The next step in the construction of the second planter is removing the existing grass within its footprint.  Normally, I would be able to use the weather as an excuse to put off what is easily my least favorite part of this process.  The ground should be frozen solid in January, making any kind of digging impossible.  We have had some very cold temperatures—it was 12 degrees on Wednesday morning—but the cold spells have not been sustained and the temperature has risen well above freezing most days.  In fact, the weather continues to be unseasonably warm and I will take advantage of it to catch up (I really should have completed the work in the fall).

From the first time doing this, I learned that this kind of digging requires proper footwear:  work boots, not garden clogs.  I also learned (the hard way) that I need to clear a rectangle of sod based on the outside dimensions of the planter.  The first time, I used the inside faces of the planter’s sides to guide the shovel and had to make a second pass to remove a 1 1/2”-wide strip of grass all the way around.  This time, I marked the ground (with a thrust or two of the spade) at each post location at the corners and third-points of the long sides.

I tried to tip the planter up and out of the way but at my first attempt, it would not budge.  The planter is heavy—more than 350 pounds—but I have lifted it before.  Perhaps I am getting weaker in my old age?  I grabbed a four-foot-long section of 2 x 4 to use as a lever (I am an engineer, after all) and stuck it underneath one side of the planter.  With a small pop, it lifted easily.  As it turns out, the post bottoms had frozen to the grass.  I pushed the upended planter, one side at a time, up against the fence.  I haven’t lost my strength yet.

Using the same length of 2 x 4 as a guide, I cut through the sod around the perimeter of the planter in two passes, first using one foot to drive in the shovel and then again using the other.  With each penetration of the spade, I heard the familiar crunch of metal on stone.  The ground itself is soft—wet, even—but if anything, this area is rockier than where the first planter sits.  Digging in this soil has not gotten any easier.

Removing the first section of sod was a bit like getting the first slice of pie out of the tin.  I had to work the shovel underneath the grass without tearing up the sod or squashing the surrounding grass (which must remain in place until we install pavers, but that’s another blog entry).  I found that using the 2 x 4—an indispensable tool, it turns out—as a fulcrum, I could increase the leverage of the shovel.  It also gave me a dry place to rest my knees.

I had marked the sod in two strips, each about two feet wide, and planned to roll each strip up as I pried it loose.  Unfortunately, however, the soil here is too rocky and the grass too sparse to make the sod sufficiently pliable to roll; instead of bending, the sod broke into sections.  Taking my cue from this, I cut the sod into narrow strips, one foot wide, which would be easier to cut free and lift individually with the spade.  It was less like making a jelly roll and more like serving brownies.

After removing and relocating eight strips of sod—a total area of four square feet or about a third of the total—I was done for the day.  It is exhausting work and I still had to clean up before going back inside.