Dig it!

For the last several days, when I've not been busy being ill, I've been working alongside the house to install a large planting bed.

This is not the simple exercise it may sound.


The area is partly what used to be covered by the deck (under the new bay window). The entire area is about 9 feet by 30 feet, slopes a little ungently, has a pair of nasty crape myrtle trees growing in it, and contains our air handler as well. Yuck. Plus, the soil is basically hard clay. Down to about four inches, it might be amendable, with enough patience and compost. Below that, it's hardpan.

So the first step of the process is boxing out the bed with old railroad ties (which I love as borders. I had nearly enough left over from Emma's play yard to skirt the whole area.


Next, the serious digging begins. I'm removing enough soil (or "proto-sandstone") to leave with with roughly a foot of total depth to the top of the ties. (That crack in the tie above? Pulled shut with a 10-inch galvanized lag screw I had left over from something else...that was fun, let me tell you.)


Here you can see the basic outcome. Essentially, I'm building a huge flowerpot. I'll backfill this with good topsoil from the landscape center up the street. They're due to deliver five cubic yards on Wednesday. I'm hoping to have everything dug out so they can drop it right into the bed. In the meantime, I'm finding lots of interesting stuff -- old copper and iron gas pipe, a complete place-setting of flatware, old toy balls, assorted bits of siding trimmings, half bricks, and so on.

Oh, and a skink. Found him in the mulch one evening while Emma was playing nearby. Once I got him calmed down, he discovered that my hand was a welcome source of heat in the evening cool, so he stuck around.


At first, Emma was a little reticent about touching him.


That went away soon enough. To the skink's chagrin, doubtless. We let him go in an old oak stump nearby, and I dropped a left-over half cubic yard of topsoil into the bottom of the new bed.


Not bad.


Now I'm working on digging out the rest of it. The crape myrtle came out more easily than I'd anticipated. Biggest problem so far is the layer of gray hardpan about 10 inches below the surface. It's not diggable. It can be scraped off, flaked off, or chipped off, but digging out a good spade full of this stuff just isn't on the cards. Still, things are moving along.


I'm setting the ties as I move up the bed, pinning them into the clay with 18 inch section of 3/8" rebar. I'm also learning and filling a quarter-cubic-meter barrow full to the top with clay and trying to push it uphill is a losing battle. So I'm moving smaller loads at a time. Hopefully, I'll have this all done by next weekend. I'll post more pics then.