Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Big Diggers, Big Holes

Wednesday, April 23, ,2008

It's been a week since I had a chance to hardly breathe but as spring broke and the snow began to melt, it was time to get moving on some important issues at the new nursery. When I started Vermont Gardens I was committed to using this blog as a means of sharing with interested gardeners what is involved in starting a nursery literally from the ground up. Although we were moving an existing business to a new site, much of the work would be no different than starting from scratch. I thought some folks might be interested and I was right.

As last fall approached, I encouraged readers to stick around and share some winter type thoughts until spring arrived. Along the way I lost a few who didn't want winter chit chat but here we are again. Now we are in full activity and I am prepared to offer some info that should be of interest. For those with a curious nature , skip back to the start of the blog and speed read through the articles. One good reference is where I suggest a favorite book, Tony Avent's So You Want To Start A Nursery? Tony discusses many of the same things I have said or will say. As I indicated before, I intended to write the same book but Tony did such a great job it's just not needed right now.

So here we were a week ago with good weather upon us, the land finally free of snow on the high point, and Kevin Hudson, a local contractor who has helped me for years, able to squeeze in a few days between other jobs. That combination was the catalyst to nail down an electrician and get on with the show.

As we left the project last fall, we had done a nice job on the entrance off Route 2. We had obtained permits from the Agency of Transportation, went through site inspection before and after the work, and ended up with a 44 foot wide entrance which was almost level to the three rod road. We buried a 2.5" underground quality PVC pipe the width of the entrance so we could snake wires or other lines through if we ever needed to. We did this work in compliance with local requirements and completed the entrance using sand, road fabric and Stay Mat.

Road fabric probably has a professional name someplace but to me it's a woven plastic cloth that comes on 12.5 foot wide rolls. Essentially you roll out the cloth flat on the land then place material on top to aid in road construction. It is used to stabilize various soil types and it permits water flow while encouraging compaction. The Stay Mat which was the final course we applied is again a common name which looks different depending upon where you live. In many places it might be crushed shale or stone. Up here the local supplier mixes sand and gravel with crushed rock which compacts to a surface as hard as asphalt at much less cost and with real ease of maintenance over time. Anyway that's kind of where we left off last year.

Our plans for spring included getting in electricity, and then preparing a large area about 80 feet X 70 feet X 6" thick for a new building and three shade houses. We also planned to expand the parking area by 45 X 70 feet and bring the new part up to grade with where we left off last fall. That's where Kevin came into the picture. In four days time we did the parking area, finished the area for the building and shade houses and added on an unplanned area of 12.5 feet X 80 feet for a used shade house we just bought. We also reconfigured the flat area to accommodate a drive through road for the truck and tractor.

The good thing about any of our projects is that we always have a plan that has a budget attached. We also try to build in the opportunity to upgrade a little if the time seems right. No matter how many diagrams you draw, sometimes things look different when you are standing in the middle of a project. In this case our changes meant we needed 18, not 8 truckloads of Stay Mat and another roll of road fabric at $600 and a third more hours labor but we had the money built in and the final project is all the better for it. This all occurred because we got a good deal on a used shade house--kind of like the time I wanted a new roof on the house and ended up with a new roof and an addition. Some guys will do anything to get a private office for themselves!

Kevin has a small dump truck but uses an assortment of other contractors to do quantity hauling like this. We began by rolling out the fabric and then the trucks dumped their loads on the fabric and Kevin used his equipment to spread out and compact the Stay Mat. It's best to spring for $35 for a box of ground cloth staples and staple the fabric down ahead of time and then no matter how hard the wind blows, the fabric remains in place and the job goes along faster.

I have to admit that I created a little hazard in the project kind of like a water hazard to a golfer. Last fall I dug a 200 foot by 10 foot wide display garden that was four feet deep and filled with compost, manure, peat, and dirt. I had forgotten that a road across it would have to be created. In this case we excavated all the loose soil and replaced it with crushed rock, added another PVC sleeve for outside lighting and topped off the 15 foot roadway with fabric and Stay Mat. That change cost about $750 extra. It would have been needed anyway but I messed up last fall and could have done a better job planning.

As soon as we were done with that I had Kevin dig the trench for the underground electricty, scuff out an area for a porta potty and then spread out four extra loads of useless clay that came from somewhere???? To bad we were short of potters that day or anyone who needed clay to line a fresh pond site. Right now we are finished with moving earth and the place looks like the Ponderosa Ranch in size. Within the next two weeks things will close in quickly as our 14 X 28 foot building goes up, then the shade houses, split rail fence and the plants. Should be interesting.

Not everyone knows how to hire contractors, price projects and serve as straw boss and quality control agent. Prices can get scary and you have to make yourself think twice before you change a firm plan. Doing that even once can be costly. I've always had a good vision for what a project should look like in the end and I am never afraid to ask questions. If you know a trustworthy contractor, that's great. If not, do some competitive biddings, meet some people and check some references. In today's economy, it has to be that way unless you have a pocket full of money.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where today I saw three turkey vultures, one spruce grouse and three deer. It's 9:30 PM now, 52.8 degrees and a couple moths are dancing by the office window. If it rains tomorrow night the Eastern Yellow Spotted Salamanders should be migrating and my night monitoring project will begin. Spring is here!

Good spring wishes!

George Africa
Vermont Flower Farm
The Vermont Gardener

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