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Today when Matt and I were cleaning up and organizing so we would be in a good place to get started on some long-awaited finish work on the barn and clearing for one of the many gardens, I started thinking about how many different ways you could use a simple metal or plastic barrel for prepping and general organization.
The Many Uses of Metal and Plastic Barrels and Drums
Large hand tool caddy
A barrel can be used to safely store rakes, shovels, brush axes, splitting mauls, axes, and more. You can put a lot of tools in even a 30-gallon barrel. We do this in our barn to keep things tidier.
Some of you may have read my article on storing pet foods for a long emergency, well barrels are what makes it possible to stabilize and store dog food for an extended period of time and keep out all types of insects, rodents, and other vermin. Sealing it off in a barrel with oxygen and moisture absorbers will protect it from the things that are your biggest enemy when it comes to any food storage and that is moisture, sunlight, and a lot of oxygen.
Store bulk livestock feeds.
Sometimes you can get a really good deal by purchasing a ton of feed or buying it out of a grain hopper rather than in bags. A barrel system for grain storage can protect grains from spoilage and thus allow you to enjoy a better price by purchasing in bulk. Barrels may also make more sense in terms of space for some. You can fit more than 3 bags of cracked corn in a 30-gallon barrel.
You can get heavy-duty drum liners and have a really serious trash can for construction debris or just for general garbage. Plus you have a lid if needed! I do have to say that if you use a 55-gallon barrel it can be easy to overfill the bag which results in something that is really hard to lift. Just be careful about that or get a smaller barrel if you have the chance.
Metal barrels are much less expensive than a standard metal trash can and will last a very long time even if exposed to some pretty harsh conditions. You can also use plastic barrels for garbage too. Here is a link to a 14-gallon plastic barrel with a locking ring that you can get on Amazon right now at a very reasonable price with shipping included.
Pack away your seasonal clothing without worry of dust or damage.
If you roll your clothing up well you can fit a ton of clothing in a barrel. If you wash it before storing and put in a sachet or two, it will come out smelling good and ready to wear the next appropriate season. Sure there may be a few wrinkles but most people are not too worried about that for casual wear. Otherwise, you may have to hang them up awhile or iron them if needed but it is still a good storage method.
Of course one of the most popular prepper uses for plastic barrels is water catchment or water storage. A 55-gallon barrel of water is enough to last a single person several weeks if they use at least a little care in rationing out their water needs.
Sure you can get a gas company to install a tank for you and keep it filled up but the initial set up costs and hassle can be a lot more than what most of us are going to want to deal with unless we have a really big agricultural operation to run or live a decent distance from a gas station so that the occasional delivery is a better deal.
For example, our little farm utilizes small machinery so our gas needs are roughly 5 gallons per month. A 55-gallon barrel is nearly a year’s worth of fuel to run our operation. You will have to buy a pump to get the fuel out but that is under $50 if you don’t care about having an electric one. We have a cast-iron hand-cranked pump that suits our needs. If you are storing gas for more than a few months you should add fuel stabilizer to it. This is available in quart containers that will treat up to 80 gallons of gas and stabilize it for up to 24 months.
I think the 24-month figure is a bit high but even if you cut that in half, 12 months is a good while to store gas and enough time to get you through some situations, especially when you consider that you are probably going to try to be more conservative with your usage if things are weird and uncertain. Remember that gas storage can also allow you to take advantage of low prices which can be a real benefit if you are trying to stretch your dollars and/or the market is experiencing a lot of uncertainty and volatility,
Housing and shelter for small animals
This is one of the cooler designs I have seen for a dog house with a barrel as the main component! I imagine you could make it a little lower to the ground for various breeds if needed.
Barrels can get hot so you need to use good sense when using barrels for shelters. A barrel that is laying on its side can be used as a dog house for a small to medium-sized dog. It can provide some shelter for a few chickens. We have even used a barrel with some wire over the front as a sick room for a piglet that got loose and attacked by a neighbors dog. Barrels can be emptied of dirty bedding and hosed out so they are very easy to keep sanitary and clean when dealing with sick small animals.
Make sure to place barrels in the shade to avoid overheating. This is not a concern during the colder months of course. Remember that barrels are prone to rollings so be sure to secure it so it cannot roll. A few big rocks or some wood wedged around it will usually do the trick.
Tilapia can be grown in plastic barrels with the right filtration set up. I will refer you to some articles on aquaculture written by those that know far more than I do at the time of this writing. I really hope that Matt and I can get a small aquaculture set up going sometime in the near future. When we do, I will be sure to document what we do and how well it works.
A lot of wine that you like starts off being fermented for a week or two in food-grade plastic totes. A lot of homebrewing vessels for beer are food-grade plastic buckets. You can use stainless steel or plastic barrels for fermentation needs. You can even use it for the final fermenter for a large batch of wine or beer with a few augmentations.
Really what you have to do is get a stopper and airlock that fits one of the holes on the top. Sometimes this takes using some food-grade glue or caulking to get an airtight seal. It is the least expensive fermenter you will ever find for the amount of space you get.
