email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Monday, September 28, 2015


Well, The Washington Nationals season is effectively over.  It was a real crash...

Baseball can break your heart.  It just isn't like other sports.

In American football, a team can go 14-2 or 2-14.  The better team just always seems to win over the season by quite a bit and every time.  The good teams win and the bad teams are horrid.

In Basketball, the best teams are so far above the worst teams that you can predict the winners ahead of time easily.

Baseball just doesn't go like that.  The best teams only reach 60% wins; the worst, well, let's say 33%.  On any given series, the same teams will have games of 14-2, 5-6, and 1-2.  There is almost no sense to it.

And the sad part is that so many favorite players will be traded away as a result.  And some new ones will arrive.  

It drives me crazy. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Busy Day Doing Boring Stuff

Not all days can be exciting.  Today was errand day... 

First, I needed some supplies.  And for cheap brand-name supplies, I go to Wal-Mart.  And when I shop at Wal-Mart, I go at mid-morning on a weekday.  So off I went at 10 am...  Some visits are better than others; I barely found half the stuff I was looking for.

So I went home, dropped off the few items, had a quick lunch, fed the Mews their 2nd meal, and went grocery-shopping.  I went to a store I usually don't shop at because the last time, they had the best peaches I have had in years and I was considering changing store loyalty.  The last visit was a fluke!  So I went to my regular store.  The produce was a bit better.

That doesn't mean "great".  I don't know why grocery stores put out peaches and plums etc that are hard as rocks, golden delicious apples and pineapples that are green, melons that you could pound nails with, and strawberries that are nearly white.  I guess most people don't know what "ripe" is for most fruits and just put up with it.  No wonder most people don't eat enough fruits; unripe fruit isn't worth eating.   Fortunately, I've grown enough stuff to know the difference, so I buy was is "tolerably" ripe, enjoy the truly ripe, and ignore the rest.

Sorry, I'm really gripey because the quality seems to be getting worse.  I love fresh fruits and veggies and wish I had the space, sun, and time to grow all my own.  But its not like I'm ever going to grow oranges and pineapples here in Maryland!

Fortunately, the veggies are easier.  Most can be eaten at any stage of growth (there is no such thing as "unripe" broccoli or mushrooms, for example).  That's why I try to grow crops that DO need ripening, like tomatoes and corn.

So I did my produce shopping and then went to Nick's (meat, deli, liquor).  I love that place.  They custom-cut meat and have great prices, discount liquor, and a great deli counter.  And they special-order my favorite inexpensive (under-appreciated) zinfandel wine.  I'll give an example:  They had Filet Mignon on sale at $10.69 per pound.  That sounds expensive, but it is all meat.  I end up with 7 small steaks at $4 each.  Doesn't a Filet Mignon steak at $4 sound good to you?  And large fresh-frozen shrimp (deveined) 2 lbs for $10. 

Beat THAT at any restaurant...  Well, it DOES help that I like to cook, and after 45 years I do it tolerably well.  I'm never going to be on any TV cooking show, but I haven't complained about my cooking lately.  When you start out adult life broke and doubling up on Hamburger Helper, a $4 Filet Mignon steak is pretty darn good.  Surrounded by sides of homegrown tomatoes, cucumber, and mesclun lettuce salad, corn on the cob, and italian flat beans...

Tonight's dinner was actually stir-fried red and green peppers, onion, celery, potato cubes, and pork I smoked on the offset grill.  And the same salad and grilled pineapple slices.

So today turned out to be the first non-yardwork day in 2 weeks.  I needed the day off.  The front yard grass is up and growing, the backyard grass is down and moistened for germination, and everything else can wait til tomorrow.

It was a good day!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

To Lawn Or Not To Lawn

There is progress on the newly bared areas in the front and back yards!  I never intended to plant grass everywhere (and I'm not).  There is something about bare soil that makes me think more of flowers and shrubs than grass. 

The only thing lawn is really good for is croquet and mowing.  But tradition (and community rules) require lawn, so the front yard area has been totally reseeded.  I rototilled the soil, leveled it, raked it so the surface was rough, put down grass seed (Rebel brand turf-type fescue), then raked it all again carefully. 

