Water is a very precious resource, required for all life and yet we often take it for granted. I mean, it rains all the time doesn’t it? No, rainfall levels vary immensely and in fact because of climate change we are seeing more dry springs, summer droughts and more intense torrential downpours.

Why save rainwater?

The water that comes out of your tap, whether from well, spring or mains, has needed energy to transport and purify it and that energy is usually derived from fossil fuels – the extraction of which has contributed to climate change.

Another really great reason to harvest rain water is because your plants will love it!

Rain water is so much better for your plants than purified water. With all that in mind it makes sense for us to harvest rainfall for use in the garden.

Ways to save water

The very best way to save water is by using a water butt, or ideally, water butts. When it comes to rainfall, harvesting bigger is almost always better, you’ll be amazed how quickly you can drain a large water butt (300 litre) in a hot, dry spell. They can also fill very quickly during a heavy rainstorm.

Water butts

Water butts come in all shapes and sizes with some designed to be disguised as a garden feature, they also fit a range of budgets and increasingly they’re being made from recycled plastic. Installing them is straightforward for anyone with a few DIY skills or ask a local handyperson.

Where able site your butts next to every gutter downpipe to collect as much as you can, if that’s not possible or practical then either get a very large butt or a series of butts linked together. You can get butts of 1000 litres or more that sit above ground, though some of those aren’t easy on the eye and are best saved for a quiet corner or in a place where you disguise them – grow a climbing plant up them for instance.

There are some very big tanks that you can site underground (3000 litres), so if you’re thinking of having a patio laid or some decking, then you can bury one of these underneath. You’ll then need to pump the water out which can be via mains or solar power or a mechanical pump if you’re feeling very energetic!

You also need to think about where you’re going to use the water and how you’re going to transport it, though realistically it’s going to be close to a downpipe.  Many gardeners have a butt next to their shed or greenhouse that has a removable lid and wide opening so that they can quickly dip their watering can in. If you can mount your butt high enough (safely as they’re very heavy when full) so that you can attach a hose to it and water your plants with ease. Most though will be on a stand that you place a watering can underneath to be filled by a tap.

Zero Waste Leeds gardener and permaculturist, Damian Nicholls, shares some water butt tips in this video

In the winter you’ll usually find that your butts are full and the excess water goes down the drain, so instead of watering your plants you can use it to wash your car or even flush the toilet if you put it in a bucket – why use purified water to flush a toilet!

Make a DIY mini water butt

If you want to start small, then try making a DIY mini water butt as shown here by Yorkshire Water.

Harvesting rain water in any way you can is a really worthwhile thing to do