Dirt

 

I have been told that dirt is what gets picked up by a vacuum cleaner, and soil in a medium in which to grow plants.  Semantics aside, I prefer the word dirt.  What is under my fingernails, and inside my socks is dirt.  That dried material on the end of my spade or on my trowel is dirt.  What cakes the floormats in my truck is dirt. What the dogs track in-dirt.  What provides a home for my trees, shrubs, and perennials, and my container plants-dirt. 

Dirt is a big word.  Some dirt is cream white, and grainy-do not count on it to retain water.  Sand is a type of dirt whose particles do not stick together.  Water drains right through it. On the beach off Tybee Island near Savannah, Georgia-sand.  It drains and dries within seconds of its exposure to waves.  A sand beach on the ocean-one of life’s great pleasures. What grows there?  Tufts of grass.  Those tufts always look stressed, and tired, I might add.  Sand is a lean medium.    

Some dirt is an iridescent colored and greasy material that sticks to everything-shovels, hands-and roots that are gasping for a little air.  Clay is a very heavy water retentive dirt.  Once it dries out, it is hard-bone hard.  Terra cotta pots are made from clay dirt.  The word terra cotta, literally translated, means fired earth.  Very heavy clay dirt is loath to give up its water.  Farmers use clay to line the bottom of ponds built to provide water for livestock.  I have only built one pond that was lined in clay.  I had a client who was game.  12 inches of clay lined her pond.  Once all of the air was compacted out of it, the water level in the pond stayed fairly constant. The heavy clay soil pictured above-like the bottom of that pond.  

Both sand and clay-dead dirt.  I don’t mean this, really.  Both are composed of minerals-natural elements.  Silica, iron, manganese and the like. A ball of clay that I have squeezed all of the air out of-rock like. My clay rock is not so different than a granite rock,  in theory.  Granite is just harder than clay.  Formed clay, like granite, has been a building material for centuries.  Drain pipes, chimney flues and floor tiles-made of fired clay. Natural rock may be inert, but it is has a history that one could call a life.  Some geologists think that rock is a living organism.  This may be true in the abstract, but would you expect a columbine to take hold in a stack of quarry tile?  Not likely. 

Good dirt, the kind of dirt that encourages vigorous growth and health, is loaded with organic material.  What does this mean exactly?  Plants grow and prosper.  Once the seeding, fruiting and blooming is done, they die.  Even the biggest and the oldest trees enentually die. When living things die, they decompose.  They become compost.  Compost is the decomposing residue of the lives of many.  In undisturbed forests, lichens and moss colonize the surfaces of rocks.  Those colonies catch the debris from falling leaves-and trees.  This lean dirt, these natural and shallow pockets of decomposed plant material, provide a medium in which plants can take hold, and thrive. 

 Clay dirt, and sand dirt mixed together makes a leavened soil.  The sand particles help break up the clay.  This means water can be supplied to a plant, and then drain away before the roots rot.  But leavening is not enough.  Great dirt is loaded with organic material.  compost.  The remains of other plants.  Organic material further leavens dirt-dirt great for growing is loose, friable.  Air is a big part of the party.  Roots need air to survive, and thrive.  Who knows what other nutrients in decomposing plant material contribute to the next generation of plants. 

What else from that organic material?  There is plenty of controversy.  There are those who say compost feeds the soil.  There are those who say all compost does is promote an even absorption and slow release of water.  Water retention, if you will.  There are those that say organic material fuels the next generation of plants.  That organic material,  unsullied by any human intervention, makes for healthier, better lives.  Purely organic soil, organically grown plants-whenever I hear this, I swing back to some straight dirt talk.  Good dirt is essential to a garden.   

 good dirt

Great dirt is crumbly, friable.  It holds moisture to a point, then it drains.  A high compost content makes soil rich-I cannot really explain what I mean by rich, but I can smell it.  It has a certain feel.  It falls off  the spade and trowel. Great dirt running deep will endow your garden.  Dig a big scoop of your soil.  Pick up what your hand will hold.  If it sifts out between your fingers, add lots of clay, and lots of organic material.  If it sits in your hand like a heavy lump, add some sand, and lots of compost.  Aim to amend your soil. Your treasured plants need air, minerals, and compost. Thinking to plant a garden, or install a landscape?   Cook up some really good dirt.

good dirt

I could not cook a dinner for friends if my life depended upon it.  But I can make, or amend, or tweak dirt-cook dirt- such that plants grow.  I do what I can to provide good dirt for every plant on my property.  Could I teach a class in soil science-no. This is by no means a scientific discussion of soil. This is a fairy tale about good dirt.  A story-no more.  Take this story where you will. But I will say that the dirt under your nails will help your garden prosper. 

 

Fending Off The Freeze

By the time I publish this post about fending off a hard freeze, it will be too late to be of any help to anyone. I do not blame myself.  I have no insider information regarding the weather.  Nor do I have a vote in the nature congress.  A greatly talented gardener/writer from Kansas who writes the blog  My Education Of A Gardener  addresses the issue succinctly- Nature bats last. 