The 2nd raking was to slightly cover the grass seed (helps to hide it from hungry birds).  That was Tuesday of last week.  I've watered it lightly every day since, and yesterday I saw the first grass sprouts.  Hurray!  It seems to be coming up quite nicely. 

And After...
I'll keep watering it lightly for a couple more days until I'm sure all the grass that is going to sprout has done so.  Then I'll water more deeply to encourage the roots to grow downward.  We might get some steady rain Sunday/Monday, so maybe that will take care of the watering.

So I turned my attention to the back yard.  There won't be much new grass there!  I plan one large part of it to be a home for the invasively spreading Lysimachia Firecracker (2' high with purple leaves and small yellow flowers), Coneflowers, Goldenrod, and Black-Eyed Susan.  It will be surrounded by mowable grass, so it is welcome to try to spread, LOL!

The 2nd area will also be surrounded by grass but will have perennial wildflowers.  The wildflower package I bought is rather vague on the types of seeds included, so I hope to be happy next year.  If not, I can spread seeds of other wildflower mixes.

I laid out 200' of edging yesterday (view from the deck)...
The hard part is setting the edging in the ground.  The far side is the hardest; mostly gravelly soil.  I've had to use a pick to loosen the soil (in spite of having rototilled it) and a narrow trenching shovel to scoop the material out.  It's been tiring.  But my practical rule of projects is "Do the hard parts first and it gets easier as you go".  Only part of the area is gravelly; the rest is the softer soil from under the former ridge and woodland area.  So I'm suffering through the gravelly part first.

Fortunately, there is no rush.  The perennial wildflower instruction say to plant about 3 weeks before the first hard frost, and that is usually in early November.  And I can't transplant the existing Lysimachia, Coneflower, Goldenrod, and Black-Eyed Susan until they go dormant about then either.  The good part about waiting a while is that I can water the soil now to encourage weed seeds to germinate and then use my scuffle hoe to cut them off just below the soil.
The transplantings mean good news for the existing flowerbeds.  With the transplants gone, there will be several areas free for new plants.  I plan to start more annual plants inside next Spring for those areas.  I went with perennials years ago for "lack of maintenance".  Hah!  Weeding around individual plants every year is a lot harder than just turning the whole area each year and sticking new plants in.  Besides, annuals bloom all season long... 

Monday, September 21, 2015

It Worked, Part 2

So here is the soil-scraper thing I made.   A close-up first...  The aluminum plate has 2.5" to dig in.  And it is definitely sturdy.
The board isn't warped; that's a macro camera setting effect.  It's a 2"x10"x4' board; heavy and straight.

Here it is upside down so you can see it.  Its wider than the lawn mower.
 Here it is as used.  The front of the board and the aluminum plate both help drag soil around from the high spots to the low ones.  I didn't plan for the board to help, I just got lucky. 
Sorry I don't have a "before" picture, but imagine 6" deep furrows...  Here is the "after" picture. 
There are mower treads there, but there is 4" of soft soil under it.  I will soak the soil with a lawn sprinkler and then transplant some existing tall perennials before scattering wildflower seeds.  I have 250" of plastic edging to define the wildflower area.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

It Worked!

Yesterday I mentioned having a neat idea for an easier way to level the 3,500 square feet of rototilled soil in the backyard.

Well, my first idea was to use a rake, but not in the usual way.  I have a 24 inch wide "leveling rake".  Meaning that the non-toothed side has a strong straight metal edge.
My idea was to tie it "upside down" behind the riding lawn mower and drag it around to drag dirt into the furrows.  And maybe put a cinder block on the top to dig in a bit.  But even at 2' wide, that would take all day and only scrape about 1/2"!  What I needed was a BIGGER RAKE.  I didn't have one...  But then I thought about dragging a heavy 4' wide board behind the mower.  I tried that by hand and it just slid over the top of the soil.


What I needed was an edge for the board at a 90 degree angle.  Another board would just slide too.  A sharper edge was needed.  Think, think, think...

AHA!  I had some 1/4" aluminum strips left over from making floors for my jon boat years ago (I keep stuff).  Well one piece was 4"x4'!  I drilled some holes in the aluminum plate and screwed it to the 4'x2" board.  That left a 2.5" scraper lip under the board.

I tied the contraption to the back of the mower so that it would drag 3' behind the mower  and prepared to try out my creation.  And the mower battery was dead!


