Rain Barrels and Burn Barrels

This past week we picked up a bunch of rain barrels and a burn barrel from a local Mom & Pop hardware store. We plan on catching as much rain water as possible for washing, and irrigating the plants. When buying plastic barrels for rain water catchment, make sure you get food grade barrels which haven’t held anything toxic. These held vinegar and soy sauce. They’re actually just plain barrels that we’ll be converting to rain barrels with a few modifications.

I chose white barrels over blue ones for aesthetics mostly. I’m hoping they won’t stick out as much as a brightly colored barrel. Eventually I’d like to surround them with lattice or wood to dress them up further.

We bought one for each corner of the house, and four more to put in the garden. I plan on putting a barrel at the head of the upper raised beds, and gravity feeding the water down for drip irrigation. Not only will they reduce the amount of trips I’ll have to make from the well, but rain water is supposed to be better for your plants than well water because it’s softer (or so I’ve read). Also, I think it’ll help keep the walkways between the raised beds from being so muddy- at least a little.

I’m anxious to get the barrels installed and put to good use. More on that to come.

burn barrel
We’ve been needing a burn barrel for a while. It’s handy for burning prunings, diseased wood (that you don’t want to spread), and even trash. Not only will it help prevent the spread of pests and disease among our plants, but it will also reduce the amount of trips we have to take to the dump. This barrel had honey in it, and was all washed out and clean when we got it.

Little by little, working our way to our end goal.

20 thoughts on “Rain Barrels and Burn Barrels”

  1. For camping we used the barrel of an old washing machine. It had holes already, it had a porcelain over metal interior/exterior – so it was hard wearing, non rusting, and the top of it could be covered by a 30/33? gallon metal trash can lid. You have to be VERY CAREFUL because some of the barrels had a black powder in the opening RIM, that MUST be removed before using. We would use a small drill bit and put multiple holes in it and flush it out with a garden hose. If that wasn’t done first, the heat from the fire WOULD cause the powder to explode.
    We used a piece of steel grating large enough to cover the opening when we wanted to use it to cook our meals on, like a charcoal bbq. At night we would put the trash lid on, with a large rock to hold it on, and in the morning we would have coals to start our next fire. We always set it up on a ring of stones so air could be pulled up through the bottom.
    I used the same barrel for over 20 years, it ended up being the place I burned my household trash after moving to the country, until a very wet spring caused a creek to rise, and my barrel was washed away. It was dented and dinged but it kept on working when I needed it.
    I put this in as a thought to someone that might not be able to find a 50 gallon metal drum suitable for a burn barrel. The newer machines changed the materials of these drums, so you need to find the older ceramic coated version, if you were to try it. I have purchased a couple from a used appliance shop over the years.

  2. Hi Kendra,
    Just found your blog thru a link and looks like you put out some
    great information, will be ordering your DVD soon on canning as
    would love to learn more on how to preserve our garden produce.
    My comment is I also bought about 10 white barrels for making
    rain catchments but am debating whether to paint them due to potential
    algae problems (I am in NE Florida where it gets hot in the summer).
    Do you know of anyway to reduce algae growth or should I plan on
    painting them? I already have a blue rain barrel in my garden, it sits
    in the sun and I have to drain it and clean the algae growth out at least once a year.
    Thanks so much.

    • John,

      I’m planning on surrounding our barrels with wooden enclosures, to block the light. You can also add a little bit of bleach to the water to keep the algae out. I haven’t researched it much yet, so there may be other options. If you don’t mind painting them, a dark color will do the trick. My best to you!

  3. Great! We are about to install a rain water system that will work better. I have been wanting a burn barrel for a while now as we don’t have a garbage disposal system here. One article I read suggested to put holes in the barrel, will you do that? Or is it ok this way?

  4. Kendra, definitely poke holes in the burn barrel. We always just grab the pistol and shoot about 5 or 6 holes randomly around it in various spots. Gives your fire oxygen to really get it going. And take it from a lifelong (childhood, too) burn barrel user: your kids will still try to play around it. Even when there is a fire. So be sure to monitor it closely when you have a fire going.

  5. Hi Kendra,
    Lois is right about the screen. With all the leaves around your house a little puff of wind could blow some embers out. I didn’t see a hole on the bottom side for ventilation. We always chopped a hole in the side close to the bottom for two reasons, as your barrel gets ash in it air flow slows down. You can poke a stick through the ash to the hole to get the air to flow like a chimney. The hole is also a drain hole for when it rains and the lid was left off. Remember the rain water coming through will be a weak lye water and will kill the grass, so don’t put it where you want nice grass.
    Blessings from Miracle Farm Homestead

  6. We had an algae problem using white rain barrels. I ended up having to paint them to keep the sunlight out. I hope you don’t run into that problem. I’ve had a burning barrel for 40 years and just love it. Looks like you have a great one!

  7. We always had burn barrels where I grew up and my dad used to keep a screen on top to keep ash from flying all over, thus further preventing the possibility of catching anything on fire outside the barrel. The screen was a piece of heavy metal type screen, like you’d use to build a rabbit cage or something similar. Put a large rock on top and it was good to go. Way back then, I don’t know if burn bans even existed. The only time he ever went to the dump (landfill) was for items we couldn’t burn.

  8. Oh please do a post on the rain barrels by the gardens. I cannot wrap my head around what you mean. Oh and a little tip I learned from reading is to put about a tablespoon (I think it was a tbl, it may have been a tsp) of oil like olive or canola in the barrel after some rain has collected in it. The oil stays at the top and provides a barrier from mosquito larvae!

  9. I really want to do rain barrels too but my husband is worried about toxins from our asphalt shingled roof. I haven’t had a chance to read up on this very much. Do you have any other info or ideas on toxins? It seems so many people have rain barrels but I haven’t seen a lot of information in toxins from the shingles and how it might effect food.

    • Cortney,

      Great question! I do plan on writing more about that when we get them installed. I had the same concerns, and have done a lot of reading. You are right, you wouldn’t want to drink water collected from a standard shingled roof due to the possibility of it leaching. We will not be drinking this water (or will at least filter it if we have to). When the time comes to re-shingle our roof, we’re planning on getting a metal roof which would be safer.

  10. Why a burn barrel? Why not just a burn pile? We just pile our various trimmings into a pile in the back and burn it when the local burn line advises that it is safe to burn.

    Not opposed to a burn barrel but wondering if there is a good reason to use it vs. a burn pile. Everyone around our area just uses a pile.

    • Well-Rounded Mama,

      Being surrounded by trees, leaves, etc. I feel safer burning in a barrel. It’s more controlled, and I don’t have to worry as much about the kids accidentally falling in it, or playing around it. Plus it has a lid on it so I can cover it to put the flame out as needed. I won’t have to worry about it smoldering through the night, or trying to put it out, you know?


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