Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ding dong, the ditch is dug. Er, I mean rose bed.

Bottom line is, it was a witch of a ditch! I have a whopping 102 inches between the driveway and the property line. I had killed the grass last September (sorry, neighbors), meaning to work on it in a timely manner, but this was as timely as I could manage. The bed is only about 12 feet long. No sense in digging out shaded ground unless you're name is Hercules, and mine is definitely not even though my 85-year-old neighbor across the street thinks otherwise. I must admit to feeling pretty good about myself when I quit working last Sunday although I will also admit I hobbled to a very hot shower and was in bed by 6 o'clock. I figured I'd be barely moving on Monday morning, but au contraire, I felt fine and even felt better about being 60. This digging may well have put to bed my feeling of having one foot in the grave!

Back when it was still hot weather, I did some digging and pick-axing in this bed. Oh, what an agony. The ground was dry and rock hard and bearing abundant chunks of limestone, i.e., rocks! I have been spoiled by soft and penetrable Florida sand. Hitting a rock causes a sort of cartoon effect in me like Roadrunner hitting a wall. Very aggravating. I managed to remove one shovel depth in that attempt.

This time I knew it would be a double dig project. Dig out a shovel deep and heave it in the pickup. When that level's done, go back and repeat. I think I got about six running feet done when I figured the truck needed to be emptied. Driving around to the field behind my house, I was a tad concerned about what DH would think with the front end of the truck so far up in the air. Then each and every shovelful that went into the truck had to come out of the truck. Did I say double-dig? Quadruple-dig seems more accurate. (Just a note: I don't just dump it but neatly fill in low spots back there.) Then back to the driveway and digging another couple of rows, but the suspense was killing me. I had to see what was below the surface of the next layer which is my M.O. My particular brand of attention deficit disorder only allows me to continue doing the same behavior for so long at which point I must deviate and do something different.

So as I said, my intention was to dig and flip and break up. Hmm, I hear you asking, what breaking up is needed for sand? That is a great question. The answer is none. This ground, however, was not normal sand. It was more like mortar mix. Awful stuff! Dead stuff. No bugs, no worms, no roots. Yuck! Doing the flip-and-break-up revealed more thick layers of white clay and something that I think is called marl, a hodgepodge of compressed strata of mostly black 'something' mixed with little chunks of white and orange clay. I just couldn't leave all those chunks of clay in the ground, broken up or not, so I had basketball practice with the chunks and the truck. I stink at basketball. Again I was concerned about what DH would think if he heard all those dings on the truck, but I was getting tired and those chunks were heavy. One of them was as big as a football. I walked that one to the truck. From that 7'x8' area I filled up the truck again, and drove my super cool truck with its nose in the air back into the field. Miraculously, I got it empty again. Monday I moved another truckload of the next three linear feet, and today I finished the digging, but the truck sits full in the driveway, nose high in the air, waiting for me to return tomorrow. Whoa, there definitely should have been more fanfare with that statement.
**I finished the digging.**

This is where I must advise you not to do as I do but to find the right way to do it. As I was looking at all this yucky high-pH clay, my brain decided to apply a lot of powdered sulfur to the bottom of the bed, figuring that any roots that went that deep would find some acidity, so that's what I did. And even though they say earthworms will just appear in a garden bed that's been organically prepared (and I've seen it happen), I knew no right thinking earthworm was ever going to put his tootsies in this stuff, so I also decided to apply a whole lot of Milorganite to the bottom along with ground pine bark (soil conditioner) in hopes of this nutritious layer migrating down even deeper, as everything else does in Florida soil. Afterwards I googled 'calcareous clay', and sadly, I read that it neutralizes sulfur, so today I threw on more sulfur. Like I said, you probably shouldn't do this, but it made sense to me.

The next step toward 'White Maman Cochet' and 'Mrs B R Cant' having a permanent and cozy home is for DH to go get some composted horse manure from the sweet lady with a broodmare farm who loads it into our truck and doesn't charge a nickel for it. Yes, sir, she's the sweetest.

P.S. Here's a couple of pics of the new bed. I measured the bed when I was done. It's actually 14 feet long and narrows to 5 feet at the curb. I'm thinking I'll put White MC toward the street end and Mrs B R on the inside. I had trouble finding the surveyor's stake which is sunk several inches below the surface which is why the edge bulges on the right side. I've got five Evergreen Giant Liriopes to arrange on the street edge as I did on the other side of the driveway in the main circular garden. The area behind this bed and alongside the house will be covered with weedcloth and pine bark mulch. I have to cut off those oak suckers and heavily cover and mulch that area around the tree trunk, desperately hoping to limit the continued emergence of them. If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them. I may add a picket fence on the property line for a future climber - but maybe not.


  1. Hi Sherry
    just sayin hello.
    enjoying looking at your garden too since mine is currently rubble and mud.
    Digging...Ha! I do it all using spades, forks, bars, pickaxes, mattocks or even kangos. Best of all is being able to get a digger on site. Reuben, my sweetheart, a builder by trade but with a dodgy back, is my work partner too - we design and build gardens. Anyway, I am the labourer whilst he does the fiddly bricklaying and fencing. I mix up the cement, ballast, sand etc, dig footings, clear and barrow everything. We share woodworking and planting. Yep, I am seriously wondering how long a 55 year old body can keep this up. Cheers, Suzy

  2. I had no idea you have to work this hard to make a new bed in Florida sand! All of this toil makes me very thankful for my Virginia old-farm-soil clay loam. We both know that your roses will thank you for this many times over, by growin big and beautiful.

  3. Wow, what a lot of work, Sherry! I hope your new bed will turn out well, and the roses will be happy. I wish I could find more room in my yard...

  4. Suzy, who knew growing plants was so labor intensive, not to mention expensive?? I guess our perspective is "if you're going to do a job, do it right...and cheap." Your labor and mine are the cheapest assets we have and the most valuable. Yay, for non-dodgy backs!
    Connie, the ground in this particular bed is the worst I have ever put a shovel in. I think it was providential that this bed came last, long after I was desperately hooked on roses. Had it come first, I'd still be enjoying my old "all things fabric" hobby. Like I said though, normally digging in Florida is a breeze.
    Masha, at moments we all wish we had more. I certainly wish you had all the room you wanted, too, but I'm also glad I'm done. Now I get to simply tend them.

  5. Oooh. Lots of work. I'm sure it will be worth it all once those roses get going. Pictures, we want pictures! I just have sand here along the path, no stones or clay. Tree roots are the toughest thing I run into when digging. This is the time of year for a project like this. You'll be thanking yourself this summer when you get to enjoy the roses and don't have the back-breaking work to do in the heat.

  6. Thanks for the reminder, NanaK. I was going to take pics earlier and got sidetracked with sweeping the driveway. I'll add them to the original post.

  7. Sherry ~ That was a lot of work, but will be well worth your efforts when you see your lovely roses blooming.

    You are an inspiration.