Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How I became an outlaw

As you may or may not know, every time you do any kind of project that involves digging—from something as big as building a garage to as small as planting a rosebush—you're supposed to call 811 to notify your local utility companies. That way, they can mark out the property to show you the locations of buried pipes and cables, so that you don't accidentally knock out the power to your whole block with your shovel. Now, Brian and I happen to know that our upcoming edible landscaping project isn't going to run afoul of any buried infrastructure, because

  1. all the cables in our neighborhood are overhead, not underground;
  2. we won't be digging deep enough to hit a water main, and Brian isn't strong enough to cut through one with his shovel even if we did; and
  3. all the spots where we plan to dig are spots where trees or bushes have already been planted in the past, and we don't think the utility companies could have secretly run cables or pipes under our property in the interim without our noticing anything. 

So we weren't actually too worried that we might run into any problems, but I figured, being a law-abiding citizen, that I should call the number anyway, just to make sure everything was above board.

So, back in February, I called 811 and explained what we were planning. The operator asked me for the date on which digging would begin, and I said that it would be sometime in the early spring; I wouldn't know the exact date until the plants shipped. She then informed me curtly that she could not give me a "ticket" to authorize digging without a specific date. I hazarded a guess of April 10, only to be slapped that down again: my proposed start date was too far away. I'd have to call again, no more than two weeks before my project was scheduled to start, to get a "ticket" that would be good for a month from that point.

Well, okay, so much for trying to plan ahead. Since St. Lawrence Nurseries said their plants generally shipped in early April, I made a note on my calendar to call 811 again on April 1. However, last night, on returning from Passover festivities at my parents' house, I found a message in my inbox saying that our plants had shipped on Monday the 25th and should arrive in two to five days. So I called 811 again this morning and said I had a landscaping project that was due to start "this weekend," figuring that even if the plants arrived early, they could survive until then. However, this time, after taking my particulars, the operator again asked me for a start date—between April 2 and April 10. Oh, and she wanted a specific start time, too. When I hedged, she explained that I didn't actually have to know the exact time when work would begin; this was just the deadline that the utility companies would be given to have all their survey work done. But even the earliest possible date she'd given me was still too early; even if the plants take a full 5 days to reach us, they'll arrive by Saturday and be planted on Sunday, which is the 31st of March.

Forced to give an answer in the targeted time period, I gave her a start date and time of noon on April 2. So now the best I can hope for is that the plants arrive late and the utility company finishes its survey early. The nursery did give some instructions on how to keep the plants alive if we can't get them into the ground immediately, but it did stress that the earlier they're planted, the better. And if our trees and bushes don't survive, then I'll have to wait another whole year before I can order more and try again—which also means waiting a whole extra year before the plants mature and start actually producing fruit.

So I've made up my mind that if our plants arrive before our "ticket" hasn't been filled, I'm planting them anyway. I've invested a lot of time, money, and emotional energy in these plants already, and I'm not going to risk letting them die because some idiotic bureaucrats can't figure out how to give coherent instructions that it's actually possible for homeowners to comply with. Yes, that's right, if push comes to shove, I intend to become...an outlaw gardener. I've said before that I have a lot of sympathy for the guerrilla gardening movement, but I must admit, I never thought I'd be taking part in it on my own property.
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