Whether it’s a decorative element or a free groundwater source: wells are trendy. We introduce different construction methods and explain how to drill a well.
Wells used to be no place for romantics, but an important source of life in a village. The drinking water they donated was essential for the survival of humans and animals. In the past, however, due to the lack of suitable equipment, it was not possible to simply drill a well; instead, you had to dig a large and deep shaft by hand. Working as a well builder was anything but harmless: there was often a lack of material to support the earth and collapsing shaft walls were the order of the day.
So-called well orders ensured that the water source was handled with care. Anyone who washed their laundry directly in the well or otherwise polluted the water drew the anger of the whole place and faced severe punishments. To this day a person who knowingly harms the community is called a “well poisoner”. But rotten well water could also have natural causes. Especially in the north, the proximity to the sea and the many moors caused problems. The high salt, iron and humic acid content made the groundwater unhealthy in many places. Sources hardly existed. The wells could only be dug very shallowly or rainwater was collected.
That is why old village wells are still part of the landscape of the south. Mainly because of the many natural springs, the south had a little easier water supply. With their help, so-called running wells could be created. To do this, the spring water was directed to the well through hollowed out tree trunks or pipes. For a long time there was no distinction between the words “source” and “fountain” in everyday language. It can still be read today in fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm.
The village well was not only a source for drinking water, but also for contacts. Business was negotiated here or you might meet your future spouse. Because everyone needed water. Long before there were newspapers, news came when you fetched water. The phrase “I got it from a reliable source” arose from chatting at the fountain. Water pipes, newspapers and the Internet may have replaced the fountain in its function in the meantime. Picturesque water holes are still part of the village as a symbol of bygone times.
In today’s gardens, fountains make daily watering easier during the summer weeks. Of course, a drilled well is particularly practical as a direct groundwater connection or even to supply the house with water. Many old, secluded houses still have their own groundwater well because connecting to the public water supply would be too expensive. But a decorative water feature is also justified.
Wells ensure survival
For us, a well is an inexpensive source of water for watering the garden, or just a decorative accessory. For many people in the world, however, drinking water does not just come from the tap in the kitchen. In most developing countries, survival depends on wells with clean drinking water. Without them, people often suffer from infectious diseases and diarrhea or ingest heavy metals and other contaminants from rivers and lakes. Many also have no water to irrigate their fields, so that periods of drought inevitably lead to bad harvests and thus to famine.
It is impossible for people to create their own wells, for example in the dry regions of Africa, because they lack the know-how and machines to get to the groundwater that is up to 100 meters deep. They depend on committed helpers from abroad who arrive with the necessary equipment and drill wells for the population.
Ornamental fountains are based on traditional fountains and are very popular with hobby gardeners. However, they have no access to the groundwater and therefore serve as a purely decorative object. They only have a small pump in a hidden place that pumps the water from the collecting container into the outlet. Depending on the complexity of the design, ornamental fountains can therefore be implemented quite cheaply. Popular ornamental fountains for the garden are, for example, spring stones and wall fountains.
The shaft well is of the traditional type, the classic “village well”. A wide shaft is dug down to the groundwater. The work is very complex, so the groundwater should not be too deep. In the past, the walls of the shaft were usually bricked, today concrete rings are mostly used. Below the water table, the walls or concrete rings have slots so that the water can penetrate. The bottom – the “sole” – is filled with gravel. The water from the shaft well is, however, not hygienically harmless because it can easily get dirty due to the large access and sometimes stands for a long time. In the past, a well roof helped prevent pollution. Modern shaft wells are usually completely closed and the water is pumped through a pipe. For hobby gardeners, a shaft well is usually out of the question because of the great effort involved. If you want to build a shaft well, you should get professional help: The construction is not without danger.
The ramming well or striking well is the simplest and cheapest way to pump water in your own garden. With a little skill you can put it on yourself. Prerequisite: The groundwater level must not be lower than seven meters and the water-bearing layer must be productive. The lower part of the pipe, the filter pipe, should penetrate two to three meters deep into this. Under favorable conditions, the construction of a ramming well costs only a few hundred euros. When building wells, you can also use motorized auger and pile drivers and thus save yourself the effort of hand auger and hammer. Anyone who installs a handle pump is independent of the power grid. In principle, however, an electric pump can also be used. Disadvantage of the ramming wells: Their lifespan is often limited, many dry up when the openings in the filter tube clog after a few years.
