The water tote being connected to the diverter spout
The water tote being connected to the diverter spout
Our tanks still sitting on the truck in front of the barn waiting for us to unload!

***We have more updated pictures at the end of this post from installing the totes.

It’s a beautiful sight to us!  Two bright and shiny 275 gallon water totes that will become the backbone of our barn’s rooftop rainwater collection system.  They will be used to water our entire garden, grapevines, and flowerbed areas – and let us attain our goal of using 100% reclaimed water for all of our gardening needs.

Thanks to another craigslist find this past weekend – we picked up the two used totes for just $40 each from a manufacturing plant.  They were used initially to hold molasses syrup for the food plant – but they are in pristine condition, completely washed, cleaned out and ready to start holding our rainwater.  These tanks have a huge 6″ cap opening on top for filling – but more importantly – with just a little modification using simple garden hose adapters – we can turn the 2″ bottom outlet into a standard garden hose hookup, complete with a shut off valve.

Recycled water totes are a great way to store and use rainwater – just make sure your totes are clean and were not used to hold harsh chemicals that could leave harmful residues.

We will finally be installing our gutters on the barn in the next few weeks . Instead of directing the downspout into regular run off drains –  the rainwater from the metal roof will be carried by a small diverter installed in the downspout to fill the water tanks.

Our system is really pretty basic and very simple.  When both tanks are full – they will hold 550 gallons of fresh water – enough to water our garden every day for nearly a month if mother nature decides to send a drought our way.  We will keep one tank at the top of the back hill above the garden hidden within the compost bin fence.   The other tank will be installed at the back corner of the barn, hidden behind a decorative fence and large grasses. That tank will be connected to the downspout to catch the rain water coming off the metal roof of the barn.   A simple overflow tube will be installed on the main rainwater tank that will send all excess water to the regular drains when the tanks become full.

The biggest hurdle to overcome was how to get water to our top tank.  It makes sense to have the usable water up above the garden.  It’s the highest point of the property – and if the tank is there, we can simply use gravity to water all of our plants.  We first thought about using the tractor and a small wheeled trailer to move the bins when full – but we decided it would just be too difficult to do – and probably end up damaging our tanks with the constant movement.  So after a lot more thought and a little research – we have settled on pumping the water from the bottom tank to the top tank  when needed,  using a permanently buried hose and a small water pump powered by an inexpensive solar energy system

We will use a simple downspout rain diverter to take water to the tanks

How does it work?  – It starts with the use of a small solar panel that will attach on to the back of the barn roof.  The panel collects the sun’s energy and charges  a small battery panel in the barn.  That battery power can then run the small electric pump and push the water up to the second tank with a simple flip of a switch.  A great way to get all of our future watering needs at no cost!

So – hopefully with a little good weather and some luck – we can at least have the gutters and main tank connected within the next week or two and begin filling the main barn tank – with the solar pump and panel installation following shortly thereafter.   Our goal is to have the system operational by the main planting of our garden in mid-May.  We will be sure to post updated pictures when we have it all up!

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Filling Up With Rain
IMG-20120529-00370
Filling up about half full after a rain,,,
Filling up from a good rain
Filling up from a good rain
Back Barn Gutter
Back Barn Gutter

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27 thoughts on “Using rain to water our garden…our solar driven rain collection system takes shape

  • July 2, 2015 at 12:17 pm
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    Hello there,
    I have just found this site as well and am happily browsing. This might sound like a foolish question, but in the winter, do you have to drain your tanks so they don’t freeze or just make sure they are not full so the water can expand up as it freezes? I have often wondered this and don’t have a system set up since we are on a river, but it would be handy to have a barrel in specific areas.

    • July 2, 2015 at 2:31 pm
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      That is actually a great question – and yes – we do empty ours to keep them from cracking

  • December 31, 2014 at 1:42 pm
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    What did you use to build the tote 10′ off the ground?

  • March 23, 2014 at 3:41 pm
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    Love the water harvesting system you set up. I have 60 gal on line, and I’m looking for more capacity if I can find it locally. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that 550 gal would water your garden for a month (without rain). I use many times that much for a much smaller garden.
    How much higher than the garden is the high tank? (I’m trying to get a handle on the amount of water pressure this creates) Also you mentioned watering from a simple hose… do you stand there and direct the hose to each plant in turn, or is there some sort of olla or drip bucket at each plant? In a drought, how often do you water?

    • March 26, 2014 at 9:15 pm
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      Tom – we water to the plants with a hose attached to the tank. It sits above the garden – about 10′ or so on grade. We only have to water right at the plants so that conserves a lot. It is amazing – but we can go a month on the two tanks if no rain. We water about every other day in total dry – and two times a week with a little rain. Hope that helps!

  • April 5, 2013 at 10:30 am
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    Just found your website recently and love the idea of using the water totes; our rain barrels are just too small to be practical. My wife wonders if the plastic in the totes is BPA-free. The sun is hot here in NE New Mexico, which means the water will get hot as well. She wonders if chemicals like BPA will leach into the water and eventually get into the veggies we grow and eat. Do you have any info/insights about this? Many thanks.

  • December 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm
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    This year my husband installed our rainwater collection system of 4 connected 55-gallon plastic drums from just one side of our garage/shop. This is the only water we used for our vegetable garden this year. Our drums are supported by concrete blocks, 2 high. This winter, after draining our drums, we will make the supports 4 blocks high to give us greater water pressure so watering will be faster. Are you all using drip hoses for watering your vegetable garden? or do you hand water your garden? We are hand watering our small 10 x 12 plot and the greater pressure will be a help! We should do like Pam and collect water from the other sides of our house!

