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What you need to know about rain barrels

A rain barrel is an easy, accessible way to get on the water-cherishing bandwagon. Use rainwater for your plants and it will replenish groundwater without a detour through the sewer and sewage plant. New designs make barrels more attractive: Fiskars (fiskars.com) has a new 58-gallon model just 24 inches deep in a handsome stonelike Salsa finish ($189.99). Aquascapes (aquascapesinc.com) has a 75-gallon barrel with a planter built into the lid ($249.98). Gardener's Supply Co. (gardeners.com) has a petite, 33-gallon model shaped like a beehive that could tuck into a small patio or garden ($159). With help from Maree Gaetani, director of public relations for Gardener's Supply, we've got some tips to bear in mind as you shop. Times staff and wires

Location. Choose a spot next to a downspout. Measure the space to see how large a barrel you can get without blocking a sidewalk or intruding on the patio seating area. Most barrels are round and 30 to 36 inches wide. If you have a tight space, shop around on the Internet.

Overflow. A typical rainstorm dumps far more water than a barrel can hold. "You want to be careful about where it overflows," Gaetani says. (Hint: away from your foundation.) In some simple barrels, the surplus just sloshes over the rim. Others have an outflow spout near the top. Some have downspout diverters (which also can be bought as separate kits). These send rain to the barrel until it's full and then shoot the rest back down the downspout, where you can direct it safely away from the house.

Access. Are you satisfied to dunk your watering can in the top, or do you want a spigot? If so, make sure a can will fit underneath. If the spigot isn't high enough, the whole barrel can be elevated. Stands are sold to fit some barrels or you can make a platform of concrete blocks. Be sure the spigot has an on/off valve. If the spigot is threaded for a standard hose connector, you can use a soaker hose (you won't have enough pressure for a nozzle or a sprinkler).

Safety. A screen on the top to keep mosquitoes from laying eggs is essential. And it should latch, Gaetani says, so children can't open it. "Kids will want to peer in," she says. Make sure the barrel is too stable for a child (or an adult) to tip, especially if it's elevated; once full of water, it will be heavy.

Expansion. Your appetite for rainwater may grow, so think about that next barrel. Some come with connectors; kits are available too. But in choosing a location, you might want to allow for Barrel No. 2.

Local rain barrel programs and resources

Hillsborough: Preregistration is required for the rain barrel workshop. Check Web site for available dates and register online. (At press time, the next available workshop is in August.) The workshops will be held at the Hillsborough County Extension Service, 5339 County Road 579, Seffner. Each household in Hillsborough County receives one free 55-gallon barrel, a spigot and screen when you attend a workshop. $20 for residents outside of the county. Go to hillsborough_fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/RainBarrels.html for more information, or call (813) 744-5519.

Pinellas: The next available workshop is from 9 to 10:30 a.m. June 27 at the Pinellas County Extension office, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo. Workshop provides instructions and a reference booklet is included. Barrels are available for participants to purchase, one per household, for $28.04 plus tax. Go to www.pinellascounty

extension.org to register, or call (727) 582-2100.

Pasco: Earth Day Rain Barrel and Indoor Water Conservation Workshop will be held at 10:30 a.m. April 25 at Crews Lake Park, Shady Hills. The free barrel program signup is full, but residents may still attend the workshop and put their names on a waiting list for barrels that go unclaimed. For more information, go to pasco.ifas.ufl.edu/ or call (352) 521-4288, (727) 847-8177 or (813) 996-7341, ext. 4288.

Hernando: The April rain barrel workshop at the Hernando County Extension Office, 19490 Oliver St., Brooksville, is full. However, interested residents may preregister for a future class, which costs $30 and includes a rain barrel. To get more information or to preregister, call (352) 754-4433.

Other resources: swfwmd.state.fl.us/conservation/rainbarrel/

For more on the drought and the new restrictions, go to our report, Tampa Bay Water Crisis, at tampabay.com/drought. You'll find the latest news, previous stories, tips for saving water, Florida-friendly landscaping ideas and videos.

What you need to know about rain barrels 04/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 10:58am]

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