Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Dirt Heaps.

A few days ago, when I posted the 'other' garden photos, I said that I would explain about the dirt heaps.

As you will have already gathered from photos of the vegetable gardens, Richard doesn't do things by halves. When the builders finally left and we moved in, our house sat diagonally across a 1440sq metre rubble strewn block. Levelling of the house site had seen all of the good top soil removed and buried under rocks and mixed with heavy clay subsoil. The fencing contractor swore that he would never build another fence in this suburb because of the rock. Even the clothes line had to have 15cm cut off the base because a hole couldn't be dug deep enough.

Because our soil is pretty awful, whenever a new garden bed was to be established Richard, using pick, crowbar and shovel, would dig out an area of several square metres to a depth of about 50cm. The unearthed rocks and shale would be broken down and laid on the bottom of the area, all the soil (mostly clay) would be sifted and replaced, first as a layer of coarse gravel and finally about 20cm of fine soil. This fine 'soil' had such a high clay content that for the first few years it would set like cement and had to be broken up continuously to admit water and air to the roots of plants. Over the years, with repeated working over and the addition of compost, manure and mulch, the soil is vastly different to its original state.

However, as each section of garden was prepared, there always seemed to be several heaps of dirt left over, which became perfect growing medium for weeds of all kinds. It could be months, or in some cases years, before a heap was finally cleared, as work and life with four children and all its associated activities took over. A couple of times a year I would clear metre high weeds from one or more large dirt heaps, and for a few years I even turned one of them into a garden.

Eventually, all of the lawn and garden areas on this large block received 'the treatment'. The only area not to have been dug up is the one in this photo (and that soil actually came out from under the deck - but that's another story!).
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I don't think there is one grain of soil on this block sitting in its original position. It's all been moved to somewhere else and back again. Even the pebbles for the paths in the veg. gardens were extracted from the sifted material. The words 'sifting soil' bring looks of horror to the faces of our children as they recall all the years their father spent in the garden, wielding a mattock and shovel or crouched over a wheelbarrow and sifter. We always knew where to find him, and so did the neighbours.

Only the other day I was at ShellyC's house and said to Luca (2) "Where's Grandpa?"
He replied, "At his house".
I said, "What is he doing?"
Luca thought for a while and then said, "Shaking dirt?".
So, even the grandchildren notice.

Years ago Shelly made a video of Richard at work. Her commentary went something like
".... this is my father. He's sifting soil. He's been doing it for years. He hasn't found gold, oil or any treasure yet except for two matchbox cars, a ten cent piece and a couple of bent spoons."

Visitors to the garden will often say "You have such good soil here". Richard just grins, and I shudder and think "If you only knew!" He will never leave here (alive) as he has put so much work, effort and sweat into the garden. It's still a work in progress, but it's a work that he enjoys, and now that he's retired he's blissfully happy doing whatever he wants to do in the garden, especially propogating trees, shrubs and other plants. Fortunately, he won't be digging up and sifting the remaining area. We will bring in soil and build up rather than dig down.


suburbansider said...

I'm amazed, no one, by looking at your garden now would believe you had such bad soil! Looks like all your husband's hard word has really paid off!

ms*robyn said...

Hi Alice - this has nothing to do with your post ..but I have tried to email you a few times and it keeps getting returned.
just thought I would let you know.. you are 'approved' with the forum so you should be able to log in and see it all. if not, let me know and I will see what I can do. thanks ! Robyn

kath red said...

love the dirt sifting post - sounds like my dad!

Calidore said...

There are no rocks here, but lots and lots of clay. I don't dig into it much anymore. Most of my plants are sat on top with lots of compost and mulch mounded up around them. Seems to work - I can't say I have lost lots of plants doing it this way. There is no way Ashley would spend hours sifting dirt. Richard is a real treasure - although if you want to loan him for a while I could use his propogating

Zoey said...

Only a person who truly loves gardening would go to so much trouble! I am glad Richard finally has the time to enjoy the fruits of his labor. It looks like everything he does, is perfectly done!