Does anyone know where to buy 55 gallon (or other large size) food grade water barrels that aren't $90+? I know the food industry must use some form of food grade barrel for all the various liquids etc. and I know they aren't paying $90+/barrel. There must be some way of getting these cheaper. If I am going to try to store enough water for a family of 5 for several months, I just can't afford those prices.
Try Craigslist or ebay
I have ordered from these folks and they have excellent choices, prices, sizes, different fittings and rapid service.
And no I have no connection to them ;-)
Besides what joemanc suggested, you might also look at feed/farm & ranch stores. They usually have 55 gallon barrels (olive type) available at at bit lower price. And you won't have to pay for shipping.
55 gallon drums for rainwater collection are a joke. That small amount would only be suitable for emergency rations for a few people, provided the water was sanitized first. If you want to use the water for plants, you will need many hundreds of gallons, at least, in any semi-arid area.
A much better idea is a home-made tank, using plywood and EPMD liner (or equivalent). You can easily store thousands of gallons in such a tank. Another option is an above-ground swimming pool or something like it, but then you will need to figure out how to prevent or minimize algae growth.
Personally, we use a pair of 5K storage tanks, and another pair of 800 gallon tanks for another garden area. That is 11,600 gallons. This is not enough to make it through a long, hot summer (like the one we just had) but it gets us more than 3/4 of the way through.
After much thought, empirical research and experience, I think the way to go is hugelculture beds combined with reservoirs for rainwater storage. Minimize use, maximize storage capability. A 55-gallon barrel or three for a reality-based garden is like putting an RV-sized solar charger on the roof of your 3,000 sq ft home and calling it "off the grid"...:)
My primary concern is water for human consumption. I am certainly not a sophisticated enough gardener to even consider irrigation yet.
Many options here - scalable to just about any capacity and system arrangement you need/want. If you are talking about emergency use you can get around any poly outgassing concerns. Considering people will drink from a toilet in an emergency, waving the "But polyethylene might outgas" flag is kind of silly IMO.
Why do you think you need to be sophisticated to be a gardener?
Dogs, to be a sophisticated gardener, you need sophistry. As in, when describing a tomato you grew, holding up your hands about three feet apart and saying, "You should've seen the one that got away!"
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Living in the city during peak housing prices