2009-02-27. The frame is 3’x5′. The hole itself is 2’x4′ and about 20″ deep. Less than 2 feet! If you expected me to dig my own grave before you killed me, we would be here for several years.

March 4th, 2009
Digging Holes for Raspberries

The north boundary of my back yard was one of those areas I used to ignore. A waist-high chain link fence divided me from my neighbors and the previous owners had planted a nandina hedge. I left it because it provided a nice green backdrop with no effort and it blocked the view of my neighbor’s back yard. When someone new moved in he immediately erected a 6-foot tall privacy fence and completely changed my garden.

Now the north bed is protected from cold fronts moving in from the north. The low winter sun shines against the fence all day creating a warm micro-climate. Last year I had a chinaberry and hackberry cut down and planted two roses and made a little herb garden here. This winter I decided to tackle another section.

2009-02-06. The requisite “before” photo.

First I had to remove the nandina. You can cut it to the ground and nandina will come back because it has thick fibrous roots. While I was doing this, I happened across some raspberries at The Great Outdoors. Now raspberries are our favorite fruit. When we visit AJM’s parents in England, I go out every morning and graze at the raspberry patch. But raspberries don’t grow in central Texas. Central Texas is too hot in the winter, too hot in the summer, doesn’t get enough rain, and the soil is limestone clay. Raspberries prefer a sandy, well-drained, slightly acidic soil with plenty of humus.

Are you laughing yet at my folly? Or are also you one of those gardeners who can’t resist a challenge? The nurseryman assured me that these ‘Dorman’ red raspberries could stand our southern heat. If that’s true, then I’d do my part to provide them with the kind the soil they like.

So to digging.
Roots, limestone and flint, and a vein of red clay.

Actually, you can’t really call it digging because that implies putting a shovel into the ground and scooping dirt out. What I did was break up clods of clay with my post hole digger (Vertie, can explain why this is preferable to a pick-ax), and then use my pruners to cut away roots. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

This took almost two weeks, working a few hours a day until I collapsed from the back pain. Thank science for ibuprofen. After the first week, I thought the hole was pretty well dug. I put some water in to check the drainage. It didn’t drain. The water sat there for an hour over solid clay. By the next day it had seeped and the clay was softened enough that I was able to dig it out.

I pile a wheelbarrow load of red clay by the driveway.

Job 2: Fill in the hole. It’s a little more than a cubic yard (see photo at top). With some planning I suppose I could have had some garden soil delivered. Maybe next time. I line the hole with weed-blocking cloth. I have poured tons of manure and bought soil into my yard and learned that without weed-blocking cloth the tree roots quickly invade and suck all the life out of the garden soil. If I didn’t use weed-blocking cloth, the hole would revert to the root-infested muck it was before I spent two weeks digging it out.

A neighbor of mine with a goat has given me a wheelbarrow load of goat pellets mixed with straw and juniper needles. I pour that into the bottom of the hole.

Unfortunately, the compost from the compost tumbler is not quite ready yet. But I can turn the open compost pile and sift out the good stuff from the bottom. I use the plastic trays from the nurseries to sift compost.


I mix the homemade compost with free coffee grounds from Starbucks. I also sift the rocks, roots, and clods out of some of the better black soil that came out of the first five or six inches of digging.


As the hole fills in I begin to mix in some premium store-bought compost: Lady Bug Hill Country Garden Soil and Lady Bug Farm Style Compost (cow manure from grass-fed cows). Fancy schmancy, I thought until I compared it with the cheaper cow manure from the big box store. The latter was filled with clay and rocks and did not have the light fluffy texture that the Lady Bug brand has.

I moistened the planting mixture every few inches soil that everything in the hole would be evenly moist (like a damp sponge). Since I did this over several day it also helped it to settle a bit. I place the still-pottedplants where they’re going to go and fill in around them.


AJM built the raised bed from pieces of the failed garden house.

Finally planting takes all of two minutes to pull the pot out of the hole, slip the plant out of the pot, and put it right back in the hole. (They are very young plants and not pot-bound so the roots didn’t need spreading out.)

The “after” picture. I sifted some of the red clay to put around the outside. It almost has the consistency of decomposed granite–which it might be given that I pulled out quite a few red rocks.

The raspberry planting project is not quite finished. AJM is going to build some supports. I still have to add a layer of mulch. I don’t know if raspberries will grow in Austin but I’ve given it my all. If it doesn’t work out, this will be a great bed for potatoes or other root crops.

Project Cost

$29.97: plants: 3 raspberry canes @ $9.99 each
$ 5.99: 1 cubic foot of Lady Bug Hill Country Garden Soil
$ 6.99: 1.5 cubic feet of Lady Bug Farm Style Compost
$ 4.96: 2 pack 4″ mending plates @ 2.48 each (building the raised bed)

Note: We already had the lumber and the weed block cloth.