Our Urban Victory Garden: The Rain Barrel Saga / by zhaophotography

Spring is right around the corner, or atleast I am going to pretend it is. We've been waiting to step up our eco-friendliness game and set up a rooftop garden. Last year, we had only achieved the "starter" level of eco-friendliness by building planters and creating a small herb and cherry tomato garden off of our kitchen balcony, which was great, but seriously- we can do better than this! Living in the city of Chicago doesn't always provide you with much planting space on the ground, but we are lucky to have access to our rooftop. Today's posts talks about our shiny new rain barrel and our adventures in putting it together. I promise you, it's funny.
Step #1 Procure a Large Plastic Barrel
We like to peruse craigslist for gently used furniture, photography equipment and occasionally the free stuff section. Last week Jared saw a posting for free empty soap sud barrels leftover from car wash shops. However, by the time we were able to get a chance to make a trip out there, they were already out. So this past Saturday while we were running some errands, we decided to stop by several of the local car washes to try our luck there. After a couple tries, we finally ended up at one that happened to have a barrel for us to take home for free. SCORE! (I'd definitely recommend checking your car washes in case you're looking for a free barrel. I think they either recycle/trade in these barrels, or more than likely throw them out. So why not pick one up and rinse it out instead of paying for a new one?)
Step #2 Bring the Large Plastic Barrel Home.
So normally my tiny little 2002 Honda Civic fits anything. I mean, my little sedan has previously hauled a gigantic 6x3 foot floor mirror, a bulky arm chair and a complete set of tires... ok, well, not all at the same time, but you get the idea. My jaw dropped a little when Jared walked out of the car wash shop with a gargantuan 55 gallon barrel. I was originally hoping for a smaller 30 gallon barrel, but beggars can't be chooser, right? We opened the trunk but it was glaringly obvious that it just wasn't possible to fit something of such wide girth in such a tiny little trunk. We also considered throwing it in the back seat but it was already leaking leftover soap suds and who really wants blue soapy gunk all over their car? At this point, Jared looks at me with a determined look in his eyes and says "I'm going to walk home with this". And walk home he did. Folks, we live in the city with real traffic and lots of people walking around. Granted we're slightly further south of downtown but Jared hiked about 1.2 miles with this humongo barrel all because we want to make this victory garden happen. G-H-E-T-T-O! hahaha. But in all honesty, he gets some serious respect. You best leave a comment for him. ;)
I really wish I had photos of Jared marching this barrel home, dragging it across busy streets and karate kicking it through a parking garage, but instead we've re-enacted it for you via Legos in our lightbox. You're welcome. Ha!
At first, the barrel didn't seem so heavy. Jared carried it through the south loop without a care.
It started to get a little heavy and so he tried dragging it for a bit. Personally, I was a little worried that a cop might pull him over thinking he was stealing.
When he finally reached a parking lot structure near our house, he gave up completely and kicked it the rest of the way home.
Step #3 Build the rain barrel.
Jared generally followed this page to build a rain barrel. It has great tips and a detailed list of supplies that you'll need. But also in typical Jared fashion, he also tried to make do with what we already had in house. The first thing he did was adjust the height of (cut up and repiece) our original rain duct so we could direct water flow into the top of the rain barrel. We picked up an angled duct piece and screwed it into the original rain duct. Then he used some leftover window screen netting, folded it in half to create a filter for the rain water, and screwed it over the edges of the hole.
Closeup of drain hole with hose leading to closest rain duct that led to the ground level; Faucet

And voila! He also picked up some cinder blocks to elevate the rain barrel to have better access to the water, and when you're at the bottom, you can tip the barrel to help you get the very last of the rain water.
Rain Barrel

Step #4 Wait for rain!

While we wait for it to fill up with rain water, I started planting summer squash, zucchini, lettuce, swiss chard and heirloom tomato seeds indoors. I already can't wait to get these suckers into large planters so we can put this rain barrel to use! It did rain for the past few days and already collected about 10 gallons. Since we're funneling this rain water that has collected from our rooftop, it's a little dirty when we peered into the rain barrel. But that's ok! We're only using it to water plants!

Stay tuned as we continue to build our little urban victory garden. And if you'd like, you can come help us eat up all our veggies, assuming we are successful in growing them!