I carried a boat battery out to the shed to jumpstart the mower and IT was dead.  So I charged up a portable battery jumper (not this brand but same design).
And THAT wouldn't charge!  I finally took the battery out of the mower, took it in the basement and attached it to a regular car battery charger.  Being a small battery, it charged in an hour (enough to start the mower, anyway).

So I started dragging my home-made soil-grader around the furrowed soil.


In only 1 hour, I had the entire 3,500 square feet leveled.  I went north-south once, east-west once, and diagonally once.  Then I went around just for fun looking for high spots...

The dust was horrible though.  The soil WAS 5' below ground before the ridge was removed.  I was surprised at how utterly dry it was.  Fortunately, there was a slight breeze and I figured out how to stay mostly upwind.  Not always, of course; I did cough a lot.

Obviously, I needed several beers to wash the dust out while I stood on the deck admiring the level soil...

This was longer than I expected, so "tommorrow"...

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Yardwork

Summary:  5 weeks ago, I had 2 large trees removed.  All the equipment tore up the front and side lawns.  But I was planning excavation and lawn-raising work any a few days later, so I wasn't worried.  That contractor begged off and I had to find another (who was booked for 2 weeks and would only do half the job).  Before the 2nd guy could come out, the 1st one called and said they had a schedule change and were available for the whole job the next morning if I was still interested.  I had them do the jobs.  The work went beautifully, but of course all the equipment compacted the added soil in front, so I needed to rototill and level it.  I got that done after several days work.

I know return to the story in progress...
The first priority was to plant grass seed on the raised front lawn.  Because of all the rototilling, it took a LOT of raking to smooth it all.  Plus I wanted loose soil to lightly cover the grass seed after spreading it around.  One, it helps the grass stay in place; two, it keeps the grass seeds germinate; three, it hides the seeds from the hungry birds.

Second was to start watering the seeded lawn.  You can't just set up a lawn sprinkler, the big drops of water land too hard and the heavy watering floats the grass seeds into uneven puddles.  I had to water gently by hand.  The first time went REAL slow.  My showerhead wand puts out nice small drops but not much water at a time.  And I had to walk on the seeded area to reach the farthest parts.  It took 2 hours for just 2,000 square feet!  And the experts recommend you water twice a day for the first week.

The next day, I used a fan sprayer.  Wow, I did not realize how much more water that one sends out!   And with so many small holes in the fan, it falls gently.  AND reaches to the farthest spots without me standing on the seeds.  I've done that twice a day since Tuesday.  And as a test, I planted some grass seeds in a pot indoors to see when the grass would sprout in perfect conditions...

Third, I set my sight on the backyard where the ridge was removed.  That area has better soil (well, softer at least).  But it is lousy with gravel and small stones (to baseball size).  First, I rototilled it.  More stones and gravel...  Then I tried raking them out.  That was like trying a sweep a dirt road clean!  After I moved 4 wheelbarrow loads of that behind the toolshed, I realized I could fill a pickup truck and not make much difference.  So the surface will stay gravelly.

Fortunately, most of the backyard bare area (about 3,500 square feet - really, it's 70x50') is going to become a flower meadow.  I have coneflowers, lysimachia, goldenrod, and black-eyed susans to transplant there.  I have a dwarf (3') butterfly bush to take cuttings from and multiply and a dwarf rose (Knock Out) for the same multiplying.  In between them, I'll spread perennial wildflowers and leave a curvy path through the middle.

But I've gotten ahead of myself.  Rototilling the back area left deep furrows.  And with all the gravel and stones, I didn't want to have to rake the whole area smooth by hand.  So I stood on the deck staring at the furrowed soil and thought for a bit (with a beer for inspiration).  And I had an interesting idea...

Tomorrow, "A Solution"...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

5 Years Gone

Mom died 5 years ago today from common old age problems.  I miss her as a friend.  She "mothered" me for 18 years, and she became more of a friend after that.  Does that seem strange?

For almost my entire adult life (18-55), we corresponded almost weekly.  She and I are writers, and letters were our "talk".  We both loved words, their origins, and their changing meanings.  It runs in her side of the family; one of her sisters worked on a major dictionary.  If there was a pun to be made, we made it.  If there was some older meaning of a word, we played it.

