Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Tale of Two Beds

Normally, I am a hand-tool kind of gal. Yikes, that sounds a little racy. How about, normally I'm a double digger? I like digging in the dirt. I like running the soil through my hands, breaking up clods. I became a gardener after spading and forking my back 50 feet into a producing vegetable garden.

So, it was hard for me to admit defeat, but with a shrinking gardening WOO (window of opportunity); a new bed composed of what can only be described as rock; and a dog who wasn't performing up to expectations, I rented my first tiller. The Honda mid-tine tiller.

The dog didn't give up her job without a fight. She blocked the tiller's path. I now call her Luddite.

I safety geared up. I did not realize until I was uploading this picture that the glove is flipping me off. I guess it had a better idea of what I lie ahead than I did. I should have taken heed.

The salesperson at the big box store talked me out of the smaller tiller and tried to get me to rent the big boy, but I went middle of the road. I mean, if I could dig three inches in the new bed with my muscles, shouldn't a medium-sized tiller work miracles?

It didn't.

My rock-, glass-, and nail-filled yard did not magically transform into beautiful loam with one pass of the big gun.

The truth is much dirtier, as I was I, from head to toe. Unlike Bonnie, I will not post a picture of me tilling. I do have proof of my work but even without scratch-and-sniff Internet, the sweat stains would disgust you and that is definitely not a photo in its prime.

The tiller uncovered more broken glass, rusty nails, and rocks than I had found previously in the whole yard--and I had already filled a large trashcan full. After each pass, I raked the debris out of the way to allow the tiller blades to sink farther in. At first, I picked up each piece of glass and metal. After one hour, I decided to only pick up glass at least one inch by one inch and nails longer than two inches.

Nevertheless, my four-hour rental quickly rolled into a 24-hour rental.

My work was also not without collateral damage.

The other bed I decided to prepare was a bit easier to till. When I told my husband I was going to title this post "A Tale of Two Beds," he asked if the first line would be "It was the best of beds; it was the worst of beds." Not exactly.

The "best" of beds was not without its problems, most notably the Pipe to Nowhere.

A few years ago we found water pooling in the area of the new bed. Our neighbor happened to have a plumber working at her house so we asked him to take a look. He thought that the city's water line was backing up into our yard so he suggested we call the city first, as the city would have to pay if the problem was its pipe.

A city guy showed up--on a Sunday afternoon no less-- and couldn't figure it out. Our water lines drain to the lines in the front of our house, not the rear. He called some colleagues, and the next thing I knew five city workers were congregating in our backyard marveling over the Pipe to Nowhere. They all wanted to know what the pipe was doing and where it was connected, but after checking old files, they couldn't figure it out.

They all thought it was pretty cool but left without doing anything.

They guessed that we could take the pipe out without any problem. Key word: guessed. So the pipe stayed there until yesterday. With help from a tiller, a fork, a spade, a husband, and a dog, I removed 10 feet of the pipe.

So far, so good. We'll see what happens if Hurricane Ike brings us a lot of rain.

The "best" bed is on the left, the "worst" bed is on the right. For the "best" bed, I think I can get away with just adding more compost, but for the "worst" bed I am going to have to add some actual soil.

Stay tuned for planting: an herb and vegetable bed, maybe with some pretty perennials thrown in will fill the "best" bed; the "worst" bed gets less sun than I previously thought so it will get a mix of part-shade perennials.


  1. These are my favorite types of posts in all of garden blogdom--the kind that show the real work of gardening. Why? Because when I see endless photos of perfect gardens all abloom, I get discouraged. Those blogs don't seem to have anything in common with my experience.

    But when I see people struggling with jobs that take ten times longer than planned, running into unexpected setbacks and plowing through ground that looks like an abandoned parking lot--then I can relate! Then I know I am not alone. Then I'm satisfied that this is the way of things and I'm inspired to carry on.

    I'm the kind of person who likes digging by hand, too, but since I let my front lawn die this summer, I've been thinking or renting a tiller to dig it up. You've given me pause.

    Thanks for the inspiration, the photos of the "dirt", and good luck with your new beds.

  2. I rented a tiller to make my front garden 7 years ago. It was pretty worthless at tearing up hard-packed clay clogged with dead Bermuda grass. So I added about 8 inches of composted topsoil from the Natural Gardener (the good stuff!) and whoo-boy, that made a world of difference. I was able to plant the small 1-gallon and 4" pots without even hitting the clay, and for the bigger plants and trees, I had built-in compost at the ready to top them off. The baby garden responded with gusto.

    So I highly recommend the addition of a few inches of good soil. You'll see the results in faster-growing, healthier plants right away. Good luck, and happy digging.

  3. Awesome project. I especially like your dog making his hiney into the last photo. And that pipe- how crazy is that! Although I will admit that I found some "wireds to nowhere" when I created my last round of beds.

  4. Wow, you are really determined. I would have covered the whole darned thing in crushed granite and called it a day! I admire your tenacity. I always find funny stuff when I dig up beds-- a die, plastic toys, beads-- but never an entire pipe to nowhere! I wonder what other archeological finds await?

  5. The glove flipping the finger was the best! laughed out loud when I read then looked at the funny. It seems we share a lot in common with our soil and nails and glass. Check out some of my latest treasures. I am almost ready to bring in some soil, waiting for the temps to drop a little more.

  6. Vertie, I know you're glad to have the worst of the hard work behind you. I wish you'd gotten some rain to settle those beds in a bit, tho!

    I learned the hard way that a small tiller and St. Augustine grass are not a good mix. Ditto for Bermuda Grass. I think a pickaxe actually worked better for removing grass to create beds than any other tool I've used.