Sunday, June 3, 2012

You Can't Holler Down My Rain Barrel ...

When I was a child, we used to visit my extended family in Australia every other Summer.  Of course, when it was Summer in New York, it was Winter in Australia.  And, back then in the 70's, it seemed that no one in Australia had central air conditioning - at least no one in my family.  So I spent my summers huddled up as close as I could get to my grandmother's electric space heater or shivering in bed with a hot water bottle.  I do have some pleasant memories and one was of the charming old fashioned songs my maternal grandmother would sing to us - especially after she'd had a few glasses of wine in her.  One of the songs involved two little girls who were best friends that played together every day, until one day - as girls do - they got into a fight.  In the chorus, they yell vituperative taunts at each other:

I don't want to play in your yard. 
I don't like you anymore. 
You'll be sorry whey you see me, sliding down our cellar door. 
You can't holler down our rain barrel. 
You can't climb our apple tree.
I don't want to play in your yard, if you won't be good to me.
Of course, as a kid who grew up in 1970s Manhattan, I had no idea what a rain barrel was and never thought to ask.  I simply assumed that for two little girls growing up in those bucolic times, refusing to let someone "holler down your rain barrel" was an insult of the highest order.  Occasionally, when I would hear the song over the years (Diane Keaton sings a version of the song in the movie "Reds"), I would wonder - what in the world IS a rain barrel anyway?  I imagined some sort of enormous cistern-like thing that would produce sonorous echos when you yelled into it.

I don't recall when I finally learned what a rain barrel was, but I do remember being vaguely disappointed (oh, okay, that's it? hmm).  It mostly made me feel sorry for the little girls in the song - who were evidently so desperate for entertainment that they had to resort to hollering down rain barrels and picking fights with their best friend to stave off mind-numbing boredom. 

When I decided to start gardening this year, I began my journey - as one does - with the Internet, reading everything I could find on-line about planting, growing, soil, seeds, sun, compost and - of course - water.  Well, imagine my surprise when my old friend the rain barrel kept popping his head up all over my computer screen - "hey, remember me?  holla' at your boy!"  (A side note:  I actually googled the phrase "holla' at your boy" and, according to, it is the Ebonic translation for "please give me a call at your earliest convenience."  Love it!)

So, I decided that one of the first things I would do in my new garden - after installing Geoffrey - would be to get me a rain barrel.  I looked at a bunch of on-line instructions and videos, but still felt a bit insecure about trying to make my own rain barrel.  Fortunately, fate intervened, and I discovered that Rutgers was having an all day home gardeners program on March 24, which included a class on rain barrels.  At the end of the class, the participants would make their own rain barrels to take home with them.

So, I signed up and went to the class, which was run by a guy from the Rutgers Water Resources Program.  (The Rutgers website contains a lot of helpful information about rain barrels, by the way).  The class was very informative and I learned a lot about the importance of conserving water, and what individuals can do to help - including, you guessed it, installing a rain barrel - or eight:

This is NOT my set-up.  It is this guy's set up.
This is my rain barrel:

Once I got Mr. rain barrel home, he proceeded to sit in the garage (amongst several unpacked boxes of books) for the next two months.  Every time it rained, I would feel a little guilty.  I even ordered one of those rain barrel diverters from Home Depot, which arrived in early April - he has also been sitting in the garage for almost two months.  So, yesterday, I decided to stop procrastinating and install my darn rain barrel already!  This is the spot I chose.  It is at the back left corner of the house, behind my vegetable garden.  This will make it convenient to use the water collected in the rain barrel to water my veggies.  Right now, I have to drag the hose over from the front of the house near the garage, where the faucet is. 

Future spot of the rain barrel
First, I prepared the ground where the rain barrel is going to sit.  It is very important that the ground is firm and even.  I removed the sod (and tossed it into Geoffrey, who sits just around the corner to the left) and used a spade to even out the earth.  I had to dig up some soil from the backyard to fill in the holes made by removing the sod.

I checked the newly-flattened area with a level to make sure it was even:

Then I added some cinder blocks to form a base for the rain barrel:

Whoops, that third cinder block looks a little wonky.  I moved him to the side and built up that side a bit more:

Next, I marked the area on the downspout where I needed to cut to insert the diverter:

I unscrewed the fastener that holds the downspout to the side of the house:

Then, I got out my trusty old hacksaw (which used to belong to my dad), along with gloves and safety glasses:

Safety first!

I was slightly freaked out to be cutting up a piece of my nice new house.  But I got over my fear, and started hacking away.  I had to crunch up the end of the downspout a little bit, so it would fit into the diverter, but it seemed to work okay.  I also had to drill an extra hole into the rain barrel, to attach the diverter hose.  According to the literature, the rainwater should get diverted from the downspout into the rain barrel until it fills up, after which it should go back to the downspout, through the underground drainage tube, and into the gutter.

The hose was a bit long, so I cut it down a bit and reattached it.

Now, I'm dying to know if it will actually work!  Of course, after several days of rain, there's not a cloud in the sky.

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