most of today was spent working on various backyard projects in belmont. before i left my house this morning, i walked down to the dollar store to buy a pair of metal mesh sink strainers. i got the largest size they had (4-1/2" diameter) for only $1 a piece (dollar store makes good on eponymous promise).
my mother volunteered to work at the cafe so my father could be home today. after figuring out our course of action, my father suggested we eat lunch first before getting started. he cooked up some dill-flavored chinese dumplings.
all the projects were interrelated: (1) first we had to prepare raised bed number 3, so we'd know how much space we had for the detached spigot for the connected rain barrels; (2) the spigot itself had to be mounted to a wooden fence post and a complicated copper pipe rigging soldered together; (3) the garlics growing next to the already preexisting double barrels had to be moved in order to accomodate the 3rd barrel; (4) the detached spigot needed to be secured in its final location; (5) that said space had to be leveled and cinder blocks added for a platform; (6) the 3rd barrel (the black barrel) had to be drilled so a spigot could be attached; (7) and finally the water in the lower middle barrel had to be completely discharged so we could take that barrel off its cement pedestal so that we could add two more cinder blocks to make it higher.
my sister helped out in preparing raised bed number 3. my father and i carefully removed the top layer of grass with shovels while my sister used the sod pieces to patch up bare spots in other parts of the lawn. this 4x8' plot was especially hard to dig up because of the many maple tree roots that snaked underground. it was also a bit rocky, haven't never been worked on over, and we collected several small plastic buckets full of rocks. there was also a fair share of grubs, which will assure a milky spore treatment come his fall to eradicate the beetle larvae hiding underground.
while my sister and i continued conditioning the soil in raised bed 3 (picking out the rocks and bits of tree rot, adding compost and topsoil and mixing everything together), my father was busy soldering the fancy pipe arrangement for the detached spigot. long story short, originally we thought it couldn't be done because there was no way to solder the copper pipe that close to the wooden post without burning it. but my father must've done some thinking last night and came up with a configuration that looked like it might belong on some brass musical instrument that it does as a piece of backyard equipment.
had my father not going into the food industry, maybe he would've been a plumber, because he seems to relish any opportunity to solder pipes. even when the can of gas torch caught on fire, he didn't panic, just blow out the flames and kept on soldering with the blue tip on the business end.
when i moved the garlics i didn't see any bulbs, not even the ones from whence they originally sprang from. it was mostly stalks and roots. i moved it to the corner of raised bed 2 (RB2), after i portioned a 2x2' square parcel. likewise i did the same for my sister, giving her another 2x2' corner to plant the rest of her sage. since these weren't seedlings, i finally got a chance to use some of that marsh grass, taking off the tarp and pulling out a few fistful at a time to use as mulch. the grass bale was a little wet in the center (from being left outside, even though i covered it up) but not too bad.
the empty space vacated by the garlic my father went ahead and leveled before adding 4 cinder blocks for the eventual base of rain barrel 3.
while my father was rearranging the bricks and stones around the newly-posted detached spigot station, i was busy edging a border along the peony flowers using a stack of newly-acquired bricks (leftovers from my great uncle's place). it's a nice look but i think we still need 100 more bricks before i can completely make it along the perimeter of the backyard. the area to the west of the house - where the raspberries and the money plants and the various irises and honeysuckles - are edged with old 4x4" posts. they're a lot easier to lay down (not as versatile though, can't make minute adjustments like i can with bricks) but because they're wood (even pressure-treated) they'll eventually rot and need replacing (that time is pretty much already here).
attaching a spigot to the black rain barrel was supposed to be easy: we had all the necessary tools plus the previous experience drilling spigot holes for the other barrels. what we didn't count on was just how thick the wall of the black barrel was. first it took a while to drill the 15/16" hole. then we soon realized the 3/4" threaded end of the no-kink hose bibb wouldn't fit. my father had to file away the edge of the hole to make it bigger. it took a while to finally thread in the hose bibb, but it went it a little crooked, like the leaning pisa tower of rain barrel spigots. it wasn't that big a deal, it still worked, but we sealed the edge with some silicone caulk just in case. the spigot as so difficult to attach that my father had bruises on his palms from trying to turn and press the hose bibb through the hole. for our other black barrel, we're looking into buying a 3/4" thread tap (they sell new for $15 on amazon, $10 ebay).