It ended 5 years before she died.  She could no longer write even with the help of a machine.  I suppose it didn't matter, her mind was going wrong along with her fingers.  The last 5 years, she couldn't communicate.  I kept writing letters that Dad read to her until he said she couldn't understand anything anymore.

I miss her as my Mom.  But I miss her as my friend more.  I don't want that to sound wrong.  Its just that we had a special similar sense of humor-wordplay, and top-this-doggeral poem that lasted for so many years..

I got my sense of the dramatic from her.  When she was middle-aged, the social group she was in had theme parties.  One was Wild Hats.  Mom had Dad take a straw hat and add a big plywood ring around it.  She took our Ben-Hur chariot set and glued them around the ring.  First Prize!  I learned from that. 

Thanks for everything, Mom...  I carry on the tradition.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Good and Bad Day

Discovered I could transact business with my far away credit union through a different local one.  They call it Credit-Union-Sharing (real original, right?).  But it beats driving an hour and back.

Picked 22 ripe cherry tomatoes and 3 large heirloom tomatoes in the garden. YUM!

Raked 10 piles of rocks out of the new leveled backyard.  Not sure what I will DO with the rocks yet.  But they have to go before I can plant anything there.  And I have a cool tool for raking rocks.  Get ready for the name - Rock Raker!  Maybe "Stoned Today, Gone Tomorrow"?

Actually, it works.  The front tines are curved slightly backwards, so it catches rocks and lets soil slide through.  I suspect some clam-digger adapted it to New England farming.

Fired up the charcoal offset smoker.  Cooked pork ribs and chicken.  The ribs are delicious; I'll have some chicken tomorrow.  And I have enough leftovers for 10 more meals.  Those hickory chunks make great smoke and flavor.

Watered the flowerbeds.  We aren't technically in a drought, but the recently-removed ridge soil was dry as dust 4' down and that's not good.  We we forecast "heavy rain" Thursday/Friday, but I got less than 1/4".  That doesn't even register on plants.  In fact, it's bad for them.  It encourages the roots upwards, where they dry out faster.

So I try to water deeply once a week.  We aren't low on water supply here (for the hoses), just not much rain  and lots of plants transpiring it from the soil even deep down.  Its the lack of water deep in the soil that worries me.

Watering is easy.  I have this thing I built...
 I bought 2 plants that I want more of.  One is a Knock-Off Rose and the other is a dwarf butterfly bush.  I hate buying plants that cost $25 in a 3" pot!  But I know how to take cuttings and root them.  So each of those plants will be 5 plants at least next Spring.

Call me cheap, but its the fun of doing the rootings I like...

And the cats are loving being outside.  Marley misses his mousies (destroyed when the ridge was leveled) but he accepts my promise that the new plantings will probably bring even more mousies around and he will have more hiding places.

I better deliver on that promise...

Friday, September 11, 2015


Never Forgive, Never Forget...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Annoying Neighbors

My neighbors had a Labor Day party.  Good for them, that's fine.  They weren't loud or anything.  But we don't have curbs on the streets here.  So parking off-street means parking on lawns.  In this case, mine. 

I looked out the front windows in the afternoon to see 3 cars parked on my front lawn.  That would normally annoy me a bit, but I had just rototilled that area to un-compact the soil so I could plant grass.  Argh!

Yeah, yeah, they have to park "somewhere", but I noticed that they DIDNT park on the host's lawn...  THAT'S what annoyed me.  It's like that was intructions from the host neighbor "park on the neighbor's lawn, not mine"...

I let it go...  I don't like to start fights about small things.  I can run the rototiller over the crushed soil again.  Small things can start bigger arguments.

But the next day, I discovered that the guests backing their cars out from the line of other cars, backed a dozen feet onto my loose soil.  Tire tracks don't lie.

Mumble, grumble, mumble, vague swear word, mumble, grumble...

I hope they don't have another party soon.  Otherwise, I think I may charge for parking.  ;)

Monday, September 7, 2015

Rototillering the Back Yard

Well, the back yard was sure a change from the front!  The front was delivered "topsoil", the backyard was existing soil from the ridge.  What a difference in quality, and not the way you would think!!!  The ridge in the backyard was better soil...

