I’m not scared to admit it. I’m a rain barrel addict. I have one on every gutter, and every time I see an IBC container, I get jealous. I want one. I want some. I want lots of them…I want to daisy chain them together and have an endless supply of water.
I use the barrels to water the garden, and then I run the runoff hose into lower areas that I turn into bogs with water-loving plants like elephant ears, bananas, and canna lilies.
When it comes to watering your plants, it is not about how much you water your garden, but how well your soil retains water.
So before you put much thought into how you’re going to water your plants, you need to learn how to improve your soil so they don’t need as much water. Until you achieve soil success, your plants may need your help.
clever ways to water your garden
Here are some clever and easy ways we water our food forest garden and we’re here to show you how:
- Rain Barrel:
Obvious answer, I know. But are you redirecting your rain barrel’s overflow? If not, you are wasting gallons of water…
Rain barrels typically hold 40-50 gallons of water, and a 2,000 square foot roof can catch 1,100 gallons of water per inch of rain. If you aren’t collecting the overflow water, then you are missing out on a lot of extra water.
Rain barrels have an overflow hookup on the top in which you can attach a hose and redirect the excess water.
Here are ways we take advantage of our rain barrel’s overflow:
Attach a soaker hose to your overflow, and snake it through your planters to send water to the areas closest to the house that don’t receive much rain.
A normal hose: Attach a regular garden hose to your overflow and send the water wherever you need it to go. We buried a 100 foot long commercial hose (here) to direct our water into our pond.
A fish tank or 50 gallon trash can: This is where it gets fun. We attached our overflow to fish tanks and trash cans giving us lots more water to use. (2 days after filling the overflow aquarium, a frog laid eggs in it, giving us a new science experiment.) To avoid mosquitoes breeding in it and for added fertilizer, we fill it with goldfish (they even survive freezing temperatures).
We place a bug zapper above the trash can so the zapped bugs fall into the water for the fish to eat. The larger beetles you see floating around are netted out and fed to the chickens.
***If you are going to keep fish in your trash can:
Leave the overflow hose in the trash can so next time it rains, they will have fresh water and oxygen.
Poke lots of big holes a few inches from the top so the water will filter out. If you allow it to go over the edge of the rain barrel, you will find your fish on the ground. Learned that lesson the hard way. Well, my fish did.
Leave Buckets Out
We leave bins, buckets and empty pots in the garden and on our plant rack. Not only does it match our decor of kid toys strewn across the yard, but it is a good way to collect just enough water for individual plants.
Whenever we get a good down pour, my son and I like to play in the rain. We fill buckets from the gutter downspouts and place 5 gallon buckets under the spots where the gutters leak.
Dig Trenches: Redirect water
Trenches are a fun way to get water from one place to another.
We have dug them on a large scale, with a tractor in the middle of a rainstorm, so our chickens wouldn’t drown.
We have dug trenches on a small scale, from the rain barrel to the garden.
My kids like to play with the hose in the mud, so I have them dig trenches so the water flows to my garden. They like to watch the water flow, I like to have my plants watered.
- Dig a hole and flood it
Plants benefit more from a good deep soaking to the roots (every once in awhile) rather than a brief, daily watering which only soaks into the first few inches of soil.
Use the next two tips to flood your garden using your rain barrel water or a house hose.
How to Water your plants with a flood hole.
So I think I just made up the term flood hole, but it is a cool concept.
Dig a 1 foot deep hole.
Plant your plants around it.
Fill the hole with leaves, mulch or whatever organic matter you have lying around.
Flood the hole.
As the organic matter in the middle decomposes, nutrient rich matter will be released into the soil every time you water. The plant’s roots will soak up the nutrients, and everyone will be happy.
Flood your trenches
Dig trenches in between your plants, then let the water run.
- Use a pump to pull water from your pond.
Don’t have a pond? Start digging. The 1/4 acre pond on our property has been an incredible asset to our food forest, providing us with water, small fish to feed our critters and organic compost for the plants.
Ponds provide many resources:
Place plants close together so they can shade the soil and keep more moisture in.
Plants need less water in the winter.
Use rain water rather than chlorinated hose water.
It’s okay to let your plants dry out.
Don’t water too often. This will encourage plants to send their roots deeper into the earth in search for water.
Check moisture by digging a 4″ hole and feeling for moist soil, or use a moisture meter.
Plants naturally wilt during the day to protect themselves from the heat, it’s not a sign of underwatering.
Signs of over watering
Limp and yellow leaves. Over watering deprives the roots of oxygen, which discourages growth.
New and old leaves fall off at the same time.
New growth is brown, not green.
Green soil is a sign of algae growing on the wet surface.
How to save an overwatered plant
Remove plant from pot or ground and sit it in the sun to dry out.
Trash can rain barrels
One of the easiest/cheapest ways to make a fish tank is to run your gutter into a 50-gallon trash can. This is also on my list of fun things to have in your garden.
The trash can gives you an extra 50 gallons of water to use in the garden, and by having an open top, you can simply scoop it out with a bucket, or dip your hands in it to quickly rinse the dirt off.
Want to make it even more fun? Drop some goldfish in it! Now, when you find garden pests, you can drop them into the trash can and serves as a convenient place to drop your garden pests aka fish food.
An important step! If you’re going to put goldfish in your trash can fish tank is to drill small holes all around the rim of the trash can, a few inches down from the top. This will strain the water as it leaks out of the holes, rather than gushing over the top – taking your fish with it. I learned this after finding my goldfish flopping around in the yard after a heavy storm.
To do this, simply run a hose off of your rainbarrel into a trash can. As your rainbarrel overflows, it will refresh the water in your trash can and eliminate the need for an aerator or pump to keep the water from going stagnant.