Plop, Plop, Whizz, Whizz, Oh What a Relief It Is!!!

Mozart2(Zone 5 Michigan)October 30, 2005

Sorry to make use of a somewhat catchy title, but I thought it might be more interesting than "planting bulbs - the easy way".

Several decades ago - when Crockett was still hosting "The Victory Garden" - my daughter, Heather, and I spent much of a day "planting" a semi-circular bulb garden around a lamp post in the front yard. The diameter of the garden was 14 feet and its radius was 7 feet. A semi-circular "fan" shaped design around a lamp post that was topped over by an electrified old steam locomotive signal lamp.

We spent part of the late morning "preparing" the soil by digging down to a depth of about 8 or so inches; then adding several 40 pound bags of peat moss and cow manure and then attempted to mix all of this meager stuff into the clayish soil we had just dug out.

We then went to "work" with two of those typical bulb planters that are - sometimes - of little or no use and planted the bulbs - leaving enough space for other plant material - of course.

Because of the poor structure of this "soil", we often had to use both hands, some good muscle power, and a great deal of body weight/strength to work the planter into the ground in order to plant the bulbs.

When we completed our very tiring work, we went inside, made supper, relaxed and ate our dinner while watching Crockett's Victory Garden.

Wouldn't you know it; his program was on the planting of bulbs and he, of course, described and showed how "easy" it was to plant bulbs with this use of the bulb planter.

Heather and I just looked at each other in some digust - at least, Crockett's soil had been deeply and well prepared so that his bulb planter cut through the soil with the ease of a warm knife cutting through room temperature butter.

Since bulbs are somewhat like pregnant women on their way to the hospital, our bulbs came up tried and true and bloomed very well in the spring. In their second year, the bulbs were less in number and didn't bloom as profusely. By the third year, many of them had simply petered out or had disappeared - mostly.

Tulips have a bad habit of dividing more profusely than daffodils and because of the structure of the soil, many of them had simply divided down into a diameter much less than the size of the tip of my smaller fingers. Daffodils faired a tad bit better, but they didn't increase in number. And because of the clayish structure of the soil, a goodly number had simply died, because the strucure wasn't loose enough and/or deep enough to allow for good root growth and the obtainment of good nourishment for future bloom. In effect, our bulbs were planted with a clay soil "straight jacket" around them.

By the third summer, I had read more "gardening books" including the wonderful "Handbook on Soils" by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which showed the difference of root growth between a deeply and well prepared soil and a soil that was largely compacted in its structure. I had also read John Madson's "Where the Sky Began: Land of the Tallgrass Prairie" which is an absolute must read for any tallgrass prairie gardener - especially, its chapter on prairie soil structure and "The Great Weathers" and had also by that time read the wonderful chapter entitled "Failure" in the superb and also must read "Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden" by Eleanor Perenyi.

So in the late summer of the third year, I outlined two garden areas - the former semi-circular one noted above and another garden area - 16 feet in diameter and went to work once again and kept on digging and digging and digging until I hit the good deep prairie loam that I knew lay beneath the clay soil - the "remains" of the basement of the house.

A few people driving by our slow street stopped and inquired as to whether I had a "water" problem of some sort. When I informed them that I was deeply and well preparing the soil structure of two garden areas, I believe that they were either dumbfounded by my efforts and/or thought me to be slightly nutty.

Oh well, at least my gardening efforts "entertained" some folks in their travels.

Once I reached the good prairie loam beneath the clayish soil - about 22 to 24 inches down - I, obviously, had a new "problem" to confront.

How to create a loose and well prepared soil structure without too much effort. Within a very short period of time, I thought of the idea of renting a cement mixer and did.

Before I employed it, I obtained 14 six cubic foot bales of sphagnum peat moss, two small truck loads - the truck being borrowed from a friend - of aged cow manure, which came from a farmer friend of his and one truck load of coarse sand from a gravel pit several miles away.

I then took a small rubbermaid wash tub and a less than 1 pound coffee can and began to create a soil structure. A can or two of the original soil, a can or two or three of the sphagnum peat moss, a can or two of the aged cow manure and mixed the ingredients all together until I got the soil mixture that I wanted.

I then "translated" the coffee can proportions into shovefuls, turned on the rented cement mixer and went to work. After the cement mixer had more than sufficiently done its job, I off loaded the mix into a wheelbarrow, dumped the contents into the large holes and went back to work mixing up another batch of soil.

When I finished with the last of the mixture, Heather and I went back to work the next day and literally "played" in the soil to plant our bulbs, old fashioned roses, peonies, etc. It was 'child's play' and we performed our work far easier than had James Crockett in planting bulbs.