Drilled wells are the usual method of well construction today. With the right equipment, you can get to the groundwater almost anywhere. For the home garden, however, wells that reach deeper than twenty meters are generally not worthwhile. Depending on the nature of the soil, you should expect costs of around 100 dollar per meter of drilling depth. A narrow plastic pipe is lowered into the borehole and has slots at the lower end through which the water penetrates. The space between the pipe and the borehole is filled with gravel. It acts as a filter and is intended to prevent the openings in the pipe from clogging. As a rule, a special submersible pressure pump is lowered into the pipe on a fastening rope.
Drill a well yourself
Hobby gardeners with their own well on the property can save a lot of money in dry summers. Two questions must be clarified beforehand:
- Are there water deposits at an accessible depth on the property?
- Does the drilling of a well for pumping groundwater require notification or approval?
The first question cannot always be answered reliably. If groundwater pumps are installed in the neighborhood, there will most likely be water on your property as well. If you live in a river valley or in the North German Plain, you generally have a good chance – but you sometimes have to drill more than 100 meters deep on terminal moraines in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. In addition, the subsoil here often contains so many larger stones that hardly anything can be done without engine power. In case of doubt: It depends on an attempt. The legal situation differs depending on the district: Often you need a permit or at least you have to register the project. In some districts, water pumping for garden irrigation is not subject to registration. Your responsible district or city administration can provide you with binding information.
On sandy to loamy soil with few stones and a high groundwater level, you can – provided you are in good physical condition – drill a well with an inexpensive hand rod. Typically, when you come across a larger rock, you have to abandon drilling and start over elsewhere. With a little luck, smaller ones slide into the helix and can be pulled out of the hole with the soil. As soon as you bring out moist sand, the drilling work is finished. You can drill a little deeper, but at some point you will no longer be able to advance because the water causes the walls of the borehole to collapse.
Casing a borehole
When it comes to piping, the cheapest solution is commercially available KG pipes (basic sewer pipes) made of PVC. Avoid using the smallest diameter – this gives you the option of lowering a thinner inner tube later in case the larger one gets stuck. Suitable sizes are DN 125 or DN 150 with an outer diameter of 125 or 150 millimeters. Commercially available deep well pumps are usually designed for inner widths of 100 millimeters, but a little more leeway does not hurt. The ready-made pipe string is inserted into the borehole, then it goes to the so-called “Plunschen”: You let a gravel pump – the Plunsche – down into the pipe on a rope, pull it up several times and let it fall down again. Every time it takes in some muddy water. After a dozen strokes, pull the gravel pump out of the borehole and empty it. The KG pipe slides by itself at the beginning and can be extended with additional segments if necessary. If it is already stuck in the wet sand below, you have to help with gentle blows of the hammer to push it further. If the pipe gets stuck too shallow, you can lower a second, thinner strand if the inside diameter is sufficient and thus achieve the required depth. When the groundwater is two to three meters high in the pipe, the most difficult part of the work is over.
The water level can be measured with a heavy piece of metal that is lowered to the bottom on a dry cord. You should then remove loose sand from your well with an external irrigation pump. Let the suction hose down to a meter above the ground and pump the water up for several hours at a slowly increasing delivery rate. An upstream filter protects the pump from damage caused by the grains of sand. With the free pumping, you also test whether the well is delivering the required amount of water – then the feed pump is lowered.
Deep well pumps are a good choice for pumping groundwater. They belong to the so-called submersible pumps, which means that the entire pump housing is located below the water level. Commercially available models provide almost 1,000 watts, pump up to 6,000 liters of water per hour and manage 50 meters of delivery height. They are built so narrow that they fit into well pipes from ten centimeters in diameter (DN 100). Hang the pump on a sturdy, rot-resistant rope about one meter above the bottom of the well so that it does not suck in sand and can be removed at any time in the event of a malfunction – the power cable and hose are not suitable for hanging! The pumps are equipped with a pressure switch: when the valve of the tap or garden hose is opened and the water pressure drops, the motor starts automatically and delivers new water.