You can’t hurry love

By Mir
July 3, 2008

When I was discussing the dilemma of keeping my tomatoes watered in this post, many of you suggested that we invest in a rain barrel. This made me giggle, every single time, but it also made me realize that I hadn’t yet told you the Story of the Rain Barrel. (I also hadn’t told you that county restrictions have been so tight that they forbid even the use of greywater except during certain days and hours, assumedly because the authorities are not interested in having an argument with you about where that water came from and whether you can prove it.)

Anyway, yes, a rain barrel is an EXCELLENT IDEA, and one we started talking about a year ago, when we first moved into this house. It’s green! It’s environmentally responsible! It’s simple enough, and by “simple enough” I mean “something that Otto can figure out while I read my email.”

Well, like so many things, the talking preceded the DOING for quite a while. But as the weather began to heat up and the grass started to wilt, the time for action was nigh.

One night Otto turned to me and said, “I’m going to go get the stuff we need for a rain barrel. The kids can help me build it tomorrow.”

And being the helpful, supportive sort that I am, I replied, “Okay! Great!” (As I was not required to get off of the couch to participate in this meaningful way, I was up for the challenge.)

Otto went out and came back with a carload of… ummm… stuff. And the next day he and the kids set to work.

I happened to go out into the garage in time to see MAH BAYBEES using Otto’s electric drill with unbridled glee (and a bit of guidance from Otto’s vigilant, hovering hands), and I tried not to freak out. I trust Otto, obviously. But have you MET my kids? Oh, right, you probably haven’t. Well, let’s just say that one of them would likely not be above using a power tool as a weapon, should a bit of annoyance set in, and the other is so unaware of, well, the world in general that I could see a hole being drilled clean through bone before the indignation (and the blaming of someone else) set in. I’M JUST SAYING.

Yet there they were, using the drill, passing bolts and nuts, and pleased as punch with themselves.

After the barrel was assembled, the kids fetched bricks from under the deck and helped Otto assemble an appropriate base for the barrel to perch upon, and finally, the barrel was placed with great anticipation.

A few nights later we had a midnight thunderstorm, and we ran out to the barrel the following morning to see if it was full. It was completely empty—the seal around the spigot had leaked.

Otto recaulked the area and we waited. Another late-night storm blew through and again, crushing disappointment. The barrel was not of sufficient strength to support the spigot. “I’ll have to get a different barrel,” Otto said. “It’s okay, we’ll redo it.”

Then it was time for the kids to leave on another trip, and we sent them off and fell to various chores around the house like spending a gazillion hours plastering and painting the dining room. “Why don’t you make a new rain barrel?” I asked Otto one night. “I think it’s supposed to rain this week.”

He looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Because I’m waiting to do it with the kids when they get back.”

Oh, right. Them. Duh.

The children returned and Otto bought a new barrel. Once again the delighted squeals of small people allowed to use big tools filled the garage. The new barrel was set in place. We stood there and admired it.

And it didn’t rain.

A week later, it was nearly bedtime when the thunder started. Once the rain began to fall, Otto slipped outside with an umbrella and a flashlight (and—if you must know—a camera). He returned soaked and triumphant: In less than ten minutes, the barrel was full and holding.

Since then, I’ve been watering every day from the barrel.

It’s unremarkable-looking, I suppose.

It took a long time for him to decide to build it, and the first time it didn’t work out. But then he learned from the mistakes of the first attempt and made it right on the second try—in his own time, and prioritizing the way it needed to happen.

Funny, does that remind anyone else of something else that has to do with Otto…?

It was worth the wait.

Happy Love Thursday, everyone. If you haven’t found that love, yet, don’t give up—I promise you that it’s absolutely worth the wait.


  1. Elizabeth

    Should the instructions to build this be available I would LOVE it if you could share the genius! We have been thinking about purchasing a rain barrel but they are around $80 from the catalog.

  2. crockpot lady

    I’m so glad you posted a picture. My brain was creating an elaborate ecosystem that created it’s own rain.

    I have no idea why. I need a mocha.

  3. Jeni T

    I second Elizabeth. Can you share your vast knowledge, or I guess rather Otto’s, of how to make a rain barrel? Thanks Pretty One! )

  4. Megan

    I’m so darn impressed by the Amazing Dauntless Otto who not only chose to work with children and power tools on purpose once, he did it again and THEN acquired the shiny halo AND the deluxe wings by purposely waiting until they came back to finish the job.

