A wonderful way to decrease the price of your garden is to begin harvesting rain. We live in a fairly rainy part of the country, but rain barrels can be helpful regardless of where you live. The water we harvest is used for irrigation, and we get a discounted sewer bill because we have disconnected the downspout. The main expense of a garden (other than personal labor) is the water used to irrigate. With rain barrels that expense is almost completely removed!
There are a few things to consider when purchasing and creating a rain barrel set up. First off, all barrels should be made of food grade materials. This means they will not leech chemicals into the water you harvesting. Secondly, even if they are food grade you need to be sure they didn't contain any detergents, chemicals, or other additives which could have residue in the container. That being said, they are relatively easy to acquire and can be cheap if you are resourceful. We get ours from an industrial food company near where we live that uses them to store tea for transport to the bottling station. When the barrels are done being used, they sell them. Another place to inquire for them is to frequently patrol Craigslist. (Just select your state/city and look in the farm+garden section.)
Rain barrels shouldn't sit directly on the ground, but have air flowing around them. This is mainly because you want to be able to fill up containers from the faucet you place in the barrel. If the barrel is on the ground, you cannot do this without placing the facet in the center of the barrel and rendering half the container useless. Also, with air circulating around the barrel mold, moss, and sludgy gunk doesn't build up. Another helpful factor of having the barrels on a stand is that the ground is not level, so the water won't be level in the barrel if they sit on the ground. Below are the steps and materials we used to create our simple rain barrel stand. The stand is 7 1/2 inches off the ground, 26 inches wide, and 131 inches long. It will hold 5, 55 gallon rain barrels and provide us with enough irrigation for 2-3 months. One gallon of water weighs 8 pounds, meaning the structure needs to be able to support 2,200 pounds. For this reason, it needs to be pretty hardcore.
2 8" 4x4 pressure treated posts; cut into 8 - 25" sections
12 8" 2x4 pressure treated boards; cut into 32 - 29 1/4 " sections (there will be unused boards)
1 box 3 1/2 inch galvanized screws
2 boxes 2 1/2 inch galvanized screws
2 bags quick set cement
(All of these items cost us $110 dollars at Home Depot. One season of irrigation is at least that, probably closer to double.)
Post Hole Digger
String or twine
1 inch spacer (we used an old scrap board)
(Technically you can just use a screwdriver and a hand saw, but you are WAY more hardcore than we are!)
Making schematic drawings is Jules' area. I'm getting better at it, but still have remedial visual skills at that sort of thing. Below is a recreation of drawing he made to show me just what we were going to be doing.First we looked at the posts we had cut. Some of the ends were flatter and smoother than others. When we selected which ends should be the top sides, a nail was pounded halfway into the center of the post. Not only would this remind us which end to put in the ground, it assisted in using the string level to be able to level the tops of the posts. Next we dug the post holes. Starting with the corner holes we spaced them 130 inches apart length wise and 24 inches apart for the width. After we had sunk the corner posts in concrete, we dug the middle holes. This is mainly so I wouldn't trip or fall over them. I'm really clumsy and accident prone. The middle posts were spaced 43 2/3 inches apart along the length.
After the post holes were dug, we began at the corners centering, leveling, and setting the posts in the concrete. The posts were sunk 14 inches into the ground.
Once the corner posts have been set, use the nails sticking out of their tops to tie the string very taught from one nail across to the other. By hooking the string level onto the string, you can slide the middle posts up and down to make sure they are level with each other. This way your structure won't have a slant to it or be raised in the middle.
We poured the concrete into an old kitty litter bucket and used a trowel to dump it into the holes around the posts. Well, I should say Jules used the trowel. When I tried to use the trowel all that really happened was a lot of concrete scattered about the ground around the hole and not really in the hole. Did I mention I'm rather clumsy. I got to pour in the water! I did that really well (when Jules told me to). We used an old 2 liter bottle and it worked great at making the transport and pouring of the water manageable.
The posts need to set overnight to make sure the concrete has really hardened and is firmly in place. This is why the project takes at least a weekend. Once the posts are done the rest is very quick, however it goes much smoother and faster with two people working so that one can hold and the other can drill.
Now that the posts were all set, the supports for the base of the stand were nailed into place. Beginning at one of the corners measure the distance to the center of the third post. Cut 2 2x4 to that length and screw them to the sides of posts using the 3 1/2 inch screws (See the top down view of the schematic). Make sure the 2x4's are flush with the top of the post. Measure the remaining distance from the center of the third post to the end of the stand. Cut 2 2x4's to this length and screw them to the sides of the post. Repeat this procedure for the opposite side. It is the most structurally sound, if the short boards from the center of the third post to the end are on opposite ends of the stand. By this I mean that if you placed the short board on the east side of one end of the stand, place it on the west side of the opposite side. This will distribute the weight away from one specific weak place or joint in the structure. It may seem a bit like overkill, but the amount of weight on the stand is extremely heavy. If you have sunk $100 into the materials, why not go the little extra mile and make sure it will last quite a while. At this point the support structure for the stand is completed and all that is left are the slats the barrels will sit on top of.
The slats are the 32 2x4's which are cut into 29 1/4 inches. They should be just long enough to hang over the side a teeny bit. Begin at one end of the stand and screw the slats flat onto the 2x4 supports at each of the four places they contact each other. Using the 1 inch spacer (in our case an old spare board) but the spacer up to the secured board and in between the next slat to be drilled into place. This is where the extra person comes in really handy. Trying to juggle the spacer and secure the next board can be tricky. Don't move the spacer until at least two of the screws have been drilled into the new slat. By using the spacer before each new slat is drilled down, the will all be in a uniform distance apart and you won't have to cover the entire space with boards. This allows the movement of air as we discussed earlier as well. Make sure the edges of the slats are fush with each other or the end product will look a little awkward. If you would like to place a 2x6 cover over the exposed 2x4 ends there is no reason not to, we just didn't want to spend the extra money right now. We also placed some stepping stones in front of the stand when it was completed as we realized how muddy the exposed dirt is going to become with us walking back and forth during the rainy season. Some pavers might be in our future. If you had the money you could purchase those in advance and lay them after the posts were set, but before you began drilling the supports. This would allow the pavers to sit under the stand and continue out infront where you will be walking.
All in all the completed project took us about 7 hours of work and that includes the trip to the hardware store, but doesn't count the time for the concrete to set. We braved a hail storm, monitored a child and his puppy, and didn't have to go to the emergency room. To me, that would count as a success!