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Hello Guest!
Welcome to the official Square Foot Gardening Forum.
There's lots to learn here by reading as a guest. However, if you become a member (it's free, ad free and spam-free) you'll have access to our large vermiculite databases, our seed exchange spreadsheets, Mel's Mix calculator, and many more members' pictures in the Gallery. Enjoy.

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Saving Rain Water

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Razed Bed
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Post  Rahab222 4/22/2015, 7:30 pm

For those of you who save rain water for your garden, how do you keep it from turning "brackish?"  When we get rain in Houston, you usually don't need to use it for awhile.
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Post  CapeCoddess 4/22/2015, 7:40 pm

You mean stagnant? Good question. That's what I always wonder when I put hose water in my buckets to declorinate and then don't use them for a few days or sometimes a week. I'll be watching to see the answer.
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Post  llama momma 4/22/2015, 8:07 pm

I put lids on my water buckets and yes sometimes it smells.  I don't particularly clean it out after compost or manure was stored in it.  Never noticed any difference in the plants.
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Post  mschaef 4/22/2015, 8:14 pm

I'm not sure how to keep water that long without my boys getting into in for water fights. I would think keeping it covered would help though. Hopefully someone with more knowledge on the subject will let the rest of us know.
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Post  TastyTurnip 4/22/2015, 8:46 pm

There are a few things you can do to prevent the water from "smelling". You could either prevent organics from entering the barrel as much as possible, and/or keep it mixing. 

To prevent organics from entering, you could have a serious sieve prior to the barrel, porous cloth, or even a small sand filter for the water to pass through. You should also try to prevent leaves/pollen from entering - so the first few litres (or gallons?) at the beginning of a rainfall with all of the organics should be diverted and then the subsequent clean water can be allowed to enter the rain barrel. Gutters need to be cleared often. The water should be changed at least every month.

Between uses, a rinse with a bit of baking soda or vinegar should take care of any growth. 1 capful of bleach or 1 cup of vinegar can also help keep smells at bay and won't be harmful to your plants once you use it. There are some pond clarifying solutions available but I don't have any experience with these. Could also try adding charcoal to the bottom to absorb odours, or cedar oil.

Keep the barrels covered - sunlight will promote algae growth.

Not sure how to keep it mixing though! Maybe get a big witches brew spoon? Or plug in an aerator (fish store) every now and then?
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Post  happycamper 4/22/2015, 9:02 pm

In my area, the City of Portland recommends storing water for 10-14 days.  They base the time frame on how long it takes a mosquito to go from an egg to an adult.  I store water for longer but I do have lids for all my barrels and they are frequently checked/used during the summer.

I have one barrel that is white, it is the only one that gets a mild algae in it.  The rest of the barrels are all brown or blue and do not have the algae problem.  Sunlight is a major cause of algae/bug growth.

The water in the barrels has never smelled and they tend to have frogs around them in deep summer.  Happy Gardening!
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Post  Razed Bed 4/22/2015, 10:19 pm

We have 128 gallons of storage, which is almost full from April showers.  My wife adds about 10 drops of cinnamon essential oil to each 32 gallon container.  This prevents mosquito larvae and adds deodorizing.  You can get aquarium aerators to keep it fresh with oxygen.
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Post  Rahab222 4/22/2015, 11:27 pm

Okay, thanks to all who responded.  Anybody else have other suggestions?  I use black, plastic trash cans with lids that fit tightly.  I capture the water from my downspouts.  Even with the lids on, it only takes a couple of weeks for the water to look "discolored."  I call this "brackish."  I'm not sure if this is safe to use on my garden or not?  I wonder if putting some Chlorox in the barrels would help and if it would harm my plants?  Even if there is water currently in the barrels and we are expecting thunderstorms, I dump all the old water out and start over.  I've looked at several websites of people who "harvest rain water," but nobody mentions this issue, if it occurs with theirs at all, or how to prevent it.  I would really prefer to use stored rain water on my garden vs. the city water with chlorine in it.  I just need to know how to keep the rain water fresh.

Thanks to all for your input.
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Post  sanderson 4/23/2015, 1:05 am

Happycamper, Good to see you!

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Post  NAR56 4/23/2015, 10:53 am

Rahab222, I use a 275 gallon IBC Tote that I got free  Very Happy to collect rain water. It gets some algae, but not much. I keep the lid on the tank all the time. I do not have any smell when I use the rain water. I only take the lid off and place my downspout (with a pool skimmer bag on the end) when I need to fill the tote. I fill a smaller 30 gallon tote with the rain water and use a sump pump attached to a garden hose to water my beds. It works really well and the plants respond so much better to rain water than city water.
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Post  butterwhat 4/24/2015, 5:47 am

The class I took when I got my rain barrel (a soda syrup barrel) recommended painting the barrel to prevent algae growth.  The barrels are not fully transparent, so light can get in, which allows the algae to grow.  Fully painting the barrel will stop the light from getting in.
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Post  Tilth 4/24/2015, 6:39 pm

Rahab222, you mentioned that you are using black plastic trash cans to store collected rain water. I would not do this, especially if you are using the water to water a vegetable garden. The reason being that the trash cans are made of "who knows what" kind of plastic, which may be leaching "who knows what" kind of chemicals into the water. This may also be causing your "brackish" water. Also, lids on trash cans, though they may seem so, are usually not tight enough to preclude small bugs and such, and therefore bacteria, from entering.
 If you are watering an edible crop, you should only use food grade plastic containers, the most common of which are HDPE. Without looking it up again, I believe this stands for High Density Polyethylene and uses the #2 inside of the recycle  triangle. As it is considered "Food Grade", if there is any leaching, it should be minimal and safe, at least according to our government, if you trust them.
 Also, If you are collecting from a roof or other "permanent" structure, make sure you are allowing enough runoff to clean your collector. 1 gal of runoff for every 100 sq. feet of collector is considered minimum. This is to allow all of the dust, bird and creature droppings, and other debris to be washed off of your collection surface before you start saving water.
  The above said and done, sometimes your saved rainwater will still look like weak tea and sometimes get a little foamy. These are not supposed to be a problem and I believe this as I have a friend who is big time into carnivorous plants, which are very sensitive to the quality of water they are grown in. He uses saved rain water, has used the "weak tea" and somewhat "foamy" water without a problem.
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Post  sanderson 4/25/2015, 12:09 am

butterwhat wrote:The class I took when I got my rain barrel (a soda syrup barrel) recommended painting the barrel to prevent algae growth.  The barrels are not fully transparent, so light can get in, which allows the algae to grow.  Fully painting the barrel will stop the light from getting in.

Paint on the outside, only.

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Post  Rahab222 4/25/2015, 2:04 am

Okay, so I shouldn't be using black, plastic trash cans.  That has been a concern.  Guess I'll have to scout out a soda company and see if I can buy one from them and also get a filter.

Is adding Chlorox to the water a bad thing?
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Post  sanderson 4/25/2015, 2:37 am

Rehab, Also look on Craig's List for large food grade containers for sale. Some of them hold something like 300+ gallons. Others are blue and hold around 55 (??) gallons.

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Post  butterwhat 4/25/2015, 6:32 am

sanderson wrote:
butterwhat wrote:The class I took when I got my rain barrel (a soda syrup barrel) recommended painting the barrel to prevent algae growth.  The barrels are not fully transparent, so light can get in, which allows the algae to grow.  Fully painting the barrel will stop the light from getting in.

Paint on the outside, only.
Thanks for pointing that out!  My barrel is permanently sealed, so painting on the inside would be pretty difficult.  Smile
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