    • December 29, 2012 at 3:02 pm
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      When they are young – sometimes it is easier to jsut hand water. But we can water from a hose from the tank above the garden as they get larger. The big tank certainly helps with the pressure. Sounds like you have a great system set up for yours!

    • December 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm
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      Evelyn, yes I use soaker hoses, newspapers around the tomatoes and this year I used woodpile tarps (4×18) to put in between the rows. Sounds pretty wide, but some of the plants were so heavy they fell over and because they were on tarps they didn’t get muddy. Worked pretty good – I try something new every year. My garden is about 18 x 30 and I let squash and pumpkins wind around for the grandkids. 🙂

  • December 27, 2012 at 10:36 pm
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    I started collecting rainwater a couple of years ago and have become a fanatic! I use it to keep my 2000 gal pond full, water the garden and rest of the landscape. I use 2 55 gal drums free from a car wash that just had soap in it and used them on my garage. I’ve got a 100 gal stock tank under my back deck on one side and then 3 pickup water haulers (total 700 gal) which are connected to each other and at various levels so they fill as the top one fills. All these pump to my barn where I have a 2500 tank ($200) and 2 800 gal tanks ($75 ea) to store the excess water. I buy them from farmers and auctions. The reason I have them in the barn is to keep sunlight from hitting them and growing algae. Yes, I have a lot of pumps going, but I’m not taxing my well and not hauling any water. I put knee high panty hose on the end of the downspouts to keep debris out of water. I have a decorative clay looking rain barrel on front deck that holds 60 gal and it helps water my 23 deck boxes and hanging baskets. I love it when it rains! 🙂

  • November 30, 2012 at 11:06 pm
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    Interested in knowing more about your solar powered water pump. We got a couple 55 gallon barrells and put them down at our basement downspouts. They filled up in one rain! Didn’t expect that. They have for the most part just been sitting there full of water b/c we haven’t figured out a way to get the water up the hill to our garden. What water we have used from them has been hand gathered. Not very reasonable to water an entire garden that way 🙂 What size solar panel and battery system did you use and where did you purchase the panels from. I know very little about the ins and outs of solar, so any information would be most appreciated! BTW, LOVE LOVE LOVE your barn, chicken coop, silo, pergola….ALL of it!
    Blessings!

  • November 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm
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    Thanks for your post! Our community garden uses them but they are free standing and not collecting rainwater, but using a small creek to fill. We have used rain barrels for some years now and realize how valuable they are and we normally have enough rain here. I only wish we would have bought larger ones! We have a micro garden at our house but have managed to provide a large amount of our vegetables plus some for canning. Thanks for showcasing rain water collection, it’s such an important need and very timely for many! Blessings!

    • November 15, 2012 at 8:51 am
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      Thank you so much Nancy! Water is such an important part of the garden and landscape and collecting rainwater is a great way to help conserve.

  • August 26, 2012 at 7:56 pm
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    Sounds like a wonderful idea,how much are they or where can theses be found-purchased ?
    Thank You

    • August 26, 2012 at 7:59 pm
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      Cynthia – we found our on craigslist – they were being sold from a factory that had them left over. You can usually find them on line at a few places and get them cheaper used. Just make sure they were used for a food grade substance and you are good to go. It really has helped us handle all of our watering needs

  • April 22, 2012 at 11:39 pm
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    Excellent system! And the price for those water tanks – AMAZING! What a great idea for storing a larger amount.

    • April 10, 2012 at 6:46 pm
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      Thanks for the nice comments and for stopping by our blog. 🙂

  • April 10, 2012 at 12:05 pm
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    Great idea! Many more people in Ireland are using these containers to collect rainwater now as water charges come in. Is it true that in some states in America it is illegal to collect rainwater?

    • April 10, 2012 at 6:46 pm
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      Water is such a precious resource – and we do not have a well yet on the farm – so when we need it we had to bring it out – this should help! As for the illegal part – I have never heard of that before – but many people do collect it here in Ohio for re-use.

    • October 7, 2012 at 11:36 am
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      Yes, in some parts of the West, it is illegal to collect rainwater unless you own water rights. The line of thought is that the rain replenishes the groundwater covered in the water rights, so you must already have a water right to collect rainwater. When we bought our house, it was less than 10 years old, & came with a small water right – .26 acre foot – from when the land was pasture before development. I was surprised the developer had not sold the water rights to the entire development. Most of our neighbors sold the water rights for $500 or so (they are attached to the land, unless the share is sold outright), but I kept ours so I can collect rainwater for irrigation, since Utah is a desert state & water costs are high.

  • April 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm
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    What a find! And an ingeneous set up. We have an untapped well on our property and have been searching for affordable storage tanks to pump the water into–never thought of searching Craigslist for that!

    • April 10, 2012 at 6:44 pm
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      We have been looking for tanks for some time – and these should work great – We were really lucky last year with good rains – but you never know when you are going to need water!

  • April 10, 2012 at 10:34 am
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    fantastic! rainwater is such an amazing and underdeveloped resource.. i must start cruising craigs list with MY list, you guys have found some great stuff there! c

    • April 10, 2012 at 6:42 pm
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      It really has been wonderful for us – we have found so many things on it that have helped our farm!

    • October 28, 2012 at 11:39 pm
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      I am getting 2 of the 275 tanks for the big garden and have 6, 55 gal drums comming. one 275 for each side of the barn and the barrels are for the house to water the flowers and kitchen garden. am gona do a stack of 3, 55 gallon drums on each corrner of the house. With the drought this year our well is getting smelly. Am considering the rainwater purification system that I saw.

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