When I finished the first 2" tilling of the front packed soil, I was worried about the backyard because they drove the equipment around there a lot more than in the front.  But when I finished the 2" tilling of the new front soil, I did one experimental row through the back.

The back soil is WONDERFUL!  In spite of all the equipment driven over it, it is (relatively) soft, loose, and fertile-looking.  The surface seemed also hard, but the rototiller just went through it like a spoon through flour...  That part is going to be so easy that I feel better about having to spend time on the front.

Hurray for an easy part to the project!

Planting in the backyard is going to be easy.

The important part is deciding what to plant.  The front yard is easy - lawn (keeps the neighbors happy).  The backyard is more important to me and the cats.  We live THERE when outside.  And we like bugs and butterflies and birds and bees.

So, I want a small meadow of native flowers that will support locals bugs and etc.  I think there will be an edging of 3' shrubs (some to each flower in Spring, Summer, and Fall) and 2 pieces of 225 square feet (21 square meters) meadow (separated by a mowable path).  I have some suitable plants I can divide and plant in clumps (coneflowers, black-eye-susans, goldenrod, and I will buy a large packet of native meadowflower seeds to scatter among them in 1 patch .

The other patch will be the Lysimachia Firecracker that has been bedeviling me in the regular flowerbed.  In a patch I can finally mow around, it won't spread easily.  I love the purple leaves and the yellow flowers, it just isn't a friendly neighbor to other plants.  So it gets it's own spot where it can be controlled.

For the Spring Summer, and Fall blooming shrubs, I am choosing Azaleas for Spring, a Rhododendron for Fall, and I'm not sure about a small Summer-blooming shrub, but considering Knock-out Rose and or a dwarf butterfly bush.  Suggestions for USA Zone 7 are welcome.

When I measure the new area for a scaled layout, I'll post it.

I do have to add a minor accident.   I was guiding the rototiller along the edge of the drainage easement in the front yard yesterday and I hit a rock.  The rototiller tilted, and of course it tilted in the direction of the drainage easement.  You know how somethings tilt and, just for one brief movement all is seemingly balanced?  And then it falls...

In the wrong direction, of course.

Before I go further, I should mention that it seems to me that everyone has some particular problem that happens to them more often than to others.  One of mine is that gas equipment doesn't like to stop when set to the "stop" position.  They just sputter and cough along refusing to actually stop.  My regular lawn mower does that and I have to use a screwdriver to short-circuit the spark plug to the chassis to stop it.  My gas chain saw does that (when I can get it to start at all).  The rototiller has the same problem.

So there it was, balanced on the digging parts trying to fall into the drainage easement.  It succeeded!  My first thought was DAMN!  My second was "I hope nobody saw that"!  But I set the lever to the stop position and it wouldn't stop.  Of course...

At least the lever that disengages the digging blades (tines) worked.  So there I was with the rototiller on its side in the drainage easement, sputtering.  And besides, in trying to hold the thing up out of the drainage easement, I fell into it myself. 

Need I mention that there are brambles along the edge of the drainage easement at that ONE spot?  Probably not, what else would be there with my luck?  So I picked myself up out of the muddy bottom, pulled the rototiller upright, and got it into reverse and backed it up the side of the drainage easement side.

It's OK to laugh.  I wouldn't be telling you about this if I was easily embarrassed by the occasional failures in daily life.  After I had the rototiller back out of the drainage easement (and turned off), I sat down and laughed too. 

If you can't laugh at yourself, you have a problem...  LOL!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Rototillering The Front Lawn Soil

My Troy-Bilt Pony rototiller is the type with the digging tines at the rear.  The first kind I bought 25 years ago was a front-tine tiller with free-moving wheels, and those are AWEFUL.  The front-tines jump over everything and you mostly have to hold it back to let the tines dig into the soil (It's like making a mule go backwards).  30 minutes of that, and you have put in a full day's work!

The Troy-Bilt (and this is not an ad for them - I'm just really happy with it) has geared wheels and the digging tines behind them.  So the wheels have a set speed and actually prevent the tines from pushing the whole thing forward (mostly).  So you are steering it more than horsing it around.

There is also a sled-like bar under the chassis that controls how deep the tines can dig down.  Trust me, when the soil is hard it sure is easier to let the tines dig down just 2" rather than trying for 6". 

