Water in the Hole

You’d think that living on an island would be a year-round water extravaganza but it isn’t necessarily so. The skin of soil over the rocks here is very thin and the lakes and ponds are seasonal, rising and falling with spring snow-melt and summer rain. This year’s winter didn’t bring much in the way of snow and July and August have so far been merciless in terms of heat and drought. The soil is rock hard, shifting to dust while the grass crinkles underfoot.

Enter the stand pipe, or dug well, or surface well, for irrigation. About three of our five acre plot is bog and in previous drought years I’ve looked at the small, deep pockets of stagnant water and wondered if there was any way to move that to the garden. Last Thursday a local construction crew came by with a small excavator, carved out an 8′ hole, stood a 10′ long 24″ culvert in it and backfilled with gravel.

Culvert set into a hole containing standing water, backfilled with peastone
Stand pipe, surface well, dug well

Ten years ago when I was looking for a solar pump for this (future) project the price was prohibitive for a small garden irrigation system; the cheapest model was $1,500.00. This winter I purchased a submersible pump, controller, and panel for under $200.00 and it’s more powerful than many of the pricier models on the market a decade ago. I did have to purchase a 12v battery but the set-up went smoothly and we were pumping water with the power of the sun only a few hours after the excavator left the site.

This is the view down the standing culvert to the water level. The pump is submerged at the end of the nylon rope and can be raised or lowered, power cable and exit hose are ziptied together on the left.

The construction happened last week and since then the water has cleared and the bottom of the well has receded as the silt settles. The drought has taken its toll on the fruit tree crops and potato yields, but this little well has probably saved the tomatoes and second crops of lettuces and brassicas. Job well done!

I also met a new friend who lives under a hollow stump behind the well. Meet Pancake.

American Bullfrog
American Bullfrog

The August garden

The Principe Borghese tomatoes are coming along, with a few Juliets and the big, buttery Paul Robesons. I picked a cookie sheet full to finish ripening in the house. After a few weeks of drought the weekend rains will swell the fruit and cause the skins to crack. This coming weekend I should have enough to can a batch of sauce.

principe borghese tomatoThe Dolgo crab apple has fruit so brightly colored it looks unnatural, especially following its pure white blossoms in spring. The tree is an excellent pollinator for the other apples, and the fruit makes wonderful sauce.

Dolgo crab apple

The peaches won’t be perfectly ripe until early September, but they look good and are beginning to cast a wonderful aroma on a hot, still afternoon. I’ve been looking into drought gardening – dust mulch and other techniques – and the caveats for smaller fruit with lesser yields per tree balanced by extraordinary flavor sounds very familiar. It’s very much how we’re gardening at present with some extra hints for preserving as much moisture in the soil as possible. Can’t wait to learn more about it, but that’s what winter is for.

Peaches ripening

Eupatorium purpureum, Joe Pye Weed or Queen-of-the-Meadow, is 10′ tall this year. I’m not sure if the new height is a function of the age of the planting (3 years), or if it just really likes extreme heat and drought. Our bees love it, no matter how tall it gets.

Eupatorium purpureum Joe Pye weed

At the opposite end of the height spectrum just a few feet away, heather “Wave” is only an inch tall, but has spread out to about 30″ square. It also attracts pollinators.

Wave Heather

This sprawling mass of pink blossoms is one plant of Bouncing Bet, or Soapwort. The bees aren’t so fond of the blossoms, but the plant is doing very well for not being watered since June and the deer don’t bother it – both real plusses for the gardener.

bouncing bet soapwort