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In praise of water butts

  • In praise of water butts

It's spring, and all these lovely April showers are a timely reminder that one day soon, there will be another hosepipe ban (!) so now is a good time to look at your water collection arrangements.

Everyone with any sort of house has room for at least one - I have five, on my small house (but then, I am a bit evangelical on the subject) - all you need are the following:

1) a downpipe
2) a rainwater diverter kit
3) a water butt
4) a stand - otherwise you can't get the watering can under the tap
5) a spirit level
6) a fine-cut saw (or a helpful neighbour) to cut the downpipe

Put the stand next to the downpipe, make sure it is level and on a firm base (a single concrete path slab is perfect), sit the empty water butt on top of it and look at where the inlet is - the only tricky part of the job is getting the diverter at exactly the right height, to ensure that water keeps going in until the butt is full, and then goes back and down the drain, rather than overflowing and dribbling out of the butt. But the diverters come with clear instructions, so just take it slowly and read them carefully.

The worst part about the whole affair is cutting across the downpipe: it's best to take it out and cut it while it's loose, rather than trying to cut across it while it's still vertical. Ask me how I know.... yes, I did it, made a terrible wobbly cut. It still worked, and once the diverter was in place you couldn't really see the wonky cut, but I knew it was there... now, I take down the section of downpipe, and use a mitre box to keep the saw going at a right-angle. Much easier!

One you have connected the diverter (I make it sound so easy, don't I?) you will have to wait for the next rain shower to fill it, and you can use this time to sort out a small clear area under the tap, so that the watering can will sit comfortably: there's nothing worse than having the watering can bobble about while you are trying to fill it, so that the water splashes all over your feet. Sometimes, the concrete slab is big enough to leave you with a suitable platform at the front, sometimes you may need to add a couple of bricks, or another smaller slab, to make space for the can to sit - see photo!

Also, if you have a watering can with a handle that goes over the filling hole, give it away and buy a new one - one where the top hole is unobstructed.

If you have room for another one, they can be placed side by side and linked together: and if you do this, it's always best to take the water from the “outside” one first, to avoid having one butt sitting there with stagnant water. By using up the outside one first, any new rainfall will push the water across from the inside one, thus keeping it fresh.

There you are, job done - so don't waste those April showers, let's all get collecting free water!

Comments (2)

  1. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Sue, the first and easiest answer is to put a lid on it: sunlight on the water makes algae grow, and that makes them smell.

    The second way is to ensure that the water doesn't sit there for months on end: use the water! It's free, and it's not doing any good sitting in the butt, so use it every time you water your plants.

    Thirdly, if it smells pretty much all the time, there might be a reason... one of my Clients had that exact problem, it stank, so I emptied out and lo! and behold, there were three dead squirrels in the bottom of it. Most water butts benefit from being completely emptied out every couple of years: twist up the filler pipe so that no new water goes into it, use it all up, then pull it off the stand and tip it upside down to get the last water out. Wash it out, get all the sludge out, then put it all back together again and it should be good for a year or two.

    Oh, and fourthly, people are trying to use "grey" water these days, emptying the bath water into a butt etc: this water generally goes very smelly within 2-3 days so if you are trying to store "grey" water, that might be the problem.

    Hope this helps!

  2. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Haha, if it's always raining, why do you need a water butt??!!

    Yes, ponies can drink water butt water - if you think about it, they happily drink from muddy yukky puddles on bridleways, stagnant dips in their own fields, you name it. Most people with horses collect rainwater from the stable roofs, and use if for drinking, washing, soaking hay, everything. I'd still wash the butt out first, but I suspect they'd drink what we would consider to be quite disgusting water!

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