Monday, February 16, 2009

Rainwater Harvest Garden: Putting a lid on it

The rain came and it was clear to me that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to collect it, even though the new tank was not quite complete. But after it was full, it was also clear I couldn't leave it like this indefinitely:

So on Saturday I set out to make a cover for the tank. It was a fairly straightforward operation, without any tricky bits to slow the process down. Push a few boards together, slap some battens on the top and bottom to hold them together and keep the cover flat and stable, and voila! A simple topper for the tank.

There were a few things I did to spruce it up, though, including putting a screen on the underside to keep out mosquitoes:

I've used this method on the smaller tank with great success. The combination of the close spacing of the boards and the screen do a good job of discouraging breeding of the pests.

That square of wood has a purpose, too. I've always wished for a little door on the smaller tank's cover to check water level (otherwise, I have to take the whole cover off), and so I cut one in this cover:

The wood on the underside forms a "lip " to keep the mosquitoes out when the flap is closed.

I had considered leaving a cover off and putting fish in the tank, but since the primary purpose of the tank is for irrigation, there probably will be periods when it will be drained dry.

I also used the boatbuilding technique of using a thin strip of wood (also called a batten) and some nails to hold it in place to mark my curve for cutting:

And now this is what the Rainwater Harvest Garden looks like with everything in place:

I've had a couple of people ask about the galvanized tanks themselves. You can usually find these at a farm supply store or, if you live in cattle country, even at some Big Box Hardware stores. I bought mine at the latter, since they are a little cheaper there. You can expect to pay just a little less than a dollar a gallon.

I like the look of the galvanized tanks. The big, green, plastic barrels (available online or at enviro-friendly nurseries) I have on the other side of the house are also attractive, but since these would be the first things someone would see on entering the back garden, I wanted something I could use as a design element in themselves. The little tank was left over from using it as a holding tank for some pond fish many years ago, and when I needed something to collect rainwater from the gutter, I stuck it underneath. I like that look so much that there was never any question about what I would use when I expanded.

The galvanized tank goes well in a Texas cottage garden, and Pam Penick has written a couple of very nice posts about it over on her blog, Digging. (I've tried to include a link directly to those posts, but it isn't working. You can find them by doing a search on her site for "galvanized tanks.")

I think mine looks so good, I'm now thinking of putting a similar set-up in the front garden for all the world to see.

But design element or not, green plastic or galvanized, I am committed to harvesting rainwater. Rain shed from a roof during thunderstorms is a gift from heaven. Fifty percent of the water treated for drinking in my little city is used to irrigate lawns and gardens in the summer, and no matter what we wish to believe, that is simply unsustainable in a semi-arid climate. The small amount of water I collect, the drought-tolerant plantings, and the no-water lawn will all help to defray some of the strain I place on the system.

The only thing left is to fill the containers with drought-tolerant plants. I'll do one more post on the rainwater harvest garden in the summer to show how it all looks in its lush form.


  1. You're so clever! What a smashing job you've done, Susan. They look wonderful and are a very nice feature in your garden. Well done! :)

  2. Looks really good. Glad you didn't put fish in there-too much work moving them when you use the tank. Cute door too.

  3. You are talented indeed! I think it looks really good. And it looks like a good place to put some potted plants??

    I've also got a galvanized tank in the front but it's not finished yet. It's going to be a home for some of my succulents. I've been slowly mixing soils and adding them to the tank. Come March I'll be filling it with plants and hoping the neighbors think it's as stylish as I do! ;-)

  4. I need to hire you out to do some carpentry for me. Don't tell my dad this--he grew up building homes with his dad, then had his own business doing the same. I never did develop a skill for Skil saws.

  5. So spiffy! It's funny, I was thinking of your rain tank the other day and wondering how you were going to keep the skeeters out. :)

  6. Wow Susan, it must be nice to be such a talented, self-sufficient gal!! You are so gifted and clever. I'm in awe of your ingenuity, truly. I think that area looks nice, too...having followed it from the start. You've done a great job!

  7. Elegant and functional - a prefect combination

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  9. I love it! Great job with the lid!

  10. Nancy--Thanks! I enjoyed creating it.

    Tina--Yes, the fish would not have liked the water running dry.

    Jean--Those neighbors ought to love it. How could they not?

    Benjamin--I won't say a word to your Dad about it. ;-)

    Karen--I hope it works for the mosquitoes. I hate those dang pests.

    Jan--I don't know about talented. Nothing I've done was really all that hard. But thanks for the compliment!

    Karen-Thank you!


  11. Brilliant, Susan. It looks terrific, and I love that you showed us how you constructed the lids. Battens---I never knew about this trick before, but I won't forget it now. Thanks for the link love too.

  12. Your tank is a work of art. Beautiful and functional. Hopefully your ingenuity will keep out the mosquitoes (lol)

  13. What a beautiful job you've done! And, an added benefit is that your plants are going to love water that's not treated with anything except love.

  14. Lovely work! I feel like I should gussy up my rainbarrels now!

  15. That is such a fabulous idea. Thank you for sharing the 'how-to' on making it.

  16. That looks perfect and the best design for the situation. I like it. I think it finished the area off and became the focal point in a positive way.

  17. Wow, your tub topper is a work of art in itself; you are really good with wood and tools!
    I read your Country Lifestyle post remembering your father; it was so beautiful and touching. My mother had Alzheimer's so I know, too.

  18. What a great tank cover! It looks wonderful. My DH built a 10,000L tank out of marine plywood with a rubber liner (the woo tank) and we keep fish in there and use the water for flood and drain irrigation along with some yard irrigation. Where we come from rainwater harvesting is the norm but in Colorado it is illegal (!!!) and I am not sure about California.

  19. I'm SO impressed with how attractive your galvanized tank looks -- and the cover is fabulous. The recycled plastic rain barrels look pretty ho-hum in comparison!

  20. Hi Susan. I love that you used the galvanized tank, it looks so much better then the green barrels and the cost is right in line with the nicer looking rain barrels that actually look like whiskey barrels. I have a but question, there is always a but question, right?! In all your pictures I do not see the screen that was attached to the lid hanging over the sides, so I presume that 2" over hang will go on the inside of the tank. ?? I am just not seeing how that would keep the mosquitoes out. I live in central Oklahoma where with the humidity and standing water is asking for mosquitos. I know this is an older post but would really be interested in hearing how this has held up. Thank you, Rhoni Ann Tomlinson

  21. I know this is an older post but would be interested in hearing if the screen on the underside of the lid was able to deter the mosquitos? I didn't see the screen in any of the pictures with the lid on so I assume the screen over-hang goes to the inside of the tank. ?? Love the galvanized tank, it looks so much better then the blue ones I've seen in our area. And galvanized tanks are easy to come by here in Oklahoma. All my gutters are set up as French drains, except one at the front corner of our house and then one on the back porch that just never had a drainage system installed, it is more like getting a shower every time it rains because you have no choice but to walk under it. Since I live on a small ranch this system and look is what I will be installing this spring. Thanks so much for the post. From Black Dog Ranch in central Oklahoma, Rhoni Ann Tomlinson


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