Monday, September 27, 2010


I am digging up my front yard to create a garden.  I'm not digging up the whole yard, just the section that lies between the driveway and the front walk, a rectangle of about 10 by 20 feet.  It didn't sound like that large of an area until I began digging.  On a humid morning, following a few days of ground-softening rains, I went into the front yard with a shovel thinking, "This morning I am going to remove the dead Bermuda grass from this section of yard."  Nearly an hour later, after reclaiming less than a one-foot strip of soil along the sidewalk from the lawn, I realized that this project was going to require many hours, over multiple days, worth of digging.

If I was just turning the soil, I could work more quickly, but I want to remove every bit of dead Bermuda grass that I can.  Somewhere in the depths of its extensive root system are a few alive cells, waiting to divide and take over my future garden plot.  I would rather take the time now to remove every bit of Bermuda grass than to have to fight it in the future, so I am working methodically, one square of ground at a time.  I am removing not only the sod, clumps of grass and its surface roots, but also the runner roots, or rhizomes, that run between the clumps of Bermuda grass.  The rhizomes are hazardous to a garden because they contain tissues that can divide and differentiate into leaves, roots, and stems, creating new grass plants as they move through the soil.  My garden gloves are caked with dirt from crumbling clods of soil and picking out every bit of Bermuda rhizome that I can find.

As I work I have been finding fat, white grubs that curl up in response to the sunlight.  They are Japanese beetle grubs, which are common in lawns in Austin.  The Japanese beetles are a type of scarab beetle with a one-year life cycle that revolves around lawn grasses.  The beetles mate in the early summer and lay eggs in the lawn.  The eggs hatch into grubs that feed on grass roots through the fall.  The grubs burrow deep into the ground to overwinter then, in the spring, return to the grass roots to feed.  In early summer they pupate, emerge as flying beetles, and mate, starting the cycle over again.  I've been tossing the fat grubs onto the sidewalk, hoping that the birds will find them.  But the local birds, who will follow fearlessly behind the lawnmower, haven't figured out what I am offering.

Sorting through the soil is peaceful work which gives my busy hands something to do while my mind, equally busy, spins through its revolutions.  I have felt the satisfaction of finally beginning a project that I've been wanting to undertake for years and that I have been thinking about for the past few months.  I've also felt the disappointment of realizing how long it was going to take me to dig up this "small" section of lawn.  I've enjoyed working in the softer light that comes before the sun rises over the houses east of mine, happy to be working for myself, finally doing, and in the process, creating something that I want. 

This morning as I worked I realized that I had fallen behind in taking care of the rest of the yard.  While I've been focusing on planting the new backyard garden and creating a new front yard garden, the remaining lawn has grown and now needs to be mowed.  The basil plants by the A/C unit need water, the zinnias by the driveway need to be deadheaded, and the south side of the house needs weeding.  This realization that I am behind which, in reality, happens every time it rains, reminded me of the fears that kept me from starting this project in the first place, fears that I am taking on too much, creating a garden that will need maintenance where I once had a neglected but neat, low-maintenance lawn.

But mostly I feel impatience.  I want to be done with the digging part of this process so that I can move on to the next steps, on to creating beds, amending the soil, and planting seeds.  I feel rushed as if the fall planting deadline is about to pass.  In truth I still have a few weeks to plant greens, and several weeks to plant the real cold lovers like spinach and lettuces.  The lettuce seeds that I planted in the backyard last week are not germinating as well as the beets, bok choy, and arugula, indicating that the ground is still too warm for lettuce seeds.  But, while I rationally know that I have time, I still feel this great rush to be through the work of digging up the yard, this great rush to get to the next step.

I've been waiting for this moment all summer.  I've been waiting for this exact day, when I can wake to a chilly north wind and enjoy, without sweat in my eyes or mosquitoes biting me, being in the garden.  I've been waiting for years to break ground in the front yard, to feel the satisfaction of lifting up a shovelful of soil and realizing that, aside from being full of rocks, the soil under my lawn has a lovely, crumbly texture.  And, realistically, I will look back on this time with envy, remembering how the light rains came at the right time to soften the ground and the cool wind came at the right time to make the work easier.  This is that time.  Why rush it?

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