Trouble is, however, you need rain to fill the rain barrel; otherwise you simply have a big, empty food-grade barrel with a spigot on it taking up space and remaining a curiosity to the frequent wildlife visitors to the garden.
Most of you donít need me to tell you itís been dry. After the last bout of precipitation it was apparent the gutters and downspouts were in need of their biannual cleaning. Maple seeds and other spring tree debris were clogging things up to the point of water overflowing and settling too close to the foundation of the house.
Not a drop of rain has fallen since then and that was weeks ago.
To the home gardener water is the number one natural resource. There are no substitutes. A typical home garden needs about one inch of water a week in order to thrive. When it rains, nature takes care of the watering. When there is no rain hand watering becomes necessary. In a small garden, that might mean enjoying a cup of coffee while holding the garden hose over the plot until everything is sufficiently saturated. Large gardens take more time to hand water and a sprinkler or soaker hoses make the job easier.
Gardens prefer rain water to chemically-treated municipal water and even to the hard, mineral-rich water that comes from deep within the Earth through our man-made wells. Rain is naturally soft and, unless you live in highly industrial area, purer than tap water. It does not contain the salts used to artificially soften water to make it more pleasant to our skin and hair and kinder to our clothes and dishes. It does not contain the chlorine that certain government agencies believe is necessary to make it safe to drink.
In times of little rain or worse yet, droughts, it is important to consider how to keep the garden alive and producing when nature seems to be the enemy. While native plants we often call weeds endure the unpredictable cycles that make up the Ohio summer, the non-native plants in the garden wilt easily and can even die when they are overcome with thirst.
Harvesting rain water is the key to providing your garden with the preferred drink of choice. When the rain barrel runs dry we have little choice other than to get out the hose and hand water. What the garden hates about tap water will be forgiven if the plants are thirsty enough. The next good rain will wash away most of the salts and the chlorine.
I never imagined my rain barrels would be empty so early in the growing season and it makes it all too clear how precious our water supply is to us and to the food we grow. When you consider this planet is made up mostly of water, very little of it is the fresh kind that we need for drinking and sharing with our plants.
Ask any tomato plant. Water is life. When we choose to mange it and use it wisely we all thrive.
Published: May 28, 2012