Since the soil structure was now deeply and well prepared, all that was or is really needed is the application - every year or so - of some good organic mulch - ala Ruth Stout - and, perhaps, some fertilizer now and the. In my personal case, I made use of the organic mulch - provided cheaply or without cost - by our local light & power company - the ground up leaves, branches and stems of the trees they pruned during the summer months.

Well, now that I have reached the young age of 64, I am not entirely certain that I want to involve myself in another extensive soil structure project. But since I moved from central Illinois to northwestern Michigan, I had to come up with some kind of solution other than - perhaps - the rental of a garden tiller to slightly improve the soil structure where we garden. Our soil is a mixture of fairly decent garden loam mixed in with some clay and sand. Not too bad for most planting material.

However, I didn't want to spend a great deal of time with either a good shovel, spade, digging fork or a trowel. Again, some research on the gardenweb forums and on the Internet and a little imagination came to my rescue.

A few days ago, my new "Pro Gardening Auger System" arrived and I finally got to enjoy its use this afternoon when I finally began to plant my small array of various bulbs and other fall plantings.

This system is made of high grade industrial steel, has a sharpened blade, and consists of a 3 inch diameter auger and a 4 inch diameter auger with a 24 inch extension post that is easily linked to either one of the augers.

For my first efforts, I choose to make use of the 3 inch diameter auger without the extension post and went to work and easily - and I do mean easily - made 8 three inch holes to about 8+ inches in depth - in a very, very short period of time.

From then onward, I simply removed a bit of the remaining loosened soil at the bottom of the hole with a narrow trowel, placed a little bit of the soil mixture I had made into the ground, put in about a tablespoon plus of an organic fertilzer mix into the hole that the auger had created, mixed it in, put a tid bit more of soil into the hole, planted the bulb - in this case a white Hyacinth - and covered it up with soil - and went on to the next hole - until the light became a bit too dark to continue my effortless work.

At any rate, the "gardening moral" of this story is simply to encourage those reading this post to consider the use of a well made and well designed soil auger to make 'work' in the garden all the more easier and enjoyable.

As for me, I am looking forward to not only finish the planting of the rest of my bulbs with far greater ease, but to also use this well made and designed auger to plant a small tree sapling of "Amelanchier Arborea", some ornamental grasses, i.e. "Inland" or "Northern Sea Oaks - Chasmanthium latifolium and "Flame Grass" - Miscanthus 'Purpurascens' a peony - "Moon over Barrington", a Griffith Buck rose - "Hawkeye Belle" and one or two Geranium sanguineum 'Max Frei' with equal ease. Of course, with the later and bigger plants, I'll have to dig/drill several holes in a small area and then simply remove the soil in between the holes, remove the churned up soil with greater ease, etc, before I plant the tree, peony, rose, etc. A planting project made much easier by a good soil auger.

There are several different soil augers on the market which can also provide good to fair results. I have also purchased a 1 3/4 diameter inch auger from Ace Hardware, but found it a bit too small for some of my purposes. Nevertheless, I think it will be useful for some of the smaller bulbs - crocus, dutch iris and the like - and other projects such as drilling holes for placing fertilzing tree spikes a little deeper into the ground.

So for those of you who are approaching the "younger" years of whatever age or who are on the verge of old age, whatever that might be or who are looking for innovative ways to make gardening easier on their aching backs, legs, knees or whatever, I highly recommend the use of a good system soil auger.

Although I don't usually "plug" products, I think that the "Pro Gardening Auger System" is well worth the price of purchase. Quite frankly, it is the best designed auger and far better made that I've come across to date. I've provided a link below for those so interested.

As always, I am hoping that this little bulb planting story and its various employed solutions will bring greater joy and ease to your gardening efforts and also, perhaps, some amusement.

Best wishes in your good efforts of nurturing life.


Here is a link that might be useful: Pro Gardening Auger System

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Bill, great story.
I think you should re-post it on a Bulb Forum where planting techniques discussed so often, especially this time of the year.
I'm myself using augers for several years and think that it's a most usefull tool for bulbs planting.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2005 at 11:02AM
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shrubs_n_bulbs(z8/9 UK)

Cross-posting an almost-advertisement to at least half a dozen forums? Very dodgy. Spike bans people for less.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 6:00AM
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Bulb augers are great until you hit a root. You really need to use a hammer drill with that bulb auger for better stability. :) Or at least, I do since I have a ton of trees I plant in and around.:)

Does Spike still read the fourms?

IA Z5a

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 5:02PM
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Mozart2(Zone 5 Michigan)


I suspect so, but I haven't run into that "problem" as yet. However, I do think that the Pro Gardening Auger System would (mostly) do the job, since the edges are sharp.

