The Tampa area is in a pretty severe drought right now. Our reservoir is running dry and the latest word is that the desalination plant is facing some problems too. We really can't expect any meaningful rains until the tropical storm season begins - probably not until June. And that doesn't mean relief is necessarily on the way - last season our daily rains stopped about six weeks early, and we didn't get any of that beneficial Tropical Storm Fay rain that everyone else in the state got (too much of in some places!). I'm certainly not wishing for any Category 4 hurricanes this year, but I wouldn't mind if some nice tropical storms gave us lots of rain this summer.
In the meantime, the water supply is in danger and of course must be reserved for drinking and bathing, so gardeners take a pretty hard hit in return. Hillsborough County has some fairly steep restrictions in place, and in My Florida Backyard we follow them to the letter, and then some. We don't have much grass, and we expect it to be brown this time of year, so we don't use our sprinkler system at all. We restrict hand-watering to plants in pots or newly-established plantings, and we water those as minimally as possible. Of course, our established plants were selected specifically to make it through droughts like this one. In a future post, I'll detail the plants that have done the best during these "drying times".
And, for those rare occasions when we get a bit of rain, we've installed a rain barrel*.
There are a lot of great sites out there that provide info on obtaining and installing a rain barrel, so I'm not going to go into detail here. Instead, check out these links:
- USF Botanical Gardens - Making a Rain Barrel
- Hillsborough County - Attend a workshop, get a free rain barrel!
- HGTV - How to Build a Rain Barrel (video)
Now, as Homer Simpson says, "Here we go with the add-ons!". There are lots of rain barrel "accessories" out there, such as kits to connect rain barrels and products to keep the mosquitoes away. The only one we've invested in is the Garden Watersaver Downspout Attachment. Because of the way our downspouts are situated, we didn't have a great place to put a rain barrel where the downspout could drain directly into it. This is definitely the easiest (and least expensive) method, and I wish it could have worked for us. However, the downspout attachment is a great solution, and I can recommend it.
Of course, since we got around to installing the rain barrel, we've had exactly 2 rainstorms, each lasting less than 30 minutes, so we haven't gathered any great amounts yet. But I look forward to gathering plenty of free water over the summer for watering potted plants, and even one good rain between now and June would set me up for weeks. I encourage anyone living in a drought-prone area to consider making the small investment in a rain barrel to reap the rewards in your own backyard.
*Water collected in a rain barrel is not suitable for drinking or other human consumption. It should only be used for watering plants, lawns, etc.