Conserve Water & Control Pests with Barrel Gardens


photo credit: Buttontree Lane via photopin cc

I ran across this interesting article cited below about a man in Goshen, IN who uses 800 barrels to garden on his 5 acre property. Previously, I’d read about using barrels as an effective way to capture rain water and garden but on a much smaller scale. What is interesting about how this garden is formatted is that the 4 foot high barrels are all spaced 4 feet apart to allow for mowing between the barrels. This grid pattern adds the added benefit that deer view the grid as a trap and steer clear of the produce. Also, mice don’t seem to bother his plants and produce as in his experience with traditional gardening. For a person with problems with mobility, particularly that of bending and squatting, having the garden up at 4 feet is much nicer. Think about it if your tomato plants start to over grow their container it would take quite a bit of sagging and drooping to finally reach the ground AND it would make your produce much easier to find an harvest.

This gentleman Grant Ortlieb said he’d started using the barrels as a way to collect rain water and soon found himself using them to garden. This helps reduce the amount of water expended on garden watering immensely. The square footage of ground that is exposed to sunlight which would increase evaporation is much reduced and also is much less to water. So it’s going to be easier to water 4 square feet deeply and keep it moist than just indiscriminately spraying the hose or a sprinkler over hundreds of square feet of garden. Most people could probably get by with 4 or 6 barrels for their backyard produce garden, so with 800 I’m sure Mr. Ortlieb gets plenty of exercise going to water each one whether by hose or by hand.

Use Food Grade Materials for your Barrel Gardens

Where might you find these barrels? I’ve looked locally and I believe you can find food grade plastic barrels from food manufacturers like Campbell’s, LaChoy, or the like. The reason why I specify food grade is because you do not want any chemicals leeching into your food. It would defeat the purpose of growing your own. Look for barrels that have previously held cooking oil, olives, pickles or something similar. Check with your local recycling facility sometimes they will get these used from food producers and wash them out for sale to the public. A friend of mine said she got her rain barrel from a local recycling company for about $5. As with anything your availability and pricing may vary.

If you want something that is decorative as well as functional consider old wine or whisky barrels. They are pretty and look rustic and are made to last for years. What an interesting take on how to create your own raised bed garden with barrels.


GOSHEN >> Approaching the Ortlieb’s Goshen home, even the mailbox sits in a barrel. Husband and wife, both master gardeners, have filled their backyard with a massive vegetable garden all grown out of barrels. Adorning the backyard of the five-acre property are roughly 800 barrels, by Grant Ortlieb’s count. Filled to the brim with compost, the 40-inch polyethylene barrels stand about four feet apart and cover the yard, the various vegetables poking from the tops. A few houses down the street, a neighbor referred to Ortlieb as simply, “the barrel guy.” Grant Ortlieb had the idea 10 years ago. He’d been gardening for years but altered his approach as a way to control water.[…]

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