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What is a Water Butt? 

A water butt can be a container, of any size or shape, that is used to store rainwater. When it rains, the water is caught in a drainpipe and flows down into the water butt. Collected water can then be used to water plants, rinse crops, top-up ponds, and even clean cars. 

Why have a Water Butt? 

Water is a valuable resource, so collecting and storing rainwater is worthwhile and comes with many benefits. Read on to find out more… 

For many gardeners, an allotment is a little slice of heaven. Unfortunately, the one thing heaven is missing is a tap and running water, so at least one water butt is needed to have access to a water source. 

Alternatively, even with access to a tap, collecting water is a preferred choice for gardeners as it is more beneficial for your plants. Tap water goes through a process of filtration and refining to make it safe for human consumption, however, the addition of chemicals such as chlorine, salts, and minerals is not so favourable for plants. Rainwater contains nitrates and other organic matter that feeds plants and has a pH that is slightly acidic which is what the majority of plants prefer. 

Water butts are cost-effective as rainwater is completely free and keeps the water bills down. If you are on a water meter, using tap water to spray your plants and lawn is the last thing you will want to be doing. By investing in a water butt, the initial saving may not seem significant but over time, substantial savings can be made. On average, outdoor water can account for 7% of your total household water, but in the height of summer, this can be significantly more. 

As mentioned above, tap water is treated and pumped before it lands in your home and this process can have an impact on your carbon footprint. Collecting rainwater, especially in a water butt made from recycled plastic, is great for the environment and is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.  

Additionally, the UK can be a rainy place at times. By having a water butt you can benefit from the bad weather, not to mention it can be a lifesaver if there is a hosepipe ban. 

The dangers of Water Butts 

As beneficial as water butts can be, there are dangers that all water butt owners must be aware of: 

Mosquitoes 

Mosquitoes don’t like moving water as they are poor swimmers, they prefer stagnant water. Unfortunately, this makes water butts the perfect breeding ground for them. A secure, fastened lid will help keep them out. 

If mosquitos do make their way into the water butt, mix a small amount of olive oil in with water and spray over the top of the stagnant water. This will create a film over the water and kill off the mosquito larvae. 

Legionella 

A danger that comes with all contained or stagnant water is Legionella. Legionella is a potentially deadly bacteria that multiples in warm stagnant water, above 20. Water butts in the summer can become the perfect breeding ground for legionella. Shockingly, a UK government facility called Porton Down tested 113 garden water butts for Legionella and found 95% contained the bacteria.  

Legionella is the bug responsible for Legionnaires’ disease. Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia that causes inflammation of the lungs. This is particularly dangerous for the elderly or those with underlying health conditions. If water contaminated with legionella is sprayed, it can be very easily inhaled. Alarmingly, a hosepipe, for example, can release thousands of bacteria into each cubic meter of air.  

So how can you prevent legionella? The best way to prevent legionella is to keep the water below 20. If possible, site the water butt in the shade or use a reflective cover around the water butt to keep the heat out.  

As a precaution, avoid using a hose or sprinkler. Using a wateringcan can reduce the chances of inhaling the bacteria.  

If you would like to find out more on Legionella bacteria, here is what you should know about Legionella bacteria in water butts.

What can you use as a Water Butt?

Now that we have covered both the benefits and the dangers of owning a water butt, let’s move onto choosing, and caring for your water butt. 

When choosing a water butt, there are plenty of readily available options for you to pick from. The most common of which is the green plastic water butt with a black lid. However, there are a variety of designs and shapes available, including ones that are beehive-shaped, slimline, terracotta, stone, or even double up as a planter. 

If you want to be super sustainable, there is the option to make your own water butt by reusing old plastic or wooden barrels. If you choose to re-use a wooden barrel, line with pond liner or polythene. Avoid a material that has been used to store chemicals as they could seep into the water. Consider using a dark, opaque material, a transparent/light material is more likely to cause algae to grow. 

How to clean and care for your Water Butt 

Caring for your water butt 

Once your water butt is fitted, it must be emptied and cleaned annually, Autumn time is best. Clean the outside of the butt using a hose or jet hose to remove grime and stains. Scrub the interior to remove algae, sludge, and grime that build up around the sides. Avoid using cleaning products as these can leach into the water and contaminate your soil when watering plants. Instead, use warm water with a mild washing-up detergent, avoiding the use of antibacterial detergents.  

Use a Water Butt Treatment 

Stagnant water tends to turn green and smelly over time, especially in warmer weather. To transform this stew back into clear, healthy water we recommend using a water treatment. 

Water Butt Klear is a water butt treatment that not only treats the water but feeds plants too. Unlike typical water treatments, Water Butt Klear does not contain sanitizers or disinfectants to kill the bacteria and eliminate smells as, these sanitizers can then damage your soil biology and suppress plant growth. Instead, an organic blend of beneficial bacteria clears and prevents green water, eliminates any nasty smells, and naturally cleans slime from the surfaces of water butts. When the water is used to water plants, the plant growth strains of bacteria in Water Butt Klear will feed plants and improve plant growth. 

This treatment is extremely effective, therefore if your water butt is in good enough condition an annual clean is not needed. 

Top tips! 

-Raise your water butt off the ground so you can use the tap and fit a watering can underneath. If the water butt does not come with a stand, use bricks, and stack them up to make a stable, solid base. 

-Ensure that the lid is securely fastened so that no debris or wildlife can enter. 

-Use a watering can rather than a hose.  

-Insulate the water butt with a reflective material to reduce the water temperature rising in warm weather. 

-Do not use water butt water for sprinkler systems. 

-Use collected water on established plants rather than seedlings because of the risk of fungal plant diseases. 

- Do not use water from your water butt if the temperature of the water is above 20 degrees. 

-Place stockings over the inlet to the water butt to create a filler, this will prevent leaves from entering. 

-Double-check your plants prefer rainwater, crops such as cucumber do prefer tap water.

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