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 How to Dig a Gypsy Well 

About 2 years ago, I got stuck on the side of the road in the middle of summer.  A tire went flat and I had forgotten that my mother borrowed my jack -- she didn't put it back.  I was in an area so desloate (fairly common for northern Michigan) that I didn't get cell service either.  Did I mention that it was about 96 degrees outside?  For some reason, I left my BOB at home that day too. So, snacks and water were out of the question.  I would have been in big trouble if I had to spend all day out there.  I was not a happy camper.  Anyway, I had to walk to a phone to call someone to come get me.  It wasn't all bad though.  Michigan is rife with rivers and streams - just about everywere.  It's a good thing I knew how to dig a gypsy well -- my day would have been a lot worse had I been dehydrated on top of all the other crap Karma had in store for me that day.


Moving on.


Gypsy Wells are pits dug right next to the water using the sand between your pit and the river’s edge as a natural filter. It’s not the best answer but it will help rid the water of some toxins.


Here’s what happens when you dig a Gypsy Well: in theory, the sand layers between the river and the pit you’ve dug filter out microorganisms, bacteria, fungi and other potentially harmful – itty bitty – toxins. This is ultimately called capillary action where the water seeps through the sand.


To dig a Gypsie well and make the water somewhat safer, you’ll need:


  • A bunch of rocks


  • A shovel, spoon, stick or clam shell


  • A small fire




Step 1: Chose a place along the river that appears to have good flow.


Step 2: Dig a 4 to 6 inch hole into the ground about 6 to 7 inches away from the river’s edge. Use a shovel, not your hands. There are sometimes tiny shells, broken bits of glass from careless people, metal caps and so forth in the sand that can cut your fingers. Getting a cut can lead to a nasty infection.  Use a spoon, clam shell or a stick if you don’t have a shovel on hand.


Step 3: You should start to see the water filter in through the bottom of your pit within a minute or two depending on how close you dug to the water’s edge. Give it about 10 minutes to completely fill.


**Some experts argue that this is enough in an emergency situation. Sand is a natural filter and in theory, does help to remove some impurities. Just know this – it doesn’t always work. If you have the means to boil the water (even with rocks as described below) and or filter your water, do it.


Step 4: Put rocks onto a fire and let them get really hot. Depending on what you used to make the fire, your rocks should be hot by the time your Gypsie well reaches its maximum height (10 to 15 minutes).


Step 5: Add your rocks into the pit and wait for it to boil. Let it boil for at least 1 to 3 minutes.


Step 6: If you have access to cloth or maybe an old tee shirt, you may want to filter out the sand and rocks. After it’s been boiled for 1 to 3 minutes, the water should be safe to drink.