I have had a pair of rain barrels on the northeast and southeast corners of my house for several years now. I like them near the areas that I need to water most: plant starts at the front of the house and the arid bed and cold frames on the south side of the house.
I have been better and worse at maintaining the barrels over the years. I have swung from faithfully disconnecting and cleaning them in the fall (freezing my hands with ice-cold water on the last blustery days of the growing season because I garden right up to the killing frost, watering late transplants scavenged from the village compost site and late greens growing in containers) to the almost total neglect of simply leaving the taps turned on and hoping for the best.
This year one of my downspout diverters broke and my clear hoses to the barrels were clogged with debris and algae. The taps on the barrels no longer worked, being clogged with green algae. I was hard put to get even a trickle out of my 55-gallon barrels.
So we borrowed a pressure washer from a friend, and my husband cleaned out the barrels and scrubbed the outsides so that we could paint them a dark color so they no longer would grow algae. If you are thinking of buying rain barrels and they are white, job one should be to paint them before installation. It is also important to stabilize and level any surface you may be setting them up on. Once the barrels are filled with water, they are tremendously heavy and any bit of tilt will become exaggerated—so be sure to put a good foundation under those barrels. My barrels are raised up on cinder block so that I can easily fill a watering can and to create some water pressure when I use a hose.
We painted our barrels red because that is the color of our house. We wanted them to match the house and we had the paint on hand! House paint has been sticking to the food-grade plastic of the barrels just fine. We figured if the paint would adhere to vinyl siding, it would do the job on our plastic rain barrels.
My husband says that he has to leave a little blood on every project and this one was no exception. Be very careful if you are using a pressure washer. He accidentally sprayed his hand when he was cleaning out the hoses that connect the downspout diverter to the rain barrels. The high-pressure spray neatly peeled the skin from his hand—gross and painful.
We’ve been getting some rain and the barrels are filling up. I watered my cold frames with the water from the barrels for the first time today. It sure beat lugging water from the other side of the house! Begonia