One major issue a lot of backyard farmers have to contend with is water. All plants need water in order to thrive, and that generally means people have to hose down their gardens twice a day to ensure a healthy, generous harvest. With droughts and water shortages becoming more frequent, we need to be innovative when it comes to harvesting and using this precious resource: read on to find out how you can capture water around your own home, for startlingly less cost than you might have guessed.

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rain barrels, rainbarrels, trashcan rain barrels, rainwater collection

Trashcan Barrels

For about $20, you can make a rainwater collection barrel from a simple trash can.

What you’ll need and how to make it:

A 20-gallon plastic garbage can—make sure to get one with a domed lid
Mosquito netting
A drill with a small hole saw bit
1 valve spigot that has a bulkhead fitting
Waterproof duct tape or plumbing tape
Teflon tape to secure the spigot

Step 1: Use your drill to create several drainage holes in the center of the garbage can’s lid. Then drill an overflow hole into the side of the barrel, about 3 inches down from the top.

Step 2: Cut a piece of mosquito netting large enough to cover those holes, and use the duct or plumber’s tape to secure it on the convex side. You’ll be tipping the lid upside-down to create a bowl, so you want the netting facing downwards, into the barrel.

Step 3: Drill a hole about 3 inches from the barrel’s bottom, get your bulkhead into place, and then insert the spigot. It’s a good idea to use the teflon tape around the spigot first to make sure it’s watertight, and then twist it firmly into place to secure it.

Step 4: Secure that upside-down lid onto the barrel, and seal with duct tape.

You’ll need to prop your barrel a foot or two above the ground, so stack up some cement masonry blocks or random bricks as a stand for it. Voila! It’ll catch rainwater when it falls, and the netting will prevent leaf detritus from falling into the water below.

Related: Bowl-shaped roofs harvest rainwater and promote natural cooling in arid environments

garden trench, garden mounds, water diversion

Earth Mounds

Got a shovel? Then you can make these.

Basically, this technique just involves moving soil around in your yard to create channels that direct rainwater to where you want it to collect. Pretty much every bit of land has naturally occurring microclimates: these are areas that are either higher or lower than the rest of the soil around them, or get more light (or more shade), or have different clay/sand/loam ratios. You can determine where the wetter microclimates in your own land are by doing a quick, heavy watering with your garden hose, and watching where the water runs.

You can use your shovel to dig shallow trenches to divert water to where you want it to go, and use the soil you’ve removed to build up shallow walls on either side of that trench for reinforcement. You’re essentially creating mini streams that will flow towards the plants that require the most moisture, and away from those that prefer drier feet.

Ideal areas that will benefit from this kind of diversion system are:

Trees, especially those that produce fruit or nuts, as they require a lot of water
Brassica beds: dedicated areas where you’ll grow kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and so on
Lettuce beds: those greens are thirsty
Corn rows: its shallow roots don’t hold water well, so it needs to drink often
Legume patches: peas, snow peas, beans

Related: DIY hugelkultur – how to build raised garden beds

mulch, leaf mulch, garden mulch, fallen leaf mulch


Say it out loud, just for fun: “mmmulch”. Satisfying little word, isn’t it? It’s also a tremendously effective way to collect (and keep) moisture in your garden. A lot of people end up watering their food gardens far more often than should be necessary because so much moisture is lost through evaporation, so the best way to combat that is with mulch.

Grass clippings, trimmed leaves from plants like squash and comfrey, and bits of bark can all be lain atop your garden’s soil—just make sure to keep it about half an inch away from vegetable stems so that it doesn’t cause root rot. Here’s a tip: lay strips of copper coil around these mulchy mounds to keep slugs away, since they won’t cross the metal barrier. Those slugs may love moist mulch, but the copper will keep them away from your vegetables.

As an aside, don’t be too overzealous with your weeding: those inedible plants may be “unsightly” as far as a traditional garden goes, but they help to keep water in the soil and prevent erosion. Additionally, if you let your chickens roam around freely, they can feed on those weeds instead of on your vegetables. Unless the unwanted plants are causing real harm, let them be.

Photos via Pixabay, Unsplash and Wikimedia Creative Commons