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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Well, well, well

[posted by risa]

Gathered the last tomatoes, zucchinis, potatoes and eggplant ... pulled up all the summer-garden debris and piled it for the mower and bagger,then emptied the bag -- about six times -- onto the winter beds and the compost heaps ...took down all the beanpoles and stacked them for next year ... dumped out the tomato and potato container gardens into the wheelbarrow, and threw the container soil into the heaps and the compost barrel ... found a huge nightcrawler in the potting mix and parked it in a cottage cheese container while deciding whether to go fishing ... affirmative ... made a batch of spelt/apple/potato/Parmesan-cheese bread dough, divided it into two loaves to rise in the stoneware pans in the oven ... got out the miniyak ... went over to the reservoir ... yes, they were biting.

Paddled back to the landing, drove home, put away the boat, started the oven, cleaned the fish, double-bagged them and put them in the freezer, took the cleanings to the compost barrel ... did dishes ... took out the bread ...

The Brandywines of October

... had some, fresh-hot, with slices of Brandywine tomato from the vines hung upside down in the greenhouse ... went back out to the greenhouse and put a hose down the well with the new foot-valve on it ... brought up some water with a pitcher pump ... ugh, it's in foul shape. Brown, with more than a hint of sulfurous mercaptans.

Not surprising when it's been thirty years since that well has been used.

Who knows what might have fallen in there and died over time? I once lived in a Quaker/Hutterite/Bruderhof commune, which, as it turned out to my and everyone else's surprise, was on the farm that had belonged to my maternal great-grandfather, and before that, to his father-in-law -- the barn had been burned, and all our family's mules "requisitioned," by General Sherman's boys -- and in the house in which I, among several of the younger people, was living, had a hand-dug well on the back porch, four feet across and sixty feet deep, lined with quartzite stones. We had it cleaned once and the mud at the bottom turned out to be a mass grave of chicken bones, along with raccoon bones, bobcat bones, squirrel bones, and the like. We didn't know what to think. None of us had ever gotten sick, anyways ...

This could be something like that -- on a smaller scale -- it's a steel pipe, thirty-three feet deep and six inches wide, set in a concrete pad, open at the top, which revealed itself as I cleared blackberries behind the chicken shed, fifteen years ago. I had been told there was an earlier well than the one now in service, which had failed and been abandoned, and had wondered where it might be.

We're interested in seeing if this one can be made to yield water again.

A rig for impromptu well-testing

Clearly it's going to take some doing.

I have a high pressure nozzle, and maybe could put that on the end of the hose and flood the well, hopefully driving the yucky stuff out the top of the pipe and cleaning the perforations at depth enough to regain access to the water table. Even so, we probably can't drink this water without purifying it, and even then I might hesitate -- it's right in the middle of the barnyard -- but could be used for emergency irrigation. We're entirely dependent on electricity for our water and had six outages last year. We're between gasoline-powered generators at the moment, but I'd be happier to find another way to pump garden water, which we can't get from the creek because it doesn't run half the year. A rain barrel isn't a solution either, same reason, and a cistern is a lot of trouble and expense for what we'd get back from the effort, seems like.

We'd also like to get water for household use from the newer ninety-foot well without having to depend on the 220 volt pump, but a full-sized solar immersion pump is too costly to consider, and a smaller siphon pump can't be installed with drilling into the well cap, which gets technical and which we're not willing to do. I'll ask our local pump company if there's a good way to lift water for ourselves without the 220 or gasoline, using the existing piping --we can't use the hand pump for this because that water's more than 25 feet deep in the four-inch pipe -- I think it is, anyway.

It's a good well -- all the others in the neighborhood are 33-footers and in a drought year, back in the nineties, they started to run dry and people came to us with five-gallon buckets from several of the houses around. It felt good to have the life-giving stuff on offer.


At our Coast Range place, there was a spring coming out of the ground right back about sixty feet behind the house. Skunk cabbages and ferns grew all around it. There was not much flow to speak of, but there was enough to encourage us to experiment. So we dug it out, to about the size of a bathtub across and a little deeper, and the hole filled overnight with clean, reasonably clear water; it looked to be about three or four gallons per hour. This was encouraging, so we put together the following system: one new thirty gallon trash can, galvanized, washed clean, punched with many, many holes with a hammer and a nail, and with a two-inch diameter hole chiseled into the lid, sunk into the spring up to lid height and surrounded by a lining of basalt stones (river rocks); one brass foot valve; seventy feet of 1 1/4" PVC flexpipe; one pitcher pump. We put the pipe in the ground alongside the house and then straight up into the kitchen, with the hand pump by the kitchen sink. There was no drain; a five-gallon bucket stood beneath the sink and was emptied onto the gardens regularly.

Beloved's mom liked the pitcher pump;
it reminded her of her Wisconsin childhood!

We built a little insulated springhouse over the spring, too, and milk and eggs and the like kept reasonably well there, year-round. The entire system, in 1979 dollars, cost less than three hundred dollars, including the springhouse.

We won't have such an easy time of it here. But we'll keep after it in hopes of some improvement over the status quo.


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