or flower garden green, you need water. There’s increasing talk of people turning “green,” and that often involves water, too. Many naturists enjoy gardening—as seen by the growing interest in the World Naked Gardening Day phenomenon—so anything that helps naked folk create a healthy outdoor living space is worth considering. Making use of a rain barrel is one easy way for naturist homeowners to bring health to their gardens, benefit both the natural environment and our regional community, and save a little money.
The idea behind rain barrels is simple. Instead of allowing rain to run down our roofs and into storm drains, we can store some of it for naked gardening. There is little upfront cost, maintenance is minimal, and the benefits are clear. Although you can use nearly anything approximating a large barrel, inexpensive ones on the market have been retrofitted for this specific purpose. In my home area of Seattle, Washington, there are companies that recycle hard plastic barrels originally used to import pickled olives and peppers from Greece, add an appropriate cap and some quality spigots, and produce an ideal rain barrel for a modest price. (An Internet search for “rain barrels” will direct you to your local dealers.)
A good barrel will hold approximately 50 gallons of water. You can buy barrels set to be connected by a hose, thus allowing runoff water from the first barrel to spill into and be stored by a second (or third) barrel. In principle you are limited only by the space you have and the amount of stored non-potable water you’ll want. Good barrels will also have a screened lid at the top allowing water to flow in from one of your gutter downspouts while keeping mosquitoes from getting inside. Finally, you’ll want sturdy, reliable outlets. One will be near the top and one near the bottom. You’ll also want a quality metal spigot a foot or so from the bottom.
To set up your rain barrel, find a downspout with space for a barrel immediately nearby. It will be easier to get water from your barrel later if you set it a few inches off the ground on a sturdy platform. Cut or remove a piece of the downspout a foot or so above the level of the top of the barrel. Attach a curved piece of downspout to the upper, cut and position the curved piece so rainwater flows from above and into the barrel. You can readily find such bendable pieces in hardware stores. Find some old water-resistant netting (e.g., I reuse plastic netting from small bags of organic potatoes) and tie it onto the open end of the curved downspout to keep unwanted critters from climbing up the spout and onto your roof.
Attach a short piece of old garden hose to the top outlet valve, and place the other hose end into the open lower portion of your downspout. As water fills the barrel, overflow will naturally spill back into your downspout and not all over the ground surrounding your barrel. plants downhill of the barrel. I like to attach a three-foot garden hose to the spigot to make it easy to fill the cans I carry to my potted plants and bonsai. The outlet valve or spigot at the bottom of the barrel is for draining the water out completely whenever you think necessary. What’s the benefit to using rain barrels? First, there’s virtually no work involved in any of this. It took my husband and me only 15 minutes to get the whole thing set up; and other than brushing it off every now and then, there’s been zero maintenance needed in the three years we’ve had it.
Use the middle spigot to fill your watering cans, or attach a normal garden hose to water Second, we use hundreds of gallons of rain water a year for our garden that otherwise would have flowed down the drain. That saves water for our human community, places less stress on our natural watershed during those times rain is scare (even in Seattle!), and our water bills are lower. Tom Deen, owner of Seattle Rain Barrels, notes that rain barrels can also provide the less-than-crystalline water usable for cleaning garden tools, mixing cement, or cleaning paint brushes.
A third benefit is to our garden. Rain water is more oxygenated than tap water, and contains no fluoride or chlorine. Plants tend to appreciate this, so I especially like to use barrel water on my container plants. Yes, the water in barrels can get to looking kind of gunky—and I’d certainly not drink it—but the plants thrive on it.
Do rain barrels really have anything to do with naturism? I guess that depends on what you think naturism is. I continue to view naturism as more than just sunning my buns on my backyard lawn. The naturism I embrace is intimately tied to a full human life in community with other people and the natural world.
A naturist friend and professional gardener, Don Titmus, recently produced a video illustrating naturism’s connection to a green and sustainable way of living. His Gardening in the Nudd highlights his amazingly well developed rain barrel system at his desert home in Phoenix, Arizona. Rain barrels—I think Don would agree—are of minor importance in the grand naturist scheme of things, but they are one small way we can walk naked through life leaving the barest of footprints.