Rain Barrel

I didn’t plant a winter vegetable garden.  It wasn’t a decision to take a break or to let the garden lie fallow for beneficial reasons. I didn’t plant a cover crop.  I just got side-tracked and suddenly there were weeds instead of <insert desirable vegetable here> and I found myself needing to do a bunch of work to reclaim my space. Suck.

In the meantime, naturally, I am reading about gardening. It helps me to feel productive even when I’m not doing much. I  am currently studying Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. An interesting book on many levels – talks about gardening in the face of constrained circumstances such as economic collapse, problematic health, or climate change.

The author asserts that there are basically five crops necessary to survive and thrive in the face of hardship: Potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs. She also talks about what is necessary to raise those crops. Which got me thinking…

I live in Southern California.  I have most of what is needed to raise four of the five crops mentioned.  I don’t have enough space for the ducks she suggest for egg production – but I haven’t given up hope of one day raising chickens. I have adequate space for a garden, lots of sunshine, a composter. The one ingredient that a SoCal girl might not have in ample supply is water. Let’s face it, we experience drought conditions in most years. We are currently under water restrictions imposed by the city. What if the hard times predicted by Ms. Deppe should occur? Where would we get enough water to continue to garden, even for a short time?

Um, it falls from the sky, actually.  Even here in SoCal we get a little thing called rain. We often lament that when it rains, as the old slogan says, it pours. Water comes down in quantities that the dry ground is unable to absorb and we experience problematic run-off. The water is provided, we just don’t have good ways of turning puddles into irrigation on the homefront.

So how would I capture rain if necessary?  Set a gazillion of those 5 gallon orange Home Depot buckets under the eaves? Pull out the Rubbermaid trash bins? What do people in places where they expect rain (we don’t here really, we just crash on the freeways when it sprinkles and avoid the ocean for a couple of days after a storm due to the pollution that gets churned up by the waves) actually do with it? Rain barrels.  Big containers made for capturing precipitation!

So, naturally, I decided our home needed a rain barrel IMMEDIATELY. I found one online  that seemed perfect – smallish, cute, the color of the terra cotta pots I use in my container garden. Then I read the reviews.  “Spigot is too low.” “Fragile outer wall.” “Hose connector needed to be replaced after first use.” Reviews that said to me, “Find another barrel Annie!”

After reading what felt like an encyclopedia’s worth of reviews, I finally settled on a barrel that was slightly less stylish, a bit larger, but one with all the right parts in the right places, and which folks seemed to really like. Sold.  I ordered it and hoped it would come before the rains. Like we have any idea when that might be.

About a week later, while rain was crashing down into my little courtyard from the gutterless eaves, the doorbell rang.  The shoes and socks of my favorite man in brown shorts appeared from behind a VERY large, plastic sheeted box. He placed the box on the edge of the front steps. It fell with a crash, nearly missing him as he turned to leave. He rescued it, dropped it inside the front door, and ran.

The rain barrel! Wait? That’s the medium-ish rain barrel I ordered? The 45 gallon rain barrel? How big a box does something of that size really need? Oh…yeah…  The 45 gallon barrel was Ms. Unpopular. This was MAMA rain barrel. The one that holds 75 gallons. You know what? A 75 gallon rain barrel takes up every inch of a ginormous box. Every. Single. Inch.

Okay, so the box is as big as the 8 year old. No problem.

Um, okay.  It won’t fit where I planned to put it, where the heck will it fit? As my roommate trailed me, laughing all the way, she mentioned – SEVERAL times – that there was no chance EVER that this particular model of barrel would EVER get filled.  We just don’t get that kind of rain. Certain members of my extended family had expressed the same sentiment upon hearing my plan – even when I neglected to mention the size of the barrel.  “What are you thinking? That thing will just eat space and hold air. Another hare-brained idea!” Or words to that effect.

It was, after all, raining when the barrel appeared on my doorstep.  Placing it instantaneously would help to ensure that the nay-sayers in my world would be proven wrong.  Come on Annie, think!

Then I looked out at the courtyard.  The courtyard surrounded on three sides by gutterless eaves that slope toward the ground. The one with the miniature Bridal Veil Falls currently cascading onto the concrete.  Perfect!

Quck! Get that thing under the eaves!

A few minutes later the barrel was situated for maximum water capture. Half an hour later it  had a couple of inches of water in the bottom.  A couple of days later (with one sunny day between the first and that last) and the water level was dangerously close to the overflow valve, while I was beginning to wonder what to put under the valve to capture the water that would not fit in the “WAY too big” barrel.

Rubber ducky your're the one...you make the rain barrel so fun! And show the water level too...

We lost some of that initial downpour too.  The barrel came with the spigot open, something I did not notice until the water level was high enough for it to be spouting a steady stream.

Now I’m thinking we need another barrel for the back yard.  We have a downspout there just waiting for a diverter. Of course, it hasn’t rained since the barrel filled.

Even so, these days I am watering from the spigot on Bertha Barrel.  And  hoping for rain.  Lots of rain.