Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Weekend in Hard Labor

This past weekend, I worked harder than I have worked in a long time.  I got dirt under all ten of my fingernails, around my ankles, in my lip creases, in my elbow creases, and probably on the back of my neck.  I forgot to check there.  At that point in my dirt cataloguing, I was just so exhausted I fell asleep.

Why?  Why was I so exhausted?

Because, my friends, I was helping my family plant 500 shrubs and then lay weed barrier over them and then cut little peepholes so those 500 little stick-like shrubs could actually see the light of day and GROW.  All in
tempestuous early spring Kansas weather.  We had a rain delay one day and disgustingly high winds the next.

But, like so many things done with family, it ended up being a pretty great time.  Memories and stories from our two days of planting will resurface around the dining room table for years to come.

I've never planted 500 of anything before.  I'm guessing most of you haven't either.  So let me walk you through this.  It's more interesting than botany class, I promise.

You start with the field in which you want to plant your shrubs.  You measure the area.  You burn the grass if necessary, so you can till the dirt so it isn't baked into a rock-hard surface.  Because, to have a chance at growing success, you have to be able to get the shrub in the dirt, after all!

This is what tilled land looks like.  This is on Day 1, after our late start because of a rain delay.  Mom and Dad had already prepped the land.

Next you need a method.  For us, it was two men ("dibblers") with "dibbles" followed by two women with 5 gallon buckets full of water and shrubs.  You have to keep the shrubs' delicate, rather new little roots in water so they don't dry out before they are safe in the dirt.  The buckets are heavy, very heavy.

The dibble is the orange lever-like thing pictured below.  The top is the handle you hold onto while you use your foot to shove the dibble into the ground; then you rock it back and forth until you have a V-shaped hole just right for inserting a stick-like shrub.  This is why you want the ground to be worked up.

The dibbler isn't the only person with an important job, though!  Oh, no.  The planter is obviously a key part in this.  As a planter, you have to make sure that the roots are all down in the hole, not sticking up at all (easier said than done for the shrub with twelve inches of roots).  Then you have to carefully pile dirt back around the shrub, making sure the shrub is upright so it will grow straight.  Then you stand and use your feet to stomp the ground down compactly around the shrub.  Spread a little more loose dirt around, and you're on to the next one.

Just for reference, it took us about 1 minute from start to finish, to plant each shrub.

Can you believe how small these things are?  Fortunately, they're fast-growing!

Day 2 was spent running weed barrier over our newly planted little shrubs.  The weed barrier, as you might guess from its name, keeps weeds from sprouting up, around and over these new shrubs.  Weeds sometimes seem much stronger than the "good" plants, so this is an efficient way to reduce weeds without spending days on end weeding by hand.  You couldn't pay me to do that, family or not!

We used this ancient-looking contraption.

You can't tell from the picture above, but there's a seat in the middle.  Does that seem dangerous?  I imagine it kind of is.  Yet it was one of the more coveted jobs, I think.  Because you got to sit.

What I'm doing with the rake is trying to keep the weed barrier flat to the ground.  The tires are supposed to run over it and the blades behind the tires are supposed to pile the nicely-tilled dirt up on top of the weed barrier to keep it in place.  That's how it works when all is right with the world.  When the wind isn't gusting ninety miles an hour.  Obviously it's gotten a little out of hand here.

Below is a picture of Kaley getting instructions for her role as Shrub Peephole Creator.  See all those bumps in the weed barrier?  Those are the shrubs, spaced (approximately) 6 feet apart.  Her job was to crawl along, find the root of the shrub, cut a hole and pull the shrub through.  Not as simple as it sounds, really.  A lot of times, when all you're feeling is a bump in the barrier, you can't tell if it's the top or the bottom of the shrub!

And at the end of Day 2, after working through the most clod-filled patch of land we had, we were able to pull it together for a final group shot and a smile.  Because now we get to ride around in the Kubota and survey the little domain that we've just made a bit more wildlife-habitable.

Side note.  The sandwiches and chips we had were some of the best we'd ever had.  We decided food tastes better when eaten outside with dirty hands.

And thus ends this little diatribe on hard labor and extreme planting.

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