Obviously, they won't and aren't designed to cut through thick tree roots, but I suspect that this particular one should easily cut through 1/2 inch or less - depending upon how it is used and the power of the drill.

I have a very heavy duty 3/8 inch 24 volt Bosch drill set - purchased as a refurbished item from Bosch - save a good deal of money so that I could spend the savings elsewhere. ;>)

By the way, since you live in eastern Iowa, have you ever been down to the Bentonsport, Iowa area. It's south of Keokuk and near the Missouri Border.

Somewhere around the area, is a lovely rose garden consisting of old-fashioned roses. The women who put the garden in obtained funding from a horticultural foundation in England. The garden area is planted in an old stone walled "mill race" along the Des Moines river. I wish I could be more specific, but I don't have an Iowa map handy.

I found out about this small gem by reading the travel literature about eastern Iowa.

FYI - I did my undergraduate studies at Simpson College in Indianola, IA - so many years ago.

Thanks and best wishes.


    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 11:43PM
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Bill, eventho you haven't hit a tree root yes, please be careful, ok?

Regarding the rose garden, I've heard of it, but haven't been there to see it. Keokuk is about a 3 hour or so drive from where I'm at, and Bentonsport is a bit farther, so it's not a spur of the moment trip. :) But eventually I plan on getting down there!

IA Z5a

Here is a link that might be useful: Bentonsport Gardens

    Bookmark   November 3, 2005 at 2:59PM
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Mozart2(Zone 5 Michigan)


Oh Wow! This lovely place now has a web site! Absolutely wonderful to see it growing! Now I'll have an excuse to travel back to Bentonsport, IA and thoroughly enjoy this garden's expansion. Of course, it will be a much long drive for Sue and I, since we live in Manistee, MI - about an hour's plus drive south of Traverse City.

I am really sorry that you live so far away, but I'll give you another excuse to travel - whenever you plant to visit this garden - plan it as a stopping point to visit the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis. In order to fully enjoy this garden in St. Louis, you might wish to plan for a 1.5 day tour - there is so much to see and enjoy.

By the way, if you and yours are into staying at a Bed & Breakfast place, you might give Maggie Leyda a jingle; she's owns and operates Maggie's B & B in Collinsville, IL - located within a 15 minute plus drive to the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.

Maggie is a retired academic Librarian, who has traveled in the orient via freighters and such and who will also offer you a nice room with reasonable rates, many stories of her travels, and a good healthy breakfast to boot.

Here's the link to her B & B

Thank you for your cautionary message. So far I haven't run into any tree roots, but I suspect that I might when I go to plant along the semi-shady area on the side of our garage. I promise to be very careful!!

FYI - I've also posted the virtual tour link to the Missouri Botanical Garden below so that you can partially enjoy this place without actually traveling there.

Again, a special thanks for providing me and others with the link to this wonderful growing garden gem in southeastern Iowa.

Here is a link that might be useful: Missouri Botanical Garden - Virtual Tour

    Bookmark   November 3, 2005 at 6:36PM
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madspinner(z7 WA skagit)

Although it is kind of annoying to see this post on so many diffrent forums... I do have to thank you (quite sincearly) for one thing.

I had never thought of using a cement mixer to mix soil. Such a simple solution and it never once entered my little noggin. I have a cement mixer just sitting here... it does get used for cement now and then, but now I have another great reason to use it. I've been using my wheelbarrow like a giant mixing bowl, using a shovel to "stir" with. Next time I need to do any mixing, you can bet I will take that advice to heart.

So I'll forgive you the cross posting... if you will forgive me for having been a snit about it in an earlier posting responding to it (I've forgotten which forum I responded it in).


    Bookmark   November 11, 2005 at 12:06PM
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Mozart2(Zone 5 Michigan)


Wonderfully delightful response - especially when I see - or read - in this case - about a light bulb going off in one's head. ;>)

As for the cross posting bit, the rules make use of the word "Please" and not "Thou Shalt not . . . under Penalty of . . . Obviously, I took the liberty of interpretation to inform more people about a very useful garden tool. ;>)

Since I try to be a very conscientious Librarian and not simply a "waiter of information" I find it very important to spread (hopefully) good, useful information for many people to read, use, enjoy, etc., I decided to cross post my discovery of a most useful garden too, which I will again employ this weekend when I easy dig out the hole and plant the last of my Peony additions - "Moon Over Barrington" and other things in my garden this weekend.

As for the "forgiveness" bit, it is well appreciated and generously given back.

Take care and best wishes in using your new "gardening tool" - a cement mixer - for your future gardening endeavors.


    Bookmark   November 11, 2005 at 9:04PM
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