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Rain Barrel Lessons: Paint and Drain

Rain Barrel Lessons: Paint and Drain

rain barrel grey

I love the idea of collecting rain water for my garden.  I love the idea of using chlorine and fluoride free water on my plants.  Thinking of rain water evokes images of something pure and heaven sent.  I remember growing up that we knew rinsing your hair with rain water would make it soft.  Rain water had magical qualities.  I can almost hear the rain falling softly through the leaves of the trees….sigh.

We’ve had a rain barrel for several years but once I installed a soaker hose system attached to the outside faucet I only used the rain water occasionally.  I admit it wasn’t very convenient to go to the opposite side of the house and fill jug after jug of water for my potted plants.

Two winters ago on a very cold night I heard a very loud sound outside our bedroom.  It was loud enough that I wondered if something had hit the house.  When spring came I discovered our rain barrel had cracked from water freezing inside.  You see I had opened the spigot for the water to drain out but leaves and mud from a dislodged screen over the downspout had found a way into the barrel and blocked the spigot so the water didn’t drain completely.  Because our weather is up and down the muddy mixture in the bottom probably froze enough to further block the spigot and we may have gotten a cold rain that filled up the barrel even more.  Spring weather thawed the ice enough for the water to drain through the cracked barrel leaving behind a disgusting mess of leaf mold, mud and algae.  So much for the idea of collecting that “pure” rain water, ehh?

We got another two rain barrels and hooked one up with a different kind of down spout kit but I could still see the brown slime through the translucent barrel when the water level was low.  I tried, but you can’t really get all that slime rinsed out.  I decided to paint the rain barrel to reduce the amount of light coming into the barrel and hoped that would limit the growth of whatever that was.

rain barrel interior before painting the outside
rain barrel interior before painting the outside
rain barrel after painting outside
rain barrel after painting outside

Because the barrels were plastic, I sanded the plastic to help the paint stick and used ordinary exterior latex.  Later that day (after I had painted my rain barrels) I had an email from the Habitat Restore that included tips on painting a rain barrel so I knew I had probably not done a long term job because I didn’t use two GALLONS of special primer per barrel plus paint and a top coat sealer.  I was kind of hurrying to get it done because, well, it was going to rain the next day.  It was so humid that where ever I touched the barrel the paint came off on my hands but I touched it as little as possible and set it up anyway.  See…..I am recovering from perfectionism!

Rain it did.  I was excited to get my newly painted rain barrel filled up for the first time this spring so I went out in the rain to check on the progress.  It was a little slow at first because I left the spigot open at the bottom, duh.  In summary, three lessons here are:

  • Paint your rain barrel if it is translucent.
  • Close the spigot when it’s time to let the rain fill it up.
  • Drain the barrel before winter or even disconnect it from the down spout.

Now that you have the back story, I’ll discuss in a future post some precautions for using rain water in your garden.


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