Saturday, March 24, 2012

From the springhouse to the asparagus patch

Last fall the springhouse seemed about to run dry; there was but a small puddle in the little catch basin at the rear of the springhouse that Hal Strickland had poured to trap sweet springwater that collected from seeps and springs near the foot of a steep hill.  One reason I thought the thing was drying up is that the 200-foot hose supplying the tap on a wooden sink down by the garden had quit flowing. But it was just running a little slow and low.

Some weeks ago I realized there was plenty of water in the springhouse; and began a ritual of early spring: trying to find out where the water hose was stopped up. Last year it took four days before I finally hauled a pressure tank down there and blew the line out with a blast of 100 psi air and got the H2O rolling again. 

This year I couldn't figure it out. When I poured water into a funnel stuck in the water intake line up at the springhouse, the water spiraled out quickly. But the far end of the line down by the garden gave out nothing.  The mid-run break in the line, deliberately cut so we could easily connect and disconnect it around a copper bushing, was intact. Where was the water going?

It finally dawned on me yesterday that a crumbling concrete catch basin just outside the springhouse -- built at least half a century ago by a former owner in hopes of collecting water from other little springs in the immediate vicinity -- might be part of the problem. I pulled off layers of old grass and rubble and hardware cloth and crumbling concrete mixed with field stone -- and found another place where the half-inch black plastic line had been cut and equipped with a bushing to reconnect it. In this case the feed line was separated from the rest of the hose, and water was bubbling merrily away into the mud. 

Then I remembered a warm day early last fall, just before I noticed the line had stopped flowing, I had been cutting weeds around the springhouse and had felt the earth give way in a couple places. That was probably me stepping on the unseen line, hidden by high grass and mud, just hard enough to uncouple the line, stop the flow to the sink, and leave me with a a six-month mystery to solve.  

It was a joyous moment to reconnect it all, turn the tap on the old wooden trough and see that water flowing strong and clear once again.

Thence to the asparagus patch.  Usually we clean off the old patch -- planted decades ago on the site of what once was a small dairy barn -- sometime in April. Fran Strickland usually supervises, whacking away at each base of the old asparagus ferns after the garden was let go to seed the previous June. But this was my first good look at it since a recent trip down to Western North Carolina -- and I was horrified to see asparagus was already coming up among the rattly old dried-out fern stalks.  Well, ok, not a lot of asparagus.  Two stalks, actually, but one of them was 1/2 inch thick and 21 inches high.  The other was thinner than a Palomino pencil, but nearly 12 inches high.

So we did it the non-cowboy way. Instead of whacking off each stalk of dessicated fernery, I got out the mulching mower and laid waste to it all in about a dozen passes.  The air was full of dried stuff, brown dirt, muffled oaths, and bits and pieces of the mob of invasive raspberry bushes that have been moving into the neighborhood, intent on controlling the asparagus business.

 This is not the proper way to clear an asparagus field, but the weather forecasters were predicting a soaking Saturday rain and more on Sunday, and we decided emergency measure were in order.  I fired up the old Toro and mowed the fencelines outside the patch and inside the patch and knocked down everything that looked like it could take a rotary blade.  Even mowed a rock or two, which made an awful noise, but in an hour or so a job that usually takes a couple days was done. Or more or less done.

As I look out my window through the fog and rain toward the asparagus patch, I can almost see hundreds of asparagus spears, fattened by the heavy rain and encouraged by the unseasonably warm temps of the past few weeks, pushing  their knobby green periscopes toward the surface and emerging to scan the landscape.  I can just about taste 'em, too.

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