Fermenting very large amounts of food.
I am not sure the smallest size barrel you can get so I cannot tell you how practical this is but I can say that it is possible to do. You could ferment a lot of pickles, kraut, or Kimchi using a plastic barrel.
You can make a lot of different composting setups using plastic barrels. Put your compostables in a barrel and then when you need to turn it you can put a lid and ring on it and roll it around if you don’t want to use a shovel or similar.
Some people make compost teas to supplement their garden. This is an excellent way to grow organically and make good use of compost.
Make Planters or Vertical Gardens
There are many different ways to make a planter out of a plastic barrel. You could cut them in half and have a nice deep planter or you can get more creative and cut a lot of holes for plants and have a vertical garden. I have to say while this may not look as nice it is one way to get the Garden Tower look if you cannot justify spending over $300 on a vertical planter. Remember that drainage is important. You will need some holes drilled on the bottom of each planter. Of course, if this is done inside you would need something beneath the barrel to catch water. As you can see this is more of an outdoor project.
Make a snow plow!
I thought this was a really neat use of a barrel. Yes it takes a few tools and some skill but check out the video below to see how this fellow turned his barrel into something that would be incredibly useful in some climatic zones.
Create a rolling tool box and get organized.
It is really annoying to need a tool and not be able to find it anywhere. This toolbox is such a cool idea and the top of the toolbox is sturdy enough to hold other items or to be utilized as a small portable workspace.
Using a simple barrel stove kit and a few tools, you can turn a metal barrel into something to heat your greenhouse, small cabin, outbuilding, etc. With the cost of many wood stoves being quite high, this is an affordable yet lightweight option.
Make a boat. People use metal and plastic barrels for this.
I thought the boat in the video below was really neat and it was made with just 4 metal barrels which means it cost next to nothing to make. Some people use plastic barrels as floats for different styles of boats too!
Deer feeder or auto feeder for chickens and other animals.
I have seen plenty of pictures and videos of people using barrels for deer feeders. This got me to think about how this same idea could be used for a chicken, duck, or goose feeder. I know that in the wintertime or if you have to be away for a few days, an auto feeder can come in handy.
Some types of chickens like the heavy Cornish Cross that have to eat a lot to gain weight and reach butcher size in 6-7 weeks require very regular feeding and run out fast. An auto feeder would be a great solution for those feeding a lot of birds. Of course, you may need more than one if you have a lot.
I have been thinking a bit about root cellars here lately because we are growing a larger garden and while canning is great, it takes a lot of time and the results can vary. Plastic barrels take a lot of work to bury but they are inexpensive and can store a lot of food. I love the idea of a simple lid for access. Check out the video below for more info on how to make a great little root cellar set up.
Emergency Septic System
Note: There is no way that this is anything close to legal anywhere that I know of. I am just mentioning it as a solution in a real long emergency when the normal rules and laws have gone out the window.
Barrel Buying Tips
Used barrels can be a great deal as long as you know what they were used for.
Used juice barrels are a good deal because they have just had one thing in them. Any reputable place that deals in used and new barrels should be able to tell you exactly what the barrel in question was used for so you can make a safe and good buying decision for your needs.
It is never a good idea to use something for food stuff that has been used to store oils, gas, or other chemicals. Never.
Barrels come in different sizes. We tend to get barrels in the 30-gallon range with the occasional 55-gallon metal barrel. If you have a chance to find smaller ones then I would pick up a few as long as they are clean and have not had anything gross in them.
Many barrel places also carry the large square industrial plastic containers that have often had cooking oil in them. These are excellent for water storage and catchment as well as aquaculture projects.
Buying multiple barrels could mean a better price. Craigslist is a good place to look for barrels for sale.
If you are not aware of any barrel sellers in your area and a Google search yields no results then you should definitely take a look at Craigslist. Some people just use outlets like that for advertising. If you don’t have a good way to haul barrels then it might not hurt to ask about delivery if you order enough to make it worth someone’s time and you live within a reasonable distance.
Make sure you have the right tools before starting any major barrel projects. You don’t want to ruin a barrel trying to do things without the right tools.
Some of the projects in this post require more tools than others. Take it from me that sometimes trying to use an alternative tool or do things differently doesn’t turn out the way you envisioned it. Maybe you can borrow a few tools from a friend if you don’t have them or get a little help from them on a weekend. A lot of barrel projects are a lot of fun to do so it might not be as hard as you might think to get someone on board.
Barrels are very useful and something you should pick up a few of when you can and if you have a little extra space. They can be kept outside so you don’t have to have a garage or other covered space but it is advisable to put some boards or something underneath them and maybe put a piece of roofing tin or something over metal barrels that are going to be exposed to a lot of weather.
Everything keeps better if it is covered a bit. You do have to watch out for condensation forming under tarps and such though which is why tin or an old piece of plywood works better.
From storage to fun and useful projects, plastic and metal barrels have a lot to offer preppers.