WATERWORLD! It’s all about water containers, water barrels and watering–

As I write this, I must admit to being  just a little frustrated.  After all, it is APRIL 16 and the gardens STILL haven’t opened yet.  We gardeners know that it is rather late in the season to start.  After all, by now, onions, cabbage, broccoli, radishes, peas, lettuce, cauliflower and brussels sprouts should be in the ground and growing.  If the gardens don’t open until May, we will have lost two months of the growing season.  We did have some very nice days last week, but no plowing. . .I wonder why?  There is a NEW PLOWING PERSON this year, and it seems that  this person is highly unreliable.  Just my two cents.  What do YOU think?

Anyway, I did promise to share some information in the APRIL issue about water.  Even though there is no garden currently available to put them in, I will still give info about water/rain barrels and watering and water pump etiquette.

As you know, there is one well at either end of the gardens, each of which is  equipped with a hand-pump.  No matter where your plot is situated within the community gardens, I am sure that you appreciate the availability of water on site.  I know I do.  After all, years ago, there were no pumps at the community gardens and each gardener had to bring in water.

Just imagine hauling in all of that water by car.  If you have a car.

Trust me, it was not good.

But with every convenience comes issues and responsibilities.  That is what I am going to discuss here.

Just imagine a hot July afternoon, and you are standing in line, waiting your turn to draw water at the pump.  But the line appears not to be moving at all–there is an impedance at the pump!

You just want to get your watering done so that you can retreat to the shade of your sun umbrella, kick back for a few minutes and enjoy the view.  What is taking so LOOOOOOOONG?

UH OH!  Someone who forgot their manners is using the pump!  Well. . .

1.   NUMBER ONE  Most important!  DO NOT ALLOW YOUR CHILDREN TO PLAY ON OR AROUND THE PUMPS.  THEY ARE NOT TOYS!  Pumps have been damaged by playing children.  What’s worse, if your kids are using the pump as a plaything, then gardeners are prevented from drawing water.  Now, I will butt right in and take the pump away from playing children, but some others are not as bold as me.  I have seen adults stand and waste time while unattended children played with the pump.  The pumps aren’t playthings.  It’s not neighborly to use the pump as a distraction for your bored kids.  Also, THE PUMPS HAVE PINCH POINTS THAT CAN INJURE A PLAYING CHILD.  The garden rules say that parents are responsible for supervising their kids at all times.  Keep em busy weeding the garden with you. And if they aren’t actually drawing and carrying water, keep em away from the pump.

2.  Everyone is entitled to use the pumps.  This means that no one is entitled to MONOPOLIZE them.  Be courteous and mannerly.  If you are filling several 5-gallon buckets (which takes a little while), why not fill them up and carry them off two at a time if others are waiting.  That gives others fair and reasonable access to the pump.  Let’s face it and be honest, people.  IT IS JUST PLAIN RUDE to make others wait while you fill up 7 or 8 five gallon buckets.  I’ve even seen people bring over 3- 60 gallon barrels on a truck and proceed to fill them while others waited up to an hour–very time consuming. ALSO VERY VERY RUDE!!!  Put yourself in the shoes of the people who are waiting.  Fill up your pails two at a time and give others a chance.  Don’t hog the pump.  It is the NEIGHBORLY thing to do.

3.  We’ve all seen the people with the ONE GALLON MILK JUGS.  Oftentimes, they are also using a makeshift funnel to fill these up at the well.  Using this method wastes water and it takes longer to fill up a one gallon jug than it does to fill up a 5 gallon pail.  I’ve even seen people try to fill up milk jugs by themselves.  Now, that’s gambling with the “pinch points” on the pump handle if I’ve ever seen gambling! If you cannot physically carry more than a gallon at a time, do yourself a favor.  Go to Lowes or Home Depot and buy a 5 gallon pail.  They only cost about $3.00.  Fill up the pail, sit it on the ground, and then immerse your jugs in that to fill them up.  At least others can use the pump while you are filling your jugs out of the pail.

