Winterizing Rain Barrels

November 3rd, 2022

Rain garden in the front with rain barrel setup at the side of the house.

Come springtime, rain barrels can work in tandem with a rain garden to provide you with curb appeal, vegetable growing capabilities, and reduced risk of flooding. What’s not to like? (Photo by GreenUP)

By Karen Halley, former GreenUP Communications & Marketing Specialist
Edited by Lili Paradi, GreenUP Communications Manager

This column was originally published in 2016. As jack frost approaches each fall, the content remains relevant to readers who may be interested in yearly winter rain barrel maintenance. Readers may also be interested in why rain barrels are beneficial to your multi-season garden.

This year, the GreenUP Store distributed 155 rain barrels. The rain barrels we make available to our community are locally refurbished from used food-grade barrels. Many of the barrels that we offer are subsidized by either the Peterborough Utilities Group or the township of Selwyn – making them an appealing option for improving your garden, saving money and energy, and protecting local water sources.

Rain barrels, for those of you who don’t already know what they are, are part of a system that stores rainwater from your roof that would otherwise be lost to runoff and diverted to storm drains and streams.

They can come in a variety of shapes and sizes – you may have seen GreenUP’s recycled barrels around Peterborough/Nogojiwanong in a rustic red autumn-tone – and used in municipal, residential and community gardens.

Storing rainwater is one way that residents can reduce their use of tap water, and as a result save energy and freshwater.

While many people are choosing to install rain barrels as an effective way to gather rain for use when conditions are dry, rain barrels also help to slow the runoff of storm water over city streets, which can then be diverted to gardens and can help to reduce flooding in urban areas.

Despite the frosty mornings, rain can often still be in the short-term fall forecast. You can continue to empty your rain barrel over the next few weeks to prevent it from overflowing.

If you’re done gardening for the season, you may not need the water, but emptying water onto any permeable surface around your home will allow it to slowly infiltrate the ground instead of running off onto driveways or into storm sewers – which can be negative as water that takes this path often picks up pollutants like oil, trash and even pesticides and fertilizers used over the season.

Last weekend, community members working on the Bonaccord Community Garden put their winterization gloves on and got to work preparing to tuck plants in for the season. One way to get the most out of your rain barrel at the end of a season is to use some of the drained water over hardy plants, like kale and cabbage, and then use the rest to clean equipment or drain over other plants and soil.

Spot the rusty-red rain barrel! Last weekend, community members working on the Bonaccord Community Garden put their winterization gloves on and got to work preparing to tuck plants in for the season. One way to get the most out of your rain barrel at the end of a season is to use some of the drained water over hardy plants, like kale and cabbage, and then use the rest to clean equipment or drain over other plants and soil. (Photo by GreenUP)

Unless you’re growing kale, chard, or hearty herbs, your gardening season is likely over and soon the rain will be changing to snow. While you’re making plans to put your garden beds to rest, don’t forget to winterize your rain barrel, too.

Taking a few minutes to care for your rain barrel this fall will ensure that it lasts for many years. Follow these four recommended steps to properly store your rain barrel over the winter:

  1. Drain all of the water out of the rain barrel and leave the spigot open

Any water that is left in the rain barrel can freeze over the winter and cause the plastic to crack. Drain all of the water out of your barrel before freeze-up and leave the spigot in the open position. This will ensure that no moisture will remain in the spigot that could otherwise cause cracking or break the water seal. If you like, give the barrel a rinse; some algae or debris may have made its way inside over the season.

  1. Detach the barrel from the gutter or downspout

Detach your barrel completely from the eavestroughs, downspout, or any flexible tubing that connects it to your home. Don’t forget to re-attached the length of downspout that extends your eavestroughs to the ground – you would have removed this when you installed your rain barrel – but you will want it back in place during the January thaw, and in the early spring before you re-install the rain barrel for the growing season.

  1. Remove the lid and anything else that’s attached to the barrel

Detach all the components from your barrel including the lid, overflow valve, and hoses. All these should be drained of water and stored separately from the barrel.

  1. Store your barrel upside-down in a shed or garage, or a sheltered area outside

Storing your rain barrel inside a shed or garage will help extend its life. If you must store it outside, choose a location that is away from direct sunlight and where it won’t be carried away by the wind. Be sure to store it upside-down to prevent water or snow from collecting inside.

It is also recommended to clean and maintain your eavestroughs and downspouts by removing leaves and debris that can clog up gutters and rain barrels. This will leave an open pathway for rain to flow through during winter thaws and will make for quick and efficient rain barrel setup come springtime.

If you use a rain barrel, you likely understand how far storing water goes when it comes to keeping down your overall metered water usage. Each barrel holds between 190 and 220 Litres.

If all the rain barrels sold at the GreenUP Store in 2022 were filled and drained only once this season, then together we diverted between 30,000 and 35,000 Litres, or approximately 7,000 gallons of rainwater; that is the equivalent of over 330 bathtubs full!

Two GreenUP staff members, one on either side of a rusty orange coloured rain barrel, smiling outside the GreenUP Store.

It’s not too late to ask our friendly GreenUP staff about the benefits of using rain barrels – such as for harvesting water for use in the city-wide planter boxes that GreenUP tends to. This year, we harvested purple kale, pear tomatoes and herbs in these gardens. (Photo by GreenUP)

If that’s not enough to have you consider a rain barrel for 2023 – we invite you to look around at the local community gardens that thrive with the use of a barrel to supplement their municipal water use and benefit their plants.

If you feel that the volume of one barrel is not enough, or that you’d like to save more water, consider adding a second, or third barrel in 2023. Successive rain barrels can be hooked up to one another via the overflow valve and hose to save even more water each time it rains.

The GreenUP Store will be carrying the same re-purposed, food-grade barrels with brass fittings, overflow valve and hose, and top netting again next year.

Check out https://shop.greenup.on.ca/collections/outdoor or enquire in store with our knowledgeable staff at 378 Aylmer St. North for more information and for updates on the Peterborough Utilities Group and Selwyn County rain barrel subsidies.

Posted in GreenUP Store, rain garden

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