Storing water for the garden

I wrote this post a couple of years ago, but some of my newer readers won’t have seen it so I’ve updated it for reposting. With summer on the way it’s worthwhile thinking about how to keep the water up to newly planted trees and seedlings.

Storing water for the home food garden is crucial for self-sufficiency and building resilience into our lives in the face of change. In a reticulated system, such as most of us have now, energy is needed to pump water to suburban homes. In the energy-scarce future that’s ahead of us, we can’t guarantee that we’ll always be able to turn on a tap and have water at our fingertips.

So….putting in water storage systems should be a priority. Much more so than the latest brand of plasma TV or the latest iPad.

It’s important to look at the cost of storing water per litre. Obviously, the bigger the tank, the cheaper the price (assuming the same material).  Our first tank, a 9,000 litre, cost about $1000, 15 years ago. Some years later, we bought two 4,500 litre tanks and they cost about $1000 each. Cost per litre for the first tank was about 11 cents. Twice that for the second tanks. Prices do rise, unfortunately.

Some years ago, when the drought was in full swing, Bunnings were selling 100 litre rainwater storage bins for $90. I saw several people buying them. I did a quick calculation—cost of water storage = 90 cents/litre. That’s a lot.

Yet I bought two black plastic 60 litre rubbish bins (Willow brand) for $20 ($9.98 each). That’s 120 litres at a cost of 17 c/litre. Quite a difference. It seems the people who bought the $90 bins didn’t stop to do any calculations or consider what else was available.

In fact I’ve bought many more Willow bins over the last few years. I must have a couple of dozen now. Here’s what you can do with them:

Turn the domed lid upside down and drill a small hole in the centre. The lid becomes a rainwater catchment:


Put a bin (or several), in your veggie garden or beside a fruit tree, up on some bricks or a polystyrene box, for added height. Drill a hole in the side near the bottom and insert a length of 5 mm plastic tubing with an in-line tap. Open the tap and direct the water where you want it, when you want it. If there are water restrictions, with watering restricted to certain times of the day, you can use that time to simply fill up all your bins and then water when you want to. Better than standing and holding a hose for 2 hours.

This bin has two outlets, each with an in-line tap:



You can make the tubing any length so that it can water widely spaced plants—great for watering newly planted fruit trees during their first summer. The taps let you adjust the flow rate.

Use the bins to make nutrient tea. Just toss weeds into the water and let them rot down. Comfrey makes a great nutrient tea. But keep the lid on the bin….it stinks!

I have a bin beside my water wicking boxes with a plastic jug in it. Handy for adding water down the access tube or watering in newly planted seedlings. I also have one in the polyhouse filled with water plus comfrey tea, worm juice and seaweed fertiliser. Great for watering seeds and seedlings.

To stop mozzies getting in, just put a small pebble over the hole. I used to scoop the larvae out with a kitchen sieve until I took the lid off a bin one day and found a million drowned mozzies floating on the surface. The adults must have hatched, but couldn’t find their way out through the hole!

Always be on the lookout for extra water storage receptacles. Second-hand baths are great. I have two now. The first one I snaffled from somebody’s nature strip during a non-burnable rubbish collection. The second was a present from a friend who scrounged it from his local tip.

As well as storing water, I use the baths to grow azolla, the floating water fern. It’s rich in nitrogen. If it’s allowed to completely cover the surface, mozzies aren’t a problem. I can scoop off handfuls for the worm farm or for mulch and it soon grows back to cover the surface. The chooks love it, too. With a bath, you can put some timber slats or a sturdy wire frame over the top and put seedling pots on it. When you water them, the excess water drains back into the bath and doesn’t go to waste. My baths usually become full of tadpoles.

When you water from stored water containers  (providing you put them in the right place), you can let gravity do the job for you. It’s a no-brainer to put in a tank and then an electric or petrol-driven pump to get the water where you want it. That energy won’t always be around, but gravity will never go away!

21 Responses to “Storing water for the garden”

  1. notsomethingelse Says:

    I didn’t see this the first time around so I am glad to have read it now. Great ideas that I haven’t seen anywhere else.


  2. narf77 Says:

    Another amazing share that has me twitching in my chair Bev. You are the queen of possibilities when it comes to finding ways to do things that don’t cost an arm and a leg. As penniless student hippies with 4 acres to fiddle around with, money is tight but ideas are rife and finding someone who has already done the maths (Maths and I are NOT good bedfellows 😉 ) when it comes to water storage and finding cheaper ways to do it is like winning the lottery. I can get old baths from the local tip (when they have them, they get snapped up quickly) for $20 and I never even thought of using black plastic rubbish bins. What a fantastic idea! Does the water heat up over your long hot summer? Wouldn’t that kill the mozzies as well or do you situate them in the shade? Another blog post that I am going to reblog for all my dear constant readers to find, to share and to get as excited about as I am 🙂


    • foodnstuff Says:

      The water does heat up a bit, but most are in the shade. I’ve found that the water at the bottom stays cooler, so when I’m dippering it out, I scoop from down deep and anyway it cools down again overnight. I don’t seem to get many mozzies in summer. They’re so tough I reckon they could almost live in boiling water.


