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.

Stormy weather

The dogs don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky. Seems like it keeps raining all of the time. Stormy weather.

The dogs agree: stormy weather is bad. Stormy weather, and especially thunder, necessitates seeking refuge, usually in a closet or at the feet of one of the humans.

Mama will keep us safe

This shot was from a few days ago when severe storms came through Georgia, causing at least one tornado. Fortunately the really bad weather missed us.

This shot was from Wednesday when another round of storms hit.

Under the table, between Mama and Daddy’s feet. Safest place around.

The storms on Wednesday were worse than those of a few days ago. We heard a report of another tornado south of us, which was where most of the really bad weather hit. The storms came through in the form of isolated thunderstorms rather than as a uniform wave of bad weather along a front. Here was one pretty severe storm that passed just north of us.

The red pushpin is our house. We got a light sprinkle from this storm, along with some lightning and thunder. The storm that passed south of us was also bad, but it gave us only distant thunder.

I have been working for a few days on channeling the runoff from the yard so that heavy rain won’t wash away what little topsoil remains. This is a partially-finished channel from one downspout of our newly-installed gutters.

It’s a little hard to tell, but there are ripples in the water. It was a fairly strong stream. I will eventually line both sides with stone from around the mountain and put commercial rocks in the actual stream bed. I will probably get some tennis-ball to softball-sized stone from a landscape company to make a bed further down the yard.

This shot doesn’t show the other canyons being dug in other places in the yard. They will get their own treatment soon.

I’m not sure how much rain we got, because our fancy tipping bucket rain gauge seems not to be tipping reliably. I guess I’ll just have to get one of the old-fashioned glass tube rain gauges.

As I write this there are still storm cells tracking towards us and the rest of Georgia, and Sam is under the table at my feet. I keep hearing thunder and Leah sees lightning. We may still get severe weather right here on top of the mountain.

The storm that passed north of us was producing hail around three-quarters of an inch in size. One of the Atlanta TV stations reported that the storm had a BTI of 2.5. Now you may be wondering, as I was, exactly what in the heck a BTI is. So I looked it up. It turns out that it is a commercially-produced index indicating likelihood of tornado production. It means Baron Tornado Index.

As it happens, I know where BTI came from. A Huntsville, Al, TV weatherman named Bob Baron decided to leave TV weather forecasting and form a company to sell weather visualization and analysis software, mainly to TV stations. I remember watching him when I lived in Huntsville. After searching for BTI, I went to the Baron company’s website. I was a little surprised to see how much the company has grown. I looked at their “leadership” listing, and was not surprised to find that everyone they list was basically in sales. They claim to have developed some pretty sophisticated software to forecast hurricane tracks, among other things. That kind of software development and meteorological capability requires a very good development team, but they were nowhere to be seen on the company website. That figures. The ones who do the work get no recognition. The ones who do the selling get all the glory. And, I suspect, most of the money.

They did mention their “chief scientist” in one news release. However, it would have been nice to see at least some mention of the rest of the staff that does all the work behind the glitzy products the company sells, rather than just the salesmen. Maybe they are mentioned somewhere on the company site. They are probably just hidden away so they won’t embarrass the salesmen.

Ragged clouds

We had rain last Saturday night, but it had stopped by Sunday morning, leaving behind ragged clouds high and low over town.

We had some rain Monday, too. It was foggy that night.

This was taken out our bedroom window. That’s our pet maple tree. This was a two-second exposure that I took holding the camera against the window frame.

First snow

The forecasts of snow were fairly accurate for once. We got about an inch starting late Friday night.

Along with the snow came the cold. We measured 16F this morning, and the temperature never exceeded freezing during the day. Now, as I write this on Saturday night, it’s 19F and headed down.

We didn’t have any place to go during the day, but we did have an errand to run later. By the time we left at around 7 pm, the sun had cleared most of the snow and ice from the roads. We made it to our destination (the mall) with no problem, but it was closed. Around here, a rumor of snow results in widespread closings, especially since 2014 when Atlanta turned into a frozen parking lot after a little snow fell.

We have not used our wood-burning stove much this season, but we’re using it now. It’s taking some getting used to. In our old house, we had a big stove in the basement. It took large pieces of wood and lots of them. The new stove has a very small firebox, so it takes short pieces of wood split much smaller than I am used to, and it needs to be fed more often.

But the stove is keeping the living room comfortable, and the forced-air duct I installed is helping to keep the bedroom warm, too.

Here’s the stove in action.

The two sheets of metal at the sides and the sheet of metal below the stove are my additions to help keep the walls and floor cooler. I hope to make them a little more finished at some point.

I had originally intended to paint the metal black, but I’m considering not doing it now because of a reason that I find really interesting but probably no one else would. As we all know, we see in visible light. The heat that we feel coming from a wood-burning stove is just like visible light, but it has a longer wavelength and we can’t actually see it. We call that infrared radiation. We also know that dark objects absorb visible light and light objects reflect it. It turns out, however, that most objects, whether they look dark or light to us, are “dark” in the longer wavelengths of heat. Even white paint that reflects visible light still absorbs long-wavelength radiation. If you could see in the infrared, white paint would look dark gray.

One of the few common materials that reflects heat is shiny metal. Those plates are made from shiny metal. They don’t absorb heat, they reflect it. So even when the stove is putting out lots of heat, the metal plates right next to it are barely warm. It’s contrary to our intuition, but that’s physics. I find that cool, too.

Winter Storm Warning

Parts of the Southeast have a winter storm warning in effect for late Friday night and early Saturday morning. The various TV weathermen have been showing snow cover forecasts for north and central Georgia that sometimes include us and sometimes don’t.

This is what it looked like Thursday morning from our bedroom window.

I don’t know whether this is what an impending snowstorm looks like; I suspect not.

We had almost two inches of rain over the last week. It fell as a slow, soaking rain, which was what we needed. The days were foggy and dreary, which I kind of like, at least for short periods.

It was not enough. When we aren’t in drought conditions, a rain like we had would result in lots of runoff. When I walk the dogs there should be a constant background rushing sound from the many wet-weather streams draining off the mountain. After this rain, only one stream was running, and not very strongly.

I suppose that means the rain soaked in, which is good for the plants (no plants in our yard — too dry to plant them). Unfortunately, it seems that it’s too late for some of the pines on the mountain. As we walk and drive around the mountain, we see a fair number of cases where all the needles have turned brown on the pines. Here are some by our driveway.

There are several others around the yard. There are lots of others across the mountain. There is no apparent pattern, at least as far as I can tell. Most of the dead or dying pines are shortleaf, but that’s to be expected since most of the pines on the mountain are shortleaf. There are a few dead loblollies down at the bottom of the mountain, and a small stand of non-native white pines is dying, so it’s not just a shortleaf pine problem.

I don’t really know whether they are dying from drought stress or some kind of infestation, or possibly a combination of the two, or even some other cause I’m not aware of. The numbers are not huge; I estimate very roughly that it’s only around a percent of the total, maybe not even that much. But it’s enough to be noticeable.

I am also worried about the multitude of dogwoods on the mountain. Quite a few turned brown during the summer. Those have not lost their leaves as in a normal year; the dead leaves are still hanging on. It’s not my field, but I think it’s possible that the trees died before the natural process of leaf loss. I hope not. Maybe someone who knows more about it can tell me.

It will be several months before we can tell the extent of the drought effects. We ended 2016 almost a foot below average. It’s going to take a while to make up for that discrepancy.

In the meantime, I don’t expect to wake up Saturday morning to a snowy view of Rome in the distance, but I’m keeping the camera handy.