Nature batting last is on the minds and hands of gardeners throughout the midwest and northeast tonight.  Not that passionate gardeners need any help from me when faced with a crisis.  Most gardeners I know are hard working, resourceful, independent-and very hard working people.  While they were all about planning to fend off the freeze forecast for tonight on their own, so were we.  

I have 2500 tulips budding, and showing color,  givcn our extraordinarily warm March.  Did I have a plan to protect them overnight-yes.  Covering plants that might be damaged by frost is a good idea.  Leaves might sustain damage, but buds subjected to very cold temperatures will die, and drop.  The exact science of it-I will not bore you.  Suffice it to say that a newly emerging spring leaf that is subjected to bitter cold-I am quite sure you have seen that green black mush that is a frozen through plant.   

Covering our tulips was one part engineering, and 5 parts work.  Cice had it all in hand.  After all of her work today, I am sure she went home, and repeated the same process to protect her own garden. 

Row cover was designed to protect crops planted early.  This non woven fabric is lightweight.  It is a heavy weight in the protect the plants realm.  The plants underneath a row cover benefit from a 10 degree increase in temperature.  Row cover was the order of our day. 

frost blanket

Ten degrees warmer makes a considerable difference.  Row cover is worth the effort.   The winds usually associated with late winter/early spring trouble pose a problem for this lightweight protection.  That said, we secure the frost cover in every way that we can.  A frost cover flapping and beating the plants underneath can cause more damage than the freeze.    

Our defence is simple.  Cover the plants.  Secure the edges.  Batten down the hatches.  

This may look like a lot of trouble over a few tulips, but we value every season.  There is no season we would want to do without.  Tonight’s low temperatures may devastate farms with fruit trees, early crops,  botanical gardens, and those little gardens that you and I tend. Tomorrow’s news will tell the tale.  But tonight I feel better, knowing we have protected our plants.

At the shop, we have moved as much in as possible.  We have covered what we could, in the best way we know how.

 We have spring plants under this bench for the night.  I am sure they will be fine.  As for my own garden, I am worried.  There is much I cannot cover. 

 

Finished Fountain

The welding studio has been busy the last 3 weeks.  Buck had a special order for a fountain, and a matching urn for a client in California, and a destination in Fort Worth Texas.  The sheer size of the fountain meant the base and scuppers needed to be very strong, and the steel thick and heavy.

The project under construction has a landscape architect on retainer.  He designed both pieces, and we fabricated from his designs.  The drawing from the LA needed to be drawn in CAD-this is short for computer assisted design.  It is an enormous skill in and of itself to master the CAD program.  Buck is an expert, given his 30 year experience as an architect specializing in technical design. That CAD drawing enables him to fabricate an object true to every dimension specified in the design.  

The hemispherical fountain bowl is 60 inches in diameter. Creating this shape from a solid piece of steel involves a lot of technology, a surprising amount of finesse, and loads of skill.  This bowl is not perfectly hemsipherical, but it is extremely close.  Close enough to convince the eye. 

Once the bowl had a 2 inch thick lip of steel, interrupted by 4 evenly spaced scuppers, it was ready to be welded to the base.  Scuppers? The steel lip keeps the water inside the bowl.  The scupper is that place where the steel dam had been breached, allowing water to flow and fall over the edge. Once the steel is galvanized, Buck applies our finish.  He finished the inside of the bowl, and the base first.  Then the entire fountain, with the aid of a bridge crane, would be flipped up side down for the finishing of the bowl. 

The fountain design is very simple, but massive.  The finished piece weighs close to 1/2 a ton.  It will be placed in a large pool-I am not sure of any of the installation details.  It will take some skill to size the pump properly, so the water sheets over the side without runing back under the scupper, and down the side of the bowl.  Fountain design, fabrication and installation takes a lot of skill. 

The urn, on the forklift in the foreground, is much smaller than the fountain, and will be placed in some other location on the project.  This piece will be planted.  Both pieces were shipped up side down, for obvious reasons.  All of the weight of the steel is at the top.

The fountain does not have a jet.  The pump will push water hard enough to keep the water flowing fast over the 4 scuppers and into the pool.  The contractor for the project wanted this copper pipe and stop valve installed just as you see here.  

Buck did not crate this piece-what crate would be stronger than this steel?  Circular shapes are very stable and incredibly strong-even more so when they are made of steel.  I have heard I will get pictures of the installation once it is finished and running.  I have my fingers crossed about that. Buck tells me the level of the base and the level of the top of the fountain is within a 1/16 of an inch of being dead on.  Dead on and level is very important where water is concerned.  In a perfect world, water will fall over all 4 sides equally.  In an imperfect world, within  1/16 of an inch of perfect will work. Buck and his crew make lots of things that are a part of something bigger.  If no pictures are forthcoming, I have some help.  Buck has family in Fort Worth.  What fun, that they will get to see something he made, available for the looking,  just across town.

At A Glance: More Normal