it took about half an hour to discharge the nearly full (estimated 80%) 58-gallon rain barrel. since it was mounted on just a single later of cinder blocks instead of two, the pressure was but a gentle trickle which contributed to the slow discharge speed.
how we set up multiple adjoining rain barrels in the past (that sounds like we've been rain harvesting for ages but it's only been a few weeks) was one barrel would collect the rain water from the downspout of the house. when that barrel reached capacity, water from the overflow opening near the top would drain into the next barrel, which was a step lower to allow the forces of gravity to work. this method works but you end up creating a multiple-tiered steps of rain barrels. the other bad thing is since each barrel is independent, you end up with as many spigot choices (to get your water from) as there are barrels.
after looking up some plans online, my father fell in love with the idea of connecting the barrels together. not from the overflow opening on the top of the barrels, but rather from the spigots down below. because each spigot is threaded, we can hook up all sorts of attachments.
the advantage of connecting all 3 barrels together from the bottom is all 3 will have an equal level of water. in theory, when the collecting tank fills up with water, that water is shared between the other tanks. it's essentially like have 3 separate barrels acting like 1. now attach a spigot to the connecting pipes and you can essentially get water that's fed from each of the 3 barrels simultaneously.
since the silicone caulking on the black barrel was still curing, we could only use the 2 preexisting barrels. the first test was seeing how fast a near empty rain barrel will fill up with water from a full barrel. we connected the hoses and turned on the barrel spigots. since these terracotta barrels have an open meshed top, we could look directly inside to see the water level rising. it basically took about half an hour for the two barrels to reach equilibrium.
the only problem we can see if it rains too fast, and the collecting barrel fills up faster than the water can be diverted to the other barrels. it's like a race between water coming in versus water going out to the other barrels. in that case the excess water will escape from the collecting barrel's overflow before it has time to flow into the other barrels. but in a rainstorm of that magnitude, even with the overflow, all the barrels will still fill up to capacity just from the sheer amount of falling rain.
we were so busy with our projects that my mother had to call to remind us to pick her up from the cafe. my sister was the only person available so she left. on the way back, they take a detour to the allston-brighton KFC and get two buckets of fried chicken.
afterwards my mother gave me a long overdue haircut. i can't even remember the last time i got it cut, must've been 6 months at least. it was actually long enough that i could tie it up into a small ponytail. but now that the weather is getting warmer, it's a lot more comfortable not having all that hair. plus it won't take me a long time to shampoo anymore.
riding back to cambridge, the back of my head felt a little cold from the haircut. i wanted to pull up the hood of my sweatshirt but it was tied up from the crisscrossing bags strapped over my chest.
first thing i did when i heard that the US had killed osama bin laden was to call my father. i didn't care that he was already asleep, this was breaking news he had to know. later i knocked on victor's door, asking him if he knew what had just happened. he and gise came out just in time to catch obama give his official statement. of note: OBL was caught in pakistan, in the city of abbottabad no less, only 35 miles northeast of the capital. so he wasn't hiding out in a cave!
though i'm glad OBL is now permanently removed from the geopolitical playing field, i'm worried about possible retaliation in response to his death. he was nothing more than a symbol and i don't think for an instant that his departure will magically rid the world of terrorism. the fact that it's been 10 years and he still hadn't been caught (until today that is) was a major embarrassment for the world's only superpower. OBL's death will hopeful restore some luster back into america's worldwide standing.
i wonder how the news will affect obama's own popularity standing, given his recent low numbers heading into a 2012 election year. the live footage of the crowd celebrating outside the white house was embarrassing; comprised of mostly young people, it was part elation over OBL's demise, but mostly i think it was just an excuse to hang out and hopefully get on television.