4.  If you are not physically strong enough to use the pump, get someone to help you.  Some of the gardeners standing nearby will be happy to help, especially if it means that the line moves more efficiently.  I have seen people wait needlessly while a person who was not strong enough to get a good flow of water fought with the pump handle or struggled to fill their watering can or pail.

5.  Fill up your pails, buckets and watering cans at the times when the pumps are least likely to be busy.  If you are retired or a homemaker, why not come to the gardens weekdays between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm to draw water.  If you work,  EARLY Saturday mornings and EARLY Sunday afternoons are a good time.  The max number of people are in the gardens daily in the late afternoon and evenings, and that is when you will most likely have to stand in line.

6.  Lastly, please be patient.  Moaning, groaning and whining is worthless.  If someone appears to need a little help, offer it.   Instead of complaining, look around and enjoy the day!

The pumps having been discussed, we now come to the matter of barrels/rain barrels.

One of the best ways you can solve your water problem is to buy or acquire a water barrel for your garden plot. If you have a reserve of 50 or 60 gallons of water stored in your garden plot, it will help you to quickly water your plants on those days when time in the garden is tight; you won’t have to stand in line at the pumps when you need to dash in and out of the garden.  You will also be able to get new plantings in quicker because you can just dip your watering can into the barrel and get the water you need.  Applications of fertilizer and organic pest controls (like Deadbug Brew) are a lot easier when you can fill the sprayer from the water or rain barrel.  Finally, if you have mindfully filled a water or rain barrel,  you show regard for your neighbors because YOU will be one less person occupying a place in the line at the pumps.

But where oh where can one get a water barrel or rain barrel?

Ready made rain and water barrels are available, but they aren’t cheap.  You can get them from Lowe’s or Home Depot (check the garden center) or Sears, but you’ll pay anywhere from $70 to over $300 for them.   Just because I know you will want to look, here are some choices:



Home Depot:


Other places to look include Sears:


One of the simplest solutions is to purchase a 39-45 gallon heavy duty plastic trash can with lid but  WITHOUT WHEELS (water will leak out at the wheels).  I don’t recommend 30 gallon cans because they simply don’t hold enough water.  It is important that the trash can have a lid that snaps tight in order to keep the water from evaporating and so that mosquitoes cannot breed in it.  You’ll also want to use some cording to tie the lid to the can so that the wind doesn’t blow it away.  This trash can can be used as a simple water catchment system for your garden.  Simply keep it filled and you have a quick source of  water where you can conveniently dip your watering can.  The cost of this will be somewhere between $15.00 and $40.00, depending on the cost of the trashcan.

The next solution is to turn that trashcan into a rain barrel.  These are the instructions that I used to turn a  BRUTE trashcan into a water barrel.  Easy and quick.  You don’t have to use a BRUTE trashcan–they are not the cheapest.  Just beware of buying a really cheap trashcan made of thin plastic.  A regular Rubbermaid one should work OK.  Anything from the dollar stores is out of the question altogether.  Of course, we don’t need the downspout aparatus and the overflow, because the rain barrel will be filled by hand.  Less work because you don’t have to do all that cutting  of the lid and less cost because you don’t need the chimney collar, etc..  But having the spigot at the bottom makes it easier to attach a garden hose or a soaker hose, or you use can the spigot to fill up your watering can.  Make sure you place your rain barrel on top of some concrete blocks or a wooden platform if you plan to use hoses so that natural gravity can help water flow.   Here are the instructions for building such a rain barrel.


There is one very reliable local place where you can obtain actual food grade barrels for use as rain or water barrels in the garden.  The prices are RIGHT  (prices start at about $30 per barrel for the plastic 50 or 60 gallon size) and the barrels, though recycled,  are in excellent condition.  That place is  ‘104 Barrels’ in Liverpool, Pa.  They do have a website and you can order and have your barrel delivered UPS  if you wish:



So we’ve covered getting barrels and getting water from the pump, but how does one make sure water STAYS where it is poured (namely at the roots of your veggie plants)?

There are a number of ways.  First of all, we will discuss designing your rows or planting beds in SWALES, also known as Raingardens.  What are swales?

