While some states such as Colorado have severe restrictions on the amount of rain that residents can save, Florida is not among those states. In fact, in West Palm Beach the use of rainwater collection systems is actively encouraged by the local government. Residents here can collect as much rain as they want, and the city actually gives away free rain barrels from time to time.
A major reason that rainwater collection is supported here is because Florida gets a lot of rain. In the summer (meaning the rainy season from about May to November) it can rain torrentially every afternoon. While the plants certainly enjoy the abundant supply of water, it makes it hard on the public drainage systems if they have to handle that much water. Any amount that can be stored helps alleviate the stress on these systems, so it’s in most areas’ best interests to allow residents to store the water.
(If you don’t live in Florida, odds are good that you can still harvest rainwater for yourself. This site has some information on state-specific laws, and most of the rest of the information that we’ll cover here will apply to you as well.)
The fact that it rains so much in South Florida is also somewhat of a blessing for those of us who care for our plants. Obviously the plants get watered often, but since it does rain regularly, anyone looking to install a rainwater collection system won’t need one with a large capacity to keep up. The abundance of rain means that even a small system will be continually filled, unlike rainwater collection systems designed for climates like those in Arizona where it may only rain six inches a year, all at once. In those situations, the storage capacity needs to be large in order to store water for much longer periods of time. Here, though, we can get away with much smaller systems.
In order to get the most out of your rainwater collection system, you need to think about what you want it to do. If you have a yard with 100% native plants and only want water to supplement something small like a vegetable garden, often a single 55-gallon barrel will meet your needs. If you have more extensive needs, such as lots of plants that aren’t as tolerant of the heat or sandy soils found in our area, then you may need something larger. We operate two systems on our property, one small and one larger, so we’ll go over the specifics of each.
Capacity isn’t the only important factor to consider, though. Since the only way to get the water out of the rain barrels is to use gravity to drain it out, you may need something like a pump unless watering by hand with a watering jug is enough. For smaller systems this is adequate, but if you want to use a hose or a drip irrigation system, you will want to consider installing a pump as well. First, though, we’ll look at how to build a single-barrel, 55-gallon setup that you can use to fill watering jugs.
Larger system setup
Options about where to place the manifold – on the side near the bottom or on the bottom