Spring planting season is upon us here in central North Carolina. Conceptually, I want to go whole hog—no doubt a throwback to my rural roots. In reality, I am hesitant—no doubt a throwback to “The Year of the Rain Barrel Debacle.”
It was about five years ago, and I had decided to grow edible stuff on the balcony of my townhouse. I planted ever-bearing strawberries, tomatoes, two varieties of peppers, and even some parsley and mint for good measure.
I sat back and waited for the rain to come. And waited. The soil became “dry as punk” (to use one of my mother’s quirky colloquialisms). I grew so desperate for rain that when it did fall, I ran from porch to patio positioning pots and pans at the downspouts and hoarding water for a dry day.
It soon occurred to me that a rain barrel was the answer to my gardening woes. After some research, I settled for a fifty-two gallon contraption—complete with a diverter system to prevent barrel overflow—wrestled it into (then back out of) my little SUV, and poured studiously over the installation instructions.
Uh-oh. I would need to cut the downspout and replace a five-inch piece with an adaptor that would ferry the water from the spout to the barrel. Technically, the downspout was not mine—it went right down the middle of where my house ended and the house to my left began. I would need to get permission from the neighboring property owner.
That neighbor also happened to be my older sister. After hearing my passionate pleas to help save the fruits and veggies from wilting on the vine, she conceded to what she referred to as my “dern hippie ways.” (That’s an exact quote right there).
The following Saturday, I rounded up my tape measure and hacksaw.
Was nine o’clock in the morning too early to hack through a downspout? I wondered.
By nine-o-five, I was ripe with impatience. Rationalizing that I would be quick about it, I began to saw with purpose. The sound of metal against metal cut through the peaceful morning air. Past the point of no return, I saw my task through to the ear-splitting end. (I was later informed that my sister’s princely pooch howled at the raucous ruckus, circled the living room, and did his business where he had no business doing it. …Um, oopsy?)
With the contraption in place and the spigot at the bottom of the barrel tested for functionality, I again waited for the rain to come. It did and my barrel filled quickly. But along with the water came the critters. Soon I had a thriving ecosystem outside my basement door. Mosquitoes swarmed around the closed lid of the rain barrel, and frogs from every stage of the life cycle—from eggs to tadpoles to full-grown hippity hoppers—took up residence within. No less revolting was the water itself, which became green and stagnant.
Did I really want to pour this on plants that I would later eat? I wasn’t so sure, so I chewed on the question at some length.
I was torn from my obsessive musings when the spigot began to leak. As I eyed the drip, I knew what I had to do: face the fungus head-on. Literally. (The barrel was too heavy to move, and the idea of emptying fifty-two gallons of water at my basement door seemed all wet.) So I got a ladder, removed the lid, and bent headfirst into the mire.
As I leaned further in, searching for the spigot that needed tightening, I heard a drawling voice say, “Looks like you’ve got yourself quite a predicament there.”
I bolted upright as though poked with a cattle prod. Peg, the unofficial neighborhood watchman, was watching me with a hint of amusement in his eyes.
I tried to appear casual and breezy despite what I could only assume was a disheveled appearance. We spoke inanely for a bit, then Peg returned to his house and settled into a patio chair to watch the gold finches flit around his feeders.
With renewed determination, I threw myself into my murky task and managed to tighten the spigot. I put the lid back on the rain barrel, went into the house, and proceeded to expend ten times the water my rain barrel could hold by washing my slimy clothes and taking a cleansing shower.
For Sale: One Rain Barrel. Lightly used. $1, or best offer. Serious inquiries only.