"Adventures in" -- Check That -- "Errors in Gardening!"

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The sun is shining! The ground is drying out! It's time to get out there and DIG to my heart's content!

Not so fast, Needlemeyer.

Unfortunately -- I came up with a perfect time to get infected with a disease known simply as "The Crud." You know what this is. Chances are -- you've already had it. You know? The symptoms include hacking cough, congested chest, the chills? Just when you think you're coming out of it -- it suddenly gets worse? Or -- when you think that it can't possibly get any worse -- it does?

Yeah -- that's "The Crud." And I have it. Lucky me. Just in time for Spring!

What is a gardener to do then? Unfortunately -- not much. I got this case of "The Crud" from the wonderful wife that is Venus -- who did battle with it all last week. This "stuff" has been making the rounds at work -- knocking people out and off the job for anywhere from a week to ten days. It's just downright nasty. In response -- I had been consuming two oranges -- or an orange and an apple -- every morning for months on end -- hoping I could fight this off.

You know the old saying? An Apple a Day Keeps The Crud Away? No, Needlemeyer, it don't.

There would be no post-hole digging this past weekend. Besides -- the Friday rain had pretty much washed away all possibilities of installing the second and final half of my table grape arbor. I mean -- it's tough to sink posts when the two foot post-holes you dug the previous weekend are filled with two feet of rainwater.

What's that? Bale them out you say? With what? A soup ladle? Be my guest. Besides -- I tried that. The ground was so saturated with rainfall that whatever water got taken out was immediately replaced. No -- there would be no sinking of the posts this weekend.

So -- what is a sick and frustrated gardener to do then? Just WASTE AWAY the first sunny and nice weekend of 2010? Stay inside and watch TV? Take a long afternoon nap? HEY -- THE SUN IS SHINING!

Well -- there was one project that I could do that wouldn't take much physical effort. See that nice little section of bare clay soil to the right? That's a small patch of ground against the back side of the house that desperately screamed for beautification. This patch of ground has frustrated me for quite some time. At first -- I had planted a camelia bush back there -- thinking that the shade of the house would protect it.

Bad idea. Oh -- the camelia got protection alright. But it was protected from the morning sun. By the time the clock hit High Noon -- that camelia got a full-on blast of summer heat and summer sunshine. It wilted against the heat. Leaves would burn and fall off. Nope -- as the wife pointed out last spring -- it wasn't going work. So I dug that camelia up -- moved it to another shady location (where it's very happy I might add and finally bloomed for the first time this year) -- and replaced that camelia with two tree roses.

While the roses did well -- as you can tell -- that area needed "more." That hard clay soil just looks ugly -- plus the weeds get to be problematic. The retired-rocket-scientist father-in-law who also serves as my landscaping inspiration suggested filling the area in with bark -- which wasn't a bad idea -- but I wanted more.

I do have a growing pile or collection of scrap wood from earlier box building efforts. Why not use that to build a small flower box the retired-rocket-scientist father-in-law suggested? I must admit -- it wasn't a bad idea. I did have four, two-foot long sections of 4X4 posts that I had shaved off from the posts I had purchased earlier for arbor-building efforts. Why not "recycle and re-use?"

It was about that point where the retired-rocket-scientist father-in-law asked the simple question of: Why did you purchase four, eight-foot long, 4X4 posts and cut two feet off?

My answer: "Because I needed six-foot posts for the arbor, Gale."

His response: "Why didn't you buy two, 12-foot long, 4X4 posts and just cut them in half?

I hate engineers. They're just so smug. And they're so right. As I stood there -- soaking in his simple advice -- I realized he was right. It was right about that time that I started to feel like -- and resemble -- a Jack ***. DOH! "Error in Gardening" Mistake #1.

It was also about that time that I realized that I didn't have quite enough of those two-foot sections to make the flower bed that I wanted. What I wanted was to be four feet long and two feet wide. That would require six, two-foot long sections of leftover 4X4 posts. I only had four.

Know what this means?

Back to Home Depot! Because -- Bill Bird just can't make ONE gardening error. There's got to be SEVERAL. Sooooo -- back I went -- fervently hoping the entire time that Home Depot did not stock the 12 foot sections of 4X4 posts that the retired-rocket-scientist father-in-law had suggested. Guess what? They did. DOH! "Error in Gardening" Mistake #2.

