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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

I’m Only Happy When It Rains: Harnessing Rain Water

With the help of his elaborate rain barrel system, Steven Janowiecki can water his garden in five minutes flat.

Steven Janowiecki In The Garden

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

Janowiecki hopes to grow enough food this season to feed himself for one entire month.

If You Build It, It Will Rain

Steven Janowiecki has gardening in his blood. In fact, a few weeks after he bought his house in Bloomington, Indiana, the first improvement he made was to build raised beds for his garden.

The next step was to find an easy way to water his garden. So, this astronomy graduate student purchased six, 55 gallon rain barrels for $5 each, constructed wooden frames to hold them four feet above ground, “and then just played with PVC pipe until it worked!”

This experiment in elementary engineering has resulted in a watering system for his garden that takes only five minutes to execute.

Hoarding Water

Janowiecki’s garden contains a dozen or so raised beds with PVC pipes running through them. While he could have buried the pipes, this above-ground set up allows him to spot problems and fix clogs more easily.

There is about 1,500 square feet of collecting area on the roof that drains into the barrels by way of the gutters. His six barrels, which have a total of 300 gallons of storage, fill up completely with one quarter inch of rain. “The barrels have not been dry since the beginning of March because we’ve had so much rain lately!”

But surely the rainy weather of spring will not continue indefinitely. He could collect enough water to feed his garden throughout the dry summer if he had a 1,000 gallon barrel, but his system would only last for one week if no additional rain was being collected.

PVC Pipes Running Through The Garden

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

PVC pipes run through Janowiecki's garden, delivering rain water to his plants. Each bed has its own valve so he can control how much water goes to each.

What’s In The Toilet?

Since he hasn’t needed to employ the system to water his garden just yet, he is instead using the collected rain water in his toilet.

To achieve the 40-50 psi needed to run a toilet, Janowiecki would have to hoist his rain barrels up 30 feet. Since that wasn’t a realistic option, he purchased a special valve that operates independent of the existing toilet mechanism. The downside is that this makes for a very slow fill, taking 2-3 minutes. “If you’re having a lot of people over and they need to flush more than every three minutes, you’re in trouble,” he jokes.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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  • Sharon Strock

    He sure has green hands with those gardening ideas; although he might still need more water this coming summer. But his way of re-using rainwater is commendable enough. He must be saving a lot of tap and fresh water with that system.

  • Anonymous

     we have 4 rain barrels ourselves. we used a rainbarrel kit we got from this site we also got a solar powered rain barrel pump from the same place. It is awesome. dot

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