilled in the pipes to make “dribble” hoses that gently water plants from underneath their foliage.
He told the group that the best time to water plants is in the morning. Nighttime watering leaves moisture on the plants for too long and can cause fungal diseases. Watering them in the midday can “scald” plants under the hot sun. Sloop shared information with the group that indicated that rainwater is also good for starting seeds, filling hot tubs, bird baths, fountains and swimming pools.
Rainwater is slightly acidic with a pH around 5.7. Azaleas, blueberries, camellias and rhododendron like the acidic water. Rainwater also can be used to fill a watering can to hand-water plants, flowerbeds and gardens, keeping compost bins moist and rinsing off gardening tools.
Sloop suggested the group use a few drops of garlic oil dropped in the stored rainwater to keep mosquitoes out of the barrels. Other methods of preventing mosquitoes include covering rain barrel openings with screening and sealing all openings to the rain barrel. Open access to standing water for more than four days allows mosquitoes to complete their life cycle. “Mosquito Dunks,” which contain a type of bacteria that kills mosquito larvae, also can be used.
He gave the group information that reminded them to use a dark colored rain barrel or paint the barrel to block sunlight so algae will not grow in the rainwater.
Rainwater harvesting is merely a tool, like rain barrels used to conserve water and it is not a new concept. The larger version of a rain barrel, known as a cistern, holds several thousand gallons and has been used for centuries. He told the group that as the human population grows, water quality and water supplies are increasingly important issues and rain barrels are a simple way to reduce non-point source water pollution, erosion from storm surges and reducing the amount of treated city water used for lawns and gardens.
Sloop suggested raising the barrels up on concrete blocks to allow better water flow away from the barrel and because a full 55-gallon drum can weigh more than 450 pounds and needs support. He told the group a good rule of thumb is that water weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon. He also cautioned the participants to be sure the barrel foundation is level so it will not fall and hurt someone. Barrels must be drained in winter to prevent them from freezing and cracking.
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1923.