But I needed those two-foot sections that are the result of buying eight-foot-long, 4X4 posts and cutting two feet off. And so -- that's what I did. I bought four more eight-foot-long, 4X4 posts -- had our handy-dandy Home Depot associate cut two feet off each -- loaded everything into the car and headed home. It wasn't a terrible waste you understand. The six foot sections of 4X4 posts will be used for the second arbor. And I finally had the missing two-foot sections I would need to complete the flower bed project.

To the engineers who are reading this post (Garry) -- you have probably guessed by now what "Error in Gardening" Mistake #3 will be. I needed two, two-foot sections of 4X4 posts to complete the flower bed project. But -- instead of coming home with just two -- I came home with four. DOH! Suddenly -- the size of the flower bed in question expanded to six feet in length.

As I began to assemble this bed with my handy-dandy Makita drill and gold screws -- it suddenly dawned on me that I didn't have the necessary number of metal straps and reinforcements this "flower bed" in question would need. These pressure-treated posts are much heavier than the "Lincoln Logs" I had used earlier for other box building efforts. What I had at home just wasn't going to suffice. The bed in question to your right would need more -- otherwise it would just fall apart.

Back to Home Depot, Needlemeyer! I needed tin straps. I needed metal straps. Fortunately -- this was a short trip. There would be no "Error in Gardening" Mistake #4 (unless you want to call this entire endeavour one huge mistake). Putting together a box like this is quite easy -- and moves quickly -- when you finally have the parts that you need. Although I was tiring quickly from "The Crud," work progressed smoothly from that point forward.

But -- building the box is only half of the project. It's also the easiest part of the project. Moving the bed into the correct space -- centering the bed -- and finally -- leveling the bed isn't easy. The hard clay soil isn't level. Plus -- the box needed to be even with the surrounding concrete -- which it wasn't. And -- you can't forget about irrigation. Installation of drip irrigation must be done before the first cup of planter mix is placed inside the bed -- otherwise -- you've got problems.

Hard work? You bet! But at some point -- you do begin to see the payoff. Venus and I have spent years installing different gardening beds for different purposes. Some hold our famous heirloom tomatoes. Still others hold potatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, cucumbers, okra, lettuce and other greens.

We've dug multiple holes and built other boxes for fruit trees and fruit bushes like blueberries, thornless blackberries and thornless boysenberries. While we still have room to add a few other things (I never did get around to planting an Owari Satsuma Mandarin) -- the last part of our landscaping effort involves "beautification." It's the last step in any landscaping process. You get the essentials in first -- and beautify later. You don't want to dig up a lawn later -- or rake away bark or landscaping rock -- because you forgot something important.

And so -- this is how this one small area looks now. It's the one section of the yard that I can point too with all honesty and say "job well done." It's a small section to be sure -- maybe four feet wide and ten feet long -- but it's done now. Soon -- this is how the rest of the yard will look. We're not "there" yet. It's going to take another year or three before we can say "we're done here."

But we're getting there, Needlemeyer. We're getting there.


Greg Damitz said...

You'll never "be there" just accept it. You'll have it looking beautiful and you'll realize you want to change it. It's just the way it goes. That section does look great. Good job.



Joe the Farmer said...

Those 4x4's for the flowers... is it treated lumber?

I am planning a big project next weekend and building (9) 8'x4' raised beds for vegetables. I hear conflicting reports about using treated lumber (the green stuff) for veggies... what do you think?

Thanks, Joe

Bill Bird said...


That is treated lumber (pressure treated 4X4 posts) and I'm not sure if that's what you want to use for a raised gardening bed.

Then again -- these posts are used all the time for wine and table grape arbors -- with vines planted very close to these treated posts.

Short answer: I don't know.

Fred Hoffman said...

Bill added mulch! Bill added mulch! YAY!

Garry said...


we ALL have had that ah-shucks moment when we realized the error in our ways on cutting wood. no worries, that redwood is a renewable resource and you didnt cause harm to old growth forests by using it.

the yard is looking good and now you have some more experience under your tool-mans belt - before you know it, there will be a chance that you will have tips to help the father-in-law.