    Have saved small amount of impressed quota for the functioning rain barrel.

  5. elizabeth

    yeah, the engineer in me is screaming about how the water comes out when the spigot is so high. need the drawings!

    Otto gets big points. Happy Love Thursday.

  6. pam

    The metaphor was simply delicious!!!

  7. Jenn C.

    @elizabeth – it looks like there are two spigots – one high and one low. If their barrel is anything like ours, the high one is a overflow release.

  8. Courtney

    Instructions please, I understand how it would work if the spigot were at the bottom and you just were using gravity, like one of those big glass jugs for lemonade, but the spigot at the top confuses me. I can’t get a mocha until lunch.

  9. hokgardner

    That is a brilliant rain barrel. I think I might be setting my husband and babies to work on one of our own.

  10. getsheila

    That is just the coolest thing. I shall add it to my list of things I want, right behind gutters and downspouts since, um, it appears those are needed to actually get the water IN the barrel. There are always so many more steps that anticipated. ::sigh::

  11. RuthWells

    Lovely. Now, I’m sure Otto thought of this, but does the intake hole have some sort of screening to keep the mosquitos from getting in and breeding in your barrel? Because you’d like to avoid that if possible what with the West Nile and all.

  12. Aimee

    Cool barrel! Yay Otto!

  13. lindasands

    In my mind, the barrel was a big oak one like you find in the wineries.. I kept thinking, How does he keep finding those? I want one.
    Now that I see the TRASH CAN.. I think, Shouldn’t the spigot be lower, and Why couldn’t you just put one of those outside without any sealing, drilling or spigot insertion and scoop buckets from it like I do with gazebo runoff?

  14. Otto

    As requested, Otto’s Rain Barrel Instructions …


    A barrel. DO NOT CHEAP OUT HERE. A food-grade barrel would be best, but I couldn’t find one. I bought a $13 trash barrel at Lowes and it cracked, then leaked. The second time around I splurged and bought the $29 Brute commercial grade barrel. Make sure you get the lid.
    TWO spigots – the basic 1/2 inch $4 jobbers with threads on both ends (one for the hose, one to screw into the barrel)
    Plumbers tape, also known as teflon tape
    A piece of window screening, at least 8 inches by 8 inches
    Eight short bolts, 1/8 inch in diameter and about 3/4 inch long will work fine.
    Eight washers to fit bolts
    Some indoor/outdoor silicon (the stuff for gutters would probably work best)
    Mosquito control tablets
    Drill and bits
    Hack saw
    Utility knife

    To start, get a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the spigot. You can eyeball this, but don’t drill too big of a hole. Drill one hole about two inches from the bottom of the barrel and another a few inches down from the top of the barrel, but offset by 90 degrees.

    Wrap the threads with the plumbers/teflon tape and then screw the two spigots into the barrel carefully. A cheap barrel will crack and you’ll have leaks, don’t be cheap! Run some silicon around the inside and outside of the lower one to seal it up completely.

    The lower one should be shut to hold water in until you need it, the upper one should always be left open as an overflow. (You can attach a short hose to this to run the excess where you want it, or even into a second rain barrel. We’re thinking about that …)

    Next, figure out where you’re going to put your barrel and how high you want it to sit. Build a base from cinder blocks or bricks that will get it up high enough so you can get your watering can underneath the lower spigot. Once you have the height, you’ll need to cut a downspout – remember you’ll need the elbow in there, so measure eight or ten times, then make your cut with the hack saw.

    Now, for the lid … once you have the barrel, with the intact lid on, in place, trace out an opening about 5 inches by 5 inches on the lid where the water is going to come out. You can use a utility knife to cut that opening easily.

    Now, drill eight small holes, two on each side, about 3/4 of an inch away from the edge of your opening. Push your bolts through the holes, then push the screen over the bolts so the screen is on the inside of the barrel. Slide the washers over the bolts, then tighten the nuts.

    I ran a bead of silicon between the lid and the screen, which gets messy but it helps seal it better. You want it sealed to help keep mosquitos and other bugs that can breed out of your rain barrel and the screen will also keep any debris from your roof out of the barrel (sticks and leaves and such).

    Throw a mosquito tablet in the barrel, put the lid on, slide it all in place and then wait.

    And, if you’re in Georgia, wait … and wait … and wait …

    If none of this makes sense, search the web as there are lots of plans online for doing this, some with pictures. Every plan is a little different, and our next one may be different, too.

