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Is There Any Task Less Satisfying Than Digging Post Holes In New England?

By Steve Fagin

Publication: theday.com

Published 10/06/2012 12:00 AM
Updated 10/05/2012 12:08 PM

When discoursing on various labor-intensive projects and activities I often invoke the legend of Sisyphus, a mythological Greek king condemned for eternity to push an enormous boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down.

Among all the ridiculously arduous tasks – hacking away at bittersweet, constructing barriers to fend off deer, slugs and other plant predators, splitting freshly cut hickory for firewood – perhaps the most Sisyphusian is digging post holes.

Ledge, tree roots and hardpan stubbornly thwart shovel, mattock and pry bar. What's more, even the most elegant hole eventually gets filled, so the digger has nothing to show for his efforts.

For the past week or so I have been engaged in this wretched business, and I really shouldn't complain because I have only myself to blame.

It all started innocently enough on an early morning run when one of my favorite aromas wafted through the crisp, early autumn air: Concord grapes ripening along the side of the road.

How wonderful it would be to pick grapes in the backyard each fall, I thought. I already enjoy blueberries fresh from the garden in summer, along with native raspberries, which grow in nearby woods and fields.

Concord grapes also grow wild, but they have a major flaw: seeds. For me, this pretty much ruins the dining experience. The solution: grow my own seedless table grapes.

I went online to research this project, and also have been consulting with a dairy farmer on my running route who recently added a vineyard. While I haven't settled on the varieties I intend to plant in the spring, this much I do know: Unless I cover my vines with netting I might as well concede at least half the crop to voracious avian freeloaders.

I learned this lesson with blueberries, and loyal readers will recall how last spring I finally built a solid wooden frame that supports a nylon net bird barrier.

A particularly determined catbird discovered a tiny slit and periodically sneaked into the enclosure, but I couldn't begrudge him a few meals. I won't have to worry about birds getting into the grapes for a while – it takes two years for the vines to produce fruit, and by then my fortress, modeled after the blueberry frame, will be impenetrable.

It consists of 21 pressure-treated posts, each measuring 5-by-8 inches wide and 8 feet tall. I extended the lengths of each by 2 feet by screwing sections of 2-by-4s. I then buried the posts in rows 8 feet apart about 2 feet deep and filled the holes with rocks and clay.

Next, I screwed in 2x4s that will serve much like rafters to support the netting.

Finally, I will reinforce the walls with metal mesh fencing to ward off the robo-deer, and then add the bird netting. It is adjacent to an existing garden fence, so I've only had to build three additional sides. This new section measures about 25 by 30 feet.

As for the vines, I'll plant them in rows beneath strands of baling wire. But before I can put in vines I have to transplant about 150 pine and spruce seedlings now occupying that space in what has been part of my makeshift tree nursery.

I know, I know, it's a lot of work for grapes, and I'll have to live another 230 years to recover the expense, not even factoring in the labor.

But one morning in the fall of 2014 I will stroll out to the garden, pick a bunch of grapes, eat them with my yogurt, and it will all have been worth it.

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