Digging a hole

We bought some crape myrtles and hollies for the yard between the side of the house and the driveway a few days ago, and on Wednesday I started digging a hole for one of the crape myrtles. The crape myrtles are in five-gallon containers, so they need a hole a foot deep by about four or so feet wide. That’s a big hole, but that’s not the whole story.

Here is one of the crape myrtles in the ground. It’s about six feet tall.

And here is the start of a hole for the second crape myrtle.

About half of the dirt taken from the hole is wrapped up in the tarp behind the crape myrtle. I dumped the rest down near the woods because it is too hard to use for planting. About four inches below the surface there is a layer of incredibly hard, almost black clay. It is impossible to dig this soil with just a shovel. It’s not easy to do it even with a pick. The clay breaks into rock-like chunks that are impossible to break up with a shovel. Our regular hard red clay can at least be crumbled with a shovel, but this dark clay is impervious. Our neighbor John, who did the clearing and grading for us, lent us a gasoline-powered auger to use for planting. I tried it. The auger bit dug a few inches into the soil and stopped at the clay level, leaving a nice, polished surface where the auger spun uselessly against the clay.

I take the clay chunks out of the soil and use the loose soil that’s left. There’s no way I can put the hard clay back into the hole with the plant, even amended generously with compost.

Planting guides usually recommend against so generously amending the soil that goes back in the hole with the plant because it encourages roots to stay within that good soil and not penetrate out into the rest of the soil. Here, though, we’re going to have to treat the crape myrtles almost like potted plants because the clay is so hard.

Each of these crape myrtles holes take me most of an afternoon to dig. I have wondered about dynamite.

The ground is especially hard now because we haven’t had a measurable amount of rain for about two weeks. We have watched the weather radar as heavy showers pass north or south of us. A few days ago a good shower passed over town. We could watch it from our front porch.

We got a sprinkle. I assume that at least the rain that passes close but misses us helps recharge the ground water, so maybe our well won’t run dry.


We received a little over four and a half inches of rain from January 18 to Sunday, January 23, the most we have received in a very long time over such a short period. We got just over three of those inches Sunday. Of those three inches, a large amount fell from the time Leah and I tried to get into our car to go for some dinner and the time we got out about a half an hour later. This was the result in the front yard.

I had spent some time spreading wheat straw and digging trenches to try to channel the water away from the leach field. That was generally successful, but I need to do more between the leach field and the driveway.

The lighter straw covers a repair to the septic drainage components. Ours is a very shallow conventional system. Someone drove over the very first section of drain field chamber, which crushed it and caused water to soak the area around it. I had marked the leach field with stakes, plastic tape and a sign but that apparently was not enough to keep one of the contractors off of it.

The heavy rain we got Sunday evening was the from same storm that caused several deaths from a tornado in South Georgia. Fortunately, all we got was rain and straight-line wind. I was tracking the rain on my weather radar app and it was obvious why we got so much rain. There was a large area of circulation that didn’t move for a long time. It looked like a tropical storm.

These three images are from a sequence starting around 9:25 pm.

I looked for a way to animate the radar sequence but couldn’t figure out how to do it. I had to settle for grabbing a few shots in the sequence. There was a clear rotation around a center not far from our house.

More rain is predicted for Wednesday of this week but conditions are supposed to be clear for about a week after that. Some time during the clear weather I hope to do some more work in the front yard before everything washes away.

But I’m not complaining. We desperately needed the rain. We had dropped out of the “exceptional drought” condition down one level to “extreme drought” as of last week. The next drought map comes out later this week. Maybe we’ve improved.

Rain update, 7 December

We have had a nice string of rainy days lately. Monday we recorded 0.42 inches. The total since December 1, when our terrible string of day days ended, we have had 2.16 inches of rain. Most of the rain has been slow and gentle, just what we need.

The forecast is for a cold front to pass through, dropping the temperature to around 19 F by Friday night. The next rain is not expected until next Monday. We are still in a drought, but you couldn’t tell it by the soggy conditions.

Rain, Nov 30 2016

We had more rain Tuesday. It started sprinkling around 9 or 10 am, and was raining hard by the time we left for our regular Wednesday lunch of huevos rancheros. Getting into the car was a powerful reminder of why we have a garage and a rude awakening about what happens when the garage is so full of stored junk and working spaces that we can’t park in it.

The rain tapered off early in the afternoon. By the time it was over our gauge had recorded 0.88 inches. That makes a total of 1.88 inches this week, the first significant rain we have had on the mountain in more than four months.

This rain came faster and harder than the rain we had the day before. I had managed to spread more wheat straw around the house, but the runoff was strong enough to wash a deep rut in the front yard. There are several other places that will need some work to prevent erosion. That will have to wait for dry weather, which might not come soon. There is a chance of rain almost every day next week. Maybe the dry pattern has finally changed.

It rained

We finally got a decent rain here in northwest Georgia. According to one of the Atlanta TV weather people, Rome received just under an inch. According to our rain gauge, we got exactly one inch.

I had bought a new rain gauge shortly after we moved in but never bothered to set it out. I figured there was no point since it was never going to rain again. But when the weather forecasters started getting excited about a real possibility of rain, I decided to install it on the railing of our front stairs. We recorded about a third of an inch before we went to bed and another two-thirds of an inch later in the night. This was exactly the kind of rain we needed, fairly gentle but sustained.

I think it’s possible we got slightly more than the gauge showed. It was very windy all day Monday and it stayed windy when the rain first started. It rained for a while before the gauge started registering. The collection port on the gauge is fairly small, and I think the wind could have prevented an accurate measure. However, the gauge is not calibrated yet, so it’s hard to know for sure. Given the widespread nature of the rain this time and the official measurement, I think an inch is a pretty good estimate. We’re still about a foot lower than average at this time of year.

According to the news reports, the rain gave firefighters some significant help in northern Georgia, although the fires are not completely contained. If you saw the national news, you know that fires a little north of us in Tennessee caused significant property damage and some loss of life near Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

The forecasters are pretty sure we’re going to get more rain Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. The wind blew away most of the wheat straw I spread on Saturday, so we have lots of mud around the house. I can live with that.