The Fourth Corner

Friday, Nov. 14, 2003 – 4:22 p.m.

2003-11-14 4:22

As I have mentioned in the past, I have basically run out of room for new roses. Unless I wish to “get rid of” some bushes, I only have 2 or 3 spaces in which I could plant new bushes this spring. Therefore, there is only one real solution…. build more beds!

Fall is the perfect time to engage in the construction of new beds. The weather has cooled off (finally) enough that one can work outside without getting drenched in sweat by just walking across the yard and preparing the soil in the fall gives it a chance to settle and ‘mellow” before introducing the plants into it. Let us not forget that the soil is actually a living community; working it up in the fall gives the microbes that should exist a chance to get established. After all, the soil one gets delivered is generally pretty sterile. In addition, if you need to do anything like adjust the pH, it takes time the inorganic supplements to act.

Given the state of the natural ground (calling it soil might be stretching it a bit…) in my yard, I have chosen to do raised beds. I find that this allows me to delineate the borders of the beds more easily, gives me reasonably good drainage and I don’t have to dig up the clay that is my yard. More on digging clay later…

A number of years ago, Muir and I laid out a plan for a garden with the elements of a formal garden. Each of the four corners of the garden is a somewhat triangular bed and there is a diamond shaped bed in the center. Between the beds are paths that are about 4 ft wide. It has taken until this fall to complete all the beds. The walls of the beds are landscaping timbers, stacked and nailed four high. This gives me a bed that is 12 inches deep. Since I dug out the grass within the area of each bed, only the top three timbers actually show.

Several weeks ago I remeasured and staked the area of the 4th corner bed. For years, there has been a stake in that corner and now I finally used it! Three weeks ago I started digging out the grass. That took a couple of hours total time but was quite tiring and muddy work. Weekend before last, I bought the timbers and laid down each course. It actually went pretty quickly… I guess practice makes perfect.

One of the mistakes I made in the past was to wait too long before filling the bed with dirt. This let the grass and other weeds reestablish themselves in the bottom of the bed. Last time, I sprayed the bottom with Roundup several days before putting the dirt in it. I have often wondered if that adversely affected the growth of the bushes I later planted in that bed. Well, I didn’t want to repeat that and I also wanted to get the soil in as soon as I could so it could settle.

As I saw it, I had four options for getting dirt: Order a dump truck load (which is what I did last time) and have them back directly up to the bed or dump it in the driveway (which was what we did the first time); borrow/rent a pickup truck and go get the dirt myself; buy it by the bag and get it 8 or 10 bags at a time, hauling it in my car; or have all the bags delivered on a couple of pallets. The problem with having the dump truck back across the yard and dump directly into the bed is that the truck left large tire tracks the last time. Having them dump it in the driveway means that I have to shovel it into the cart, haul it across the yard, and dump it into the bed. That’s a lot of work with a shovel and the cart is good for hauling but not for dumping. Borrowing a truck still has me shovelling the dirt out of the back and possibly leaving tracks in the yard (given how wet it HAS been, tracks are almost guaranteeed… the garden cart has been leaving tracks this year). That leaves getting it by the bag. This is probably the most expensive way to buy dirt… however, it seems to be a higher quality and I can also buy manure and compost to mix in with it to make it better. Well, I figured that I would save the gas and wear and tear on my car and just have them deliver it.

I calculated the area of the bed to be about 85 square feet, so with it being 12 inches deep, I needed 85 cubic feet of dirt. A bag of topsoil is generally 40 lbs and about 1 cubic foot in volume. I figured I would spade up the clay and amend it with some peat moss and gypsum so I bought 3 bales of peat moss (each being just under 3 cubic feet) and a 40 lb bag of gypsum to amend the undersoil and then got 27 bags of topsoil, 18 bags of compost and another 18 bags of cow manure (0.5-0.5-0.5). We will see how good my estimates were when I actually get the soil in place.

It had been my plan to spade up the clay, add the amendments, and rent a tiller to mix it all together. Alas, Saturday it rained (and was just plain cold!) so I didn’t get started on spading up the clay until the afternoon.

I learned two things upon getting out there:

  1. Water had pooled in the lower corner of the bed…. so I was going to have some drainage problems even with the raised beds (digging out the existing grass had a disadvantage)

  2. The red/orange clay layer is only about 5 inches deep. The problem is that the layer under it is gray clay that is really hard. [sigh] So there I was with the red clay the consistency of fudge (and quite sticky) and the layer underneath hard clay.

I have been using the word “spade” to describe what I was doing but I was actually using a garden fork at this point. I managed to get the drier portion of the bed broken up into large clods and, using the fork, poked a bunch of holes in the area with standing water to encourage drainage. The soil was ordered from Home Depot for delivery Monday afternoon. I ended up taking the afternoon off from work so I could be here. However, the guy didn’t make it over here until about 6:15pm. Still, I got my three pallets of soil, compost and manure. Now I just need to get it over into the bed… a task that will probably have to wait until Thanksgiving weekend.

I just realized another good reason to get the soil in the new bed. It will allow me to “bury” the bushes that I currently have in pots. I was listening to the radio the other day and they were talking about fall gardening and planting and one of the points that they made is that our ground rarely freezes but the soil in pots is far more exposed so this can be significant threat, unless one takes steps to protect the pots. One of the ways is to bury the pot in the ground for the winter, then pull it out in spring. Sound like I have a perfect opportunity here.

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