    For fun, let your kids paint flowers on the side of the barrel.

  15. The Other Lori

    Uh, mosquito tablet? CLEARLY I don’t live in the south. And with such necessary items as mosquito tablets, I think that may be a good thing. I saw the pic of those blood suckers on Otto’s blog. Ewwwwwww.

  16. Shalee

    Hey Otto,

    Your instructions were so clear that I think even I could make a rain barrel. In other words, kudos to you for making it easy for a mechanically-challenged girl to understand. You even covered my “go cheap” side with plenty of “experience warning.” It’s been duly noted and I won’t go cheap.

  17. The Other Leanne

    That looks nearly identical to the rain barrel I made several years ago, except I put the spigot near the bottom so I wouldn’t have to wait for the thing to fill completely. If yours works as well as mine did, the mere act of creating it will end the drought; it will overflow and you will never need to use it again.

  18. Jen

    Otto has a blog? Why have we not heard of this before?

  19. Tammy

    If anyone is looking for barrels, here’s a source for you: Auto Dealerships. They get soap for their car wash areas in HUGE 55 gallon barrels. See if they’ll give/sell you one of the empty ones. My dad drives a shuttle van for a local dealership & that’s where he got his from. My parents now have two barrels (one for overflow) on either side of their garage.

    Never thought of the mosquito tablet tho–great tip!!

  20. Jess

    Otto, you are MY HERO. I totally want to do this. My tomatoes thank you!

    (Also, want some yellow squash? It’s taking over, even without anything close to regular watering.)

  21. mommytherobot

    yeah i was going to say, what you BUILT one? i know you guys are hands on , but isn’t there enough stress in your life? then i saw the brilliant home depot answer to a 21st century rain barrel: a giant plastic bin! hurray!

  22. Daisy

    Wonderful story! I have hinted to my family that I’d love a rain barrel. I think I’ll have Otto give them a call. Or I’ll drop a hint with my daughter who lives, I mean, works at Home Depot…

  23. Vane

    What a great post, and thanks for the last couple of sentences, I’ll keep them in mind :)

  24. zeghsy

    you are so lucky. i’ve heard of places where a rain barrell is illegal! what? the rain can fall on your lawn, but if you collect what rolls off your house, you’re in trouble. WEIRD!

    i’ll be forwarding this to my dad. maybe we need one. (not at the moment, given all the flooding, but one day…)

  25. elizabeth

    Sweet! I had never even heard of a rain barrel before! Guess which drought-ridden desert part of the country I’m from?

  26. jmcupcakes

    Hey Mir –
    Not to change the subject, but your Hair Thursday post is up!! Looks like you are going LONG….

  27. BOSSY

    Perhaps Rain Rubbermaid is a better name?

  28. shannon

    ok, because i like to be silly, since the spigot is at the top of the barrel, what do you do when the water is half full?

  29. shannon

    oh shit, nevermind…………..

  30. dad


  31. Veronica

    Okay, now you see that rain barrel? Make it HUGE and imagine that you have to do everything with it. Shower, drink, wash dishes, water the garden.

    Now imagine that you are in the middle of a drought.

    Our water tank is 5000 gallons and it is the only water we have available. Which would be nice, IF IT WOULD FREAKING RAIN SOME MORE.

    Welcome to my Tasmania.

  32. PandaWriter

    I’m such a scoflaw, I would – just occasionally, mind you – use my hose to fill up the empty rain barrel on the allowed watering days, and then use the filled rain barrel to water, when it’s insanely hot, on the unapproved days.

    What? I would be running the water out of the hose on the approved day, the fact that it wouldn’t be reaching the thirsty plants until an unapproved day is… a minor detail.


  33. Flea

    Otto, you’re a genius. I think I’ll have the Hunny build one of these for a little later in the summer, now that the rains are slowing down. It totally rocks.

  34. Jenn

    If you live near a beverage bottling plant, like Coke or Pepsi, check and see if you can buy one of their syrup barrels. They’re food grade and a good size for a rain barrel.

  35. Kathy in WA

    Love the rain barrel idea. Very creative!

    Duckabush Blog Dh wrote a long post about our ‘tomato-staking’ parenting. Does that count as gardening??

  36. stacey

    Rainbarrels would be great if it ever rained here. There is another cool project for your Otto…google Earthbox, it is a nifty self contained system for tomatos and other crops.

  37. stacey

    Oops! I meant Earthtainer, the Earth box is a commercial product, the Earthtainer is the hacked version.

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