The Pleasures of De-Turfing

Some things are oddly satisfying. A couple examples include peeling an entire orange in a single peel, and, oddly enough, de-turfing a huge section of trench.

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It takes lots of hands to do this job!

I don’t think too many people who have de-turfed would agree with me. The work can be backbreaking and laborious, much more so than troweling, and the job seems daunting when you look at the selected trench area, still covered in grass. But when de-turfing is broken down and looked at from a positive perspective, it is so pleasing, and even almost fun.

There are two things you need to get started: a section of grassy trench, and a spade. Picking out a spade is an important task; it needs to be sharp, to make the process easier. Once both of these are chosen, the de-turfing can begin! With the sharp spade, place it on the line that you need to cut, and stomp assertively on the top of the blade. It cuts right through, so smoothly, marking a perfectly straight line. The key here is “assertively.” De-turfing requires some serious commitment.

A few more similar strokes, and a grid pattern composed of easily removable rectangular prisms emerges. If done properly, the turf slides right out of the ground, maintaining its shape. Then you fill the wheelbarrow, relishing in the thud that every brick of turf makes when it hits the metal. In their unbroken form, the bricks are closer to being stacked than piled, and they fill the barrow quickly.

It’s time to dump the turf, only after a short more-or-less controlled jog down the slope to the spoil heap. We’ve already seen multiple methods to empty these loads out onto the spoil heap, but my favourite method was only discovered this week. The video below features Giuseppe showing off his perfected wheelbarrow emptying form, something that nobody else can even hope to emulate without losing the load before it reaches the pile.

On top of how great it feels to plunge the spade into the turf, and how perfectly the blocks emerge from the ground, the best part of de-turfing is the end result, when you can look at the trench, now turfless earth with the straightest edges, or at the gigantic mound of dirt bricks that you just spent hours removing. Regardless of how one feels about this toil – not everyone finds so much to enjoy in the work – it is an absolutely necessary part of excavation, to reveal the features of the soil and to give us access to the artifacts just beneath our feet.

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Truly a mountain, this is the amount of turf removed from the trench in only the last 2 days of excavation.

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