      • narf77 Says:

        Steve (the mozzie attractor) would probably agree with you there. I am on the lookout for bathtubs. I found one, a nice big deep iron one, out the back of the council buildings in Beaconsfield in the bush. I am going to phone them up on Monday and see if they want it and if I can have/buy it off them. Bathtub number 1 under offer! 😉


  3. narf77 Says:

    Reblogged this on theroadtoserendipity and commented:
    When you are a penniless student hippy who lives somewhere that is as dry as the Sahara desert for 4 months of the year you NEED to find ways to store water and Bev has some amazingly clever ideas plus so much more! Check out this awesome post and guess who is off to the tip to look for old bath tubs…


    • foodnstuff Says:

      Thanks for the reblog. You get so many more visitors than I do, so it’s my sneaky way of getting the info out there (I call it ‘the via narf method’).


      • narf77 Says:

        🙂 Any way it takes and I am proud to be an information conduit for your excellent ideas Bev. It all rubs off on me that way as well and any of your excellent ideas are more than worth wafting out there for everyone to find. That’s why I pinned you on my “Permaculture Living Sustainably” Pin board in Pinterest. You are in excellent company :)’


  4. narf77 Says:

    I pinned you as well! 🙂


    • foodnstuff Says:

      OMG. I’ve never been ‘pinned’ before! Will it hurt 😉


      • narf77 Says:

        You sure have been pinned before and the holes let in the sunshine ;). I am an information magpie. If you head over to that pinterest board (mine) that I shared with you in the last comment you will see that I am addicted to sharing information with people. There are millions of us penniless student hippies out there (in various combinations 😉 ) and money is tight but time and desire is strong. People like you, who have these awesome ideas, make it possible for people like me to facilitate positive change on our own little patch and if people like me can get invested with hope, so can everyone else! Sometimes a lack of the folding (er… not so green in our case) moola can make it hard to do/get what you want to do/get BUT as my dear old gran would have said in this situation “there are many ways to skin a cat!” and yes, indeed we need alternative cat skinners like you to show us how. Thank you for sharing all of those amazing things that go on inside your head. They give a lot of hope and possibilities to people like us 🙂


        • foodnstuff Says:

          Had a look at your Pinterest board, but couldn’t see it all because I’m not registered (and don’t intend to…I have enough to do!), but it looks good and so long as someone is always ‘pinning’ the good stuff, we’ll maybe save the world.


  5. rabidlittlehippy Says:

    BRILLIANT idea particularly with the bath! I can see the bath we gave to the neighbour as a dog bath (coming back here soon as he no longer has dogs) with reo mesh over the top, azolla in the bath (I would love to buy a little from you if you’ve some to sell) and pots sitting in the reo mesh.
    Another idea is to grow edibles in the baths too. Water chestnut springs to mind firstly but also water hawthorn ( ) is edible. The flowers are used to flavour lamb casserole in South Africa – Waterblommetjiebredie. It’s also dormant in summer and flowers in winter/spring. 🙂 It smells heavenly!
    LOVE the idea of the willow bins too. I’ve some in use as wicking pots for my small trees in the atrium but I think I might be buying a few more to install in the veggie garden for a dripper system. I HATE standing around and watering, particularly as it means my kids are unsupervised inside and probably raiding the pantry. 😉


    • foodnstuff Says:

      Send me your snail mail address and I’ll post you some. It will survive out of water in a plastic bag for as long as it takes to get to you.

      I grew water chestnuts in one of the baths years ago. I got lots, but couldn’t find a way to peel them. They were smallish so the standard veggie peeler took off too much and what I was left with wasn’t worth the effort. Any ideas?

      Haven’t heard of water hawthorn. Will look into that one. Thanks for the reblog. Between you and narf, I’m getting lots of new followers.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. rabidlittlehippy Says:

    Reblogged this on rabidlittlehippy and commented:
    Some brilliant ideas for summer watering. Since it appears we are entering into another El Nino event, water is going to become a BIG deal in the next few years.


  7. Chris Says:

    We’ve used bulk ice-cream containers, we recycled from hubby’s workplace to collect water off the chicken coop. We even recycle the bulk plastic buckets, which we use to collect water, moving soil, and soaking weed tea, etc. We’ve even got two 20L jerry cans which formerly held vinegar, which I collect water from the free municipal water station on the school run.

    I’m amazed how much gets thrown out from commercial kitchens. If you know anyone who works in one, or even just pop into your local restaurant and ask if you can recycle their bulk containers. They have to pay to throw it out, so sure they wouldn’t mind giving it away!

    My garden wouldn’t survive without water because we just don’t get the rain, unfortunately.


  8. Sue Dreamwalker Says:

    Great advice…And I have seen one or two bath ideas to collect water on various allotment plots around us.. Nice to pop over from Narf77’s reblog..
    Many thanks


  9. Born To Organize Says:

    Fabulous post! Thanks for the info.

    Narf77 sent me. 🙂


  10. Frogdancer Says:

    I love this post, even the second time around!


  11. How my grandmother would have loved the internet | theroadtoserendipity Says:

    […] […]


  12. narf77 Says:

    Just reposted this AGAIN on my blog…you can never have enough shares for awesome posts like this 🙂


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