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

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.

Reader Comments


Utah Rocks: Adventures Among The Arches And The Rapids (Part I)

You know how it feels when you witness something so astonishingly exquisite and surreal it literally takes your breath away, and all you can do is gasp in amazement?

Oops. I Meant To Say, Whatever You Do, NEVER Try To Pose For A Selfie With Bear Cubs While Mama Grizzly Is Watching, And Other Corrections

• Alert readers have correctly pointed out a slight flaw in my instructions for the proper rock climbing command when you have unclipped from your rope. You should loudly announce, "Rappel off," not "On rappel."...

Use It Or Lose It: Trails Disappear If Nobody Hikes Them

Nature really hates a vacuum when it comes to paths.

Plunging Through Plum Gut And Bongo Sliding Through The Race In A Kayak: Maybe There Is Such A Thing As Too Much Fun

So a rabbi and a psychiatrist are kayaking in the ocean when a giant wave crashes over them and knocks the rabbi unconscious. The psychiatrist manages to pull the rabbi ashore, where he regains consciousness.

Once Again, Pink Gloves (Plus a Clever Signal) Help Save The Day At The Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon

"On your left!" Phil Warner shouted from the bow of a tandem kayak, racing toward a buoy during the paddle leg of last Sunday’s Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass.

It's Swallow Time Again On The Connecticut River

Early Thursday evening was a magical time to paddle on the lower Connecticut River near Lyme.

Rocks In Their Heads Again: Another Bunch Of Idiots Knock Over An Ancient Stone Formation, This Time In Oregon

"Every now and again people do something so monumentally destructive, dimwitted and dishonorable it belongs in a class of disgracefulness normally reserved for trophy hunters ... It’s almost as if they wake up one morning and say to...

Who Needs Bug Zappers When Dragonflies Are On The Prowl?

Citronella candles, bug zappers, insecticides – people go to elaborate and often poisonous lengths to combat mosquitoes, deer flies and other nettlesome insects as we move into the steamy weeks of late summer, but I’ve been letting...

Life's A Beach: Eavesdropping In The Sand

"Sweetie, do you know what that is?" No response. "Look at that bird! You know what they call it?" Still no response. "It’s a seagull!"

Surf’s Up! Hanging Ten In A Kayak

All right, technically my buddy Spyros "Spy" Barres and I weren’t hanging 10 toes off the end off boards while riding waves at Westerly’s Fenway Beach on Thursday, but we were surfing.

I'm Always Chasing Rainbows

All of us who have ventured atop mountains, out to sea, or simply into a nearby park have occasionally faced Mother Nature’s wrath – a sudden thunderstorm, pounding blizzard, gale-force winds, locusts …

Loading Your Backpack: Less Is (Usually) More

Some years ago, preparing to hike the Hundred Mile Wilderness – the final stretch of the fabled Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, I stuffed my backpack with what I initially considered to be the absolute bare minimum for a week in...