A swale is a slight depression that runs along the contour of the land. That is to say, it is level all along its length.  This means that if your garden plot is hilly (mine is), then you must find the level areas first.  Then you build your garden beds or rows along those level areas.  Swales can be deep or shallow,  wide or narrow, and the dirt from digging the swale is usually used to make a berm (a little earthen dyke or border)  on the downhill side. A common sized swale is two or three feet wide. Of course, you can make them any size you want. An important distinction is that a swale is not a drain. It is a water collection device. The cheapest way to store water is in the soil. And of course, by stopping the run-off, it prevents erosion as well.

How it works is this: Rain falls on your plot or you water the beds or rows, and instead of running off or straight down the slope, it runs into the swale and gathers. There it soaks in slowly, forming a pool of water underneath the swale. This provides a plume of shallow sub-surface water downslope from it for an amazingly long time, so your plants will stay greener, and you won’t need to water very often.  Here is a picture of a flat garden bed in the middle of a swale:

From this aspect, we are looking UPHILL from the little berm on the downhill side.  The flat area inside is where the planting will be done.  When it rains, or when you water, the water will STAY in this planting area and soak into the soil.  As I said before, a swale can be any size.  You can do this with individual planting beds, or you can do this with rows.  multiple rows can even be planted in a bed like this.  Corn or potatoes not getting enough water?  This could be your answer!

Don’t feel like digging so much?  Then those old plastic soda bottles and milk jugs (yes, MILK JUGS!) can help you out!  Here is how to make them into watering bottles:


This is not only good for tomatoes; it also works for peppers, cucumbers, beans, peas, squash and other veggies.  It keeps water where it is poured and does not allow for wasteful runoff.

Another thing that is important is the WHEN of watering.  Most people have been told that the evening is the best time to water.  This is not always the case.

For most plants, the best time to water is in the morning.  If you water in the evening, the water is likely to stay on the leaves, increasing the danger of fungal diseases like blue blight.  Most people have been told that you shouldn’t water in the morning because water spots on leaves will cause sunburn to the plants.  The sun won’t burn the plants–the water will just evaporate.  More info about proper watering appears here:


I must admit–I am perturbed.  Perhaps the gardens will be open by next weekend, before Easter.  My problem is that I am off to Michigan to get my daughter out of college for the semester, so there won’t be much that I can do in the garden until the 30th.  Oh well!  Cabbage and Broccoli will have to wait for fall planting (bugs will eat em up in May!!).


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Michele Cocco on April 17, 2011 at 4:16 am

    three to four inches below the gardens the soil is sopped!! If you plow you will create clumps .. clumps are not fun and it messes up the texture of the soil … rain barrels can be gotten almost free by stopping at a car wash !! They have many with some having soap still in them .. That is how they get the soap, big barrels .. just rinse out well and jigsaw off the lid .. voila!! a bit of soap won’t hurt and actually keep off bugs, or kill them ..


    • Posted by gardengal on April 21, 2011 at 10:08 am

      Barrels from the car washes are OK if you aren’t interested in organic gardening. The soaps that are used in car washes contain degreasers, waxes and other chemical compounds that are inorganic. I suppose that if you soak the barrel long enough you can get most of the soap out, but I wouldn’t want to risk it. All of the organic gardening books I’ve read recommend that only barrels that once contained food are OK. They used to give barrels away at the Pepsi plant off Union Deposit Road, but I checked there and they don’t do that anymore. I would imagine that one could inquire at local restaurants because some get food in barrels. As for the really wet soil at the gardens, you are quite right. It now cannot be plowed until it is drier. What bothers me, tho, is that there were several nice days earlier this month when plowing could have been done (remember the week that had three sunny days over 70 degrees?), but nothing happened. Anyway, this is the latest that the gardens have been plowed in quite a while and I wonder if having a new plowing person has something to do with it. My husband also said that the higher gasoline prices may be the problem and that the contractor may be attempting to negotiate some sort of a fuel surcharge. Anyway, it is still late to start this year.


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