A Little Rain Must Fall; Might As Well Use It

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Five years ago, 250 Jamaica Bay homeowners living in the watershed area received a surprising delivery on their front stoops: rain barrels.

It was 2008, the pilot year for the Rain Barrel Giveaway Program, an initiative to help alleviate pressure on the city’s sewer system during storms by helping New Yorkers capture and reuse rainwater—which could also come in handy during drought season. Today, the program is still alive and well, and catching on in other parts of the country—though some areas of the East End are slow to pick up on the trend, according to Riverhead-based Talmage Farm Agway & Garden Center owner Bruce Talmage.

“Out here, water preservation has not been a requirement, generally,” Mr. Talmage said last week at his store. “So rain barrels have not had a big demand. It’s a great concept. Anytime someone can collect rain water and use it for watering the vegetable garden, it definitely is positive. It’s the right way to go about doing things.”

The demand is greater in Bridgehampton, where the Agway Country Gardens had sold out of rain barrels last week, according to an associate on site. The store typically sells a handful of different brands and types, including a collapsible 50-gallon collector made of laminated polyester mesh and 75-gallon deluxe rain barrel made of plastic. The prices range anywhere from $95 to $150.

Rain barrels come in a variety of styles and sizes. They range from artistic urns, to planters, to practical plastic containers, such as the 55-gallon, 3½-foot-high Epoch Solutions Rain Barrel repurposed from high-density polyethylene food drums that Mr. Talmage’s store sells for $150.

Most rain barrels come equipped with access or overflow ports for diverters or hoses—which allow a series of barrels to be connected to one another—and a spigot on the bottom for garden hoses or drip irrigation.

To install, place the rain barrel on a stable and secure surface near a house’s or building’s downspout, and consider raising it from the ground with a cement blocks for sufficient spigot clearance. Disassemble the downspout and install a redirector to concentrate the water flow into the rain barrel.

“Rig it so it doesn’t fall out and goes toward the water barrel. And then it just fills up,” Mr. Talmage said, demonstrating on a rain barrel outside the store. “Now, if only it would start raining, we could fill this up for you.”

How quickly the rain barrel collects water depends on the severity of the storm and the size of the collection area. A smaller home’s roof will not collect as much water as that of a larger building, he said.

“With one of those torrential downpours we had recently, this thing could probably be filled up in five minutes because it was coming down that hard,” he said. “This light rain, you’re going to get some in here, but it depends on the surface area that’s collecting it.”

To keep the water from becoming stagnant, use the rain barrel often to stir the water and cover it with a screen to prevent mosquito infestation. Also, consider using a mosquito dunk, Mr. Talmage said.

“There are some challenges with them, one of them being mosquitoes, and the second, are we getting enough rain to make it worth doing?” he posed. “Generally, one barrel is not going to be enough for most of us who have fairly sizable vegetable gardens, especially with the weather patterns we’ve been having with such long dry periods during the heat of the summer, when we need it the most.”

Generally, homeowners use rain barrels for specific gardens and planters—not as a sprinkler system for a lawn. And if enough people use them, they will make a difference; the power lies in numbers, he said.

“If everybody put rain barrels out there for taking care of the vegetable gardens, it would help,” Mr. Talmage said. “But most people, they’re watering their lawns, and that’s where you have your bigger issues.”

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