Call me Ahab, I can't find the white whale. And other stories of Rain Harvesting. (Issue 5) | PITH + VIGOR by Rochelle Greayer

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Call me Ahab, I can’t find the white whale. And other stories of Rain Harvesting. (Issue 5)

Pinterest has predicted that one of the biggest gardening ideas for 2023 will be the idea of ‘rain harvesting’.

Makes sense.

I have a couple rain water harvesting anecdotes to share.


Rain Harvesting Story #1

My garden does not have irrigation.

I’ve tried – strictly for the vegetables.

The combination of well water, great distances, and a layout that means the areas I’d like to irrigate are on the other side of the driveway (so piping lines have to go beneath the asphalt) makes the general nuisance of it all too much to tolerate and too expensive.

But before I gave up – I tried rain harvesting – which also failed – because gravity.


I live on the top of the highest hill between here and Boston.

I discovered this years ago when an old timer in my town told me my place was once called ‘The Pinnacle House’.

A previous owner (50+ years prior) even had fancy stationary featuring a charming pencil sketch of the facade and the moniker at the top. (I’ve seen a picture of it – I’m desperate to get my hands on an actual sheet of it).

At first, I was doubtful that we deserved the name. It isn’t super obvious that this is such a high point. Plus, I’m from Colorado. I literally can’t be impressed by our 600 ft elevation.

There is, however, an observatory next door. (owned by Harvard University and The Smithsonian Institute).

When I moved here, It was largest and most active observatory east of the Mississippi River. And it was a SETI site. But then there was a fire, and the astronomer moved away, and now it’s primarily used for creepy Steven King movie sets.

By definition, everything is typically downhill from an observatory. Except my garden – which is technically a few feet higher (yes, of course, I geeked out and measured).


My barn is 20′ x 40′. That’s 800 sq ft of rain harvesting nirvana – sitting right next to the old pumpkin patch.

Someone told me that the Pepsi bottling plant nearby had huge plastic barrels that they would sell you for cheap, if you just asked.

This turned out to be true. I paid $10 each for 4.*

They reeked of Mountain Dew sauce. But I figured the plants might not mind to Dew it To it, at least for a little while.

But my carefully planned roof water harvesting system on the old barn would not cooperate.

I should’ve guessed the old building was severely slanted in the wrong direction.

The only way to make the gutters flow towards the barrels in the garden was to hang them so crooked in the opposite direction that end result was like a flashing neon arrow pointing at the obvious and now not so cute jacked up building.

We briefly considered a pump system. In the end, that was going too far down the rabbit hole of unwanted maintenance – so we cut our losses and gave up.

It was a relief to rip off and recycle the janky gutter system so that we could go back to enjoying the sight of the charming, but not so obviously slanty, old barn.


Note for January 2023: I’ve finally given up and decided the rain water harvesting tanks will go to the end of my driveway with a free sign later this spring. I hope they’ll find a sufficiently level or downhill landscape where they can make water butt magic.

I’ll post on my instagram story about where you can picked them up when I have them ready to go.


The Most Inspiring Rain Harvesting Story I’ve Ever Heard Of

rube goldberg machine from NYT

Weird conversations with unexpected people are one of my favorite things.

Circa 2012-ish I made one of those situational friendships with the cable guy. For too many annoying reasons to list, he was at my house a lot.

One day, he told me a magical story about a guy with the biggest, best vegetable garden you’ve ever seen. And he lived on the Westford-Chelmsford town line.

He said this garden was huge, and beautiful and full of the most amazing vegetables and it easily out shined every other vegetable patch he’d even seen.

He said he installed cable there but couldn’t remember the address (and he couldn’t tell it to me even if he could), but I’d know it when I saw it.**

He also said, the secret to this garden was hidden in the garage.

The cable guy described a real-life Rube Goldberg machine set up that gathered rain water from all corners of the roof. Channeled water came into the garage where it consolidated and cascaded through a series of barrels (like mine!). And these barrels weren’t just part of an elaborate gravity driven rainwater irrigation system – they were also superfood treatment plant.

This fabulous garden was fed with fish.

Regular trips to the local fisheries in Gloucester, MA provided the guy with his secret garden sauce. Fresh fish guts – dumped straight into one of the barrels – adding unctuous nutrients to the water as it flowed through the tanks. Apparently, the results were undeniable.


This is not a paid ad for Gloucester based Neptune’s Harvest . (But ok – it is an amazon affiliate link – in case youre interested). But it is worth noting that there might be something in the Gloucester water. (I mean, remember that whole crazy pregnancy pact thing… that was in Gloucester, MA too). 🤔 😉

Don’t you think this story would be a great ad for a company that makes organic seaweed and fish fertilizers specifically off the by-products of Gloucester fisheries? …

…If only we could find the guy with the garden and fishy Rube Goldberg rain water harvesting system on the Westford-Chelmsford line. ***

The campaign as I see it: Neptune’s Harvest! – Because not everybody wants to take up half their garage with Versailles level rain powered irrigation systems, treated with regular infusions of fresh fish guts.

(But am I the only one mesmerized by the fabulous people who do create stuff like this?)

*If you don’t have a soda pop bottling plant near you – you can purchase the same barrels here. I’ve also seen them at ULINE for half the price (but I can’t stand the garish blue color – I spray painted my whitish ones a forest green). I also easily installed these spigots near the bottom.

** I’ve driven the neighborhoods of the Westford-Chelmsford line countless times. Sadly, I’ve never known it.

*** Do you know of this garden? Please tell me where it is! I’ve been hunting it (and the brilliant creator) for over a decade. I’m a modern day Ahab – obsessed with a white whale garden.

Photo from Beyond a Man's Machines - in the The New York Times 
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