So I went over the entire front area 1-2" deep for a first shot today.  The area is about 2500 square feet (232 square meters).  It took 1.5 hours.  It was difficult to break down the track treads, but I got most of them turned into pellets.  I stopped for the day.  I was exhausted...

That doesn't mean I wasn't pleased with the results.  The hard-dried track-tread marks were all ground up, and that was all I hoped for on the first run-through.  Tomorrow, I will set the depth sled-bar another 2" lower and see how that works. 

I would LIKE to get the new soil tilled up loose to 6" deep (the maximum depth my hand-managed rototiller will allow) so that the grass will grow deep roots and hold the ground against heavy rains. 

There will be some annoyances.  I already discovered there is a large rock firmly in the ground (meaning I couldn't pry it out with a shovel).  And there are a few places where the rototiller just jumps up suddenly suggesting others I don't see yet.

In hindsight, I wish I had just had the contractor dump the 2 truckloads of soil and spread it out myself.  Spreading the soil by rake and shovel would have been easier than the rototillering.  But it seemed a good idea at the time.

But it will all get loosened enough for planting lawn grass while the weather is warm, so all will work out in the end even if I have to do more after-work than I expected.  Looking at the most positive view of this, I'll just say "Who can't use a bit more exercise"?  LOL!

More tomorrow...

Saturday, September 5, 2015

New Soil Harder Than I Thought!

I got outside to prepare the bare front yard for new grass seeds, and the condition of the new topsoil wasn't as good as I thought!  It seemed loose enough when the contractor left on Tuesday, and I thought the track-tread of the spreader was light enough to not compact the soil, but I was wrong.

Yesterday, I realized the new soil had hardened like cement and there were deep tread-tracks embedded on it.  YIKES!  I sure can't plant grass on THAT. 

Well, I had expected to have to haul out my old Troy-Bilt Roto-Tiller anyway. 
Pony Garden Tiller
I did that today.  I hadn't used it in many years, and equipment that sits around unused for 5-10 years doesn't like to start up right away.  But I filled up the gas tank, checked the oil, set the lever to "choke" (that's a good thing, if you don't know), set another lever to "start", and pulled the starter cord. 

Nothing!  20-30 tiring pulls later, nothing!  No big surprise, but I had hoped to get lucky.  I'm no expert with gas engines, but I know some basics.  So... I checked the levers to make sure they seemed to be working.  They were.  I checked the spark plug wire.  It was firmly attached and clean.  So I removed the spark plug itself.  Naturally, my socket set didn't have the right size cushioned spark plug socket, but fortunately it is slightly raised (sensible design) and I could loosen it with a regular wrench. 

I fully expected it to be fouled with old oil or needing to be cleaned and gapped, but it looked perfect!  Damn...  One always hopes for easy problems to fix.

Well, whenever I have repairmen around, I watch them carefully.  The last time I had a guy here to get a different piece of equipment (lawn mower) running, he said the fuel line/carburator was probably gummed up.  Now, you can either take the parts off and clean them, or get them running sneakily and they will clean themselves.  He did a "sneaky". 

He took the air filter off  (exposing the carburator) and sprayed a (flammable) cleaning solvent into it.  It loosened a stuck part and the lawn mower started right up on the next try.

Well, I don't have any fancy cleaning solvents, but gasoline is a basic solvent for old gasoline.  I took the air filter off to add a little gasoline into the carburator.  But I sure couldn't just pour gasoline from a big 5 gallon can into that small hole when I only wanted about a tablespoon of gasoline. 

I could have gone back into the house and gotten an actual tablespoon.  But I like to be resourceful.  So I decided that the socket that didn't fit the spark plug would work as a small container if I kept my finger tightly on the bottom.  It took a little work to splash just a small bit of gas out of the can, but I managed.  Then dribbled it into the carburator.  Puttng the air filter back on I pulled the starter cord.  Nothing.  Damn...

A second pull, and I'LL BE DAMNED, IT COUGHED A COUPLE TIMES, TRYING TO START.  ANOTHER PULL AND IT STARTED...  I had to play with the choke lever for a minute, but it settled down running smoothly.  I could barely believe it! 

Since it was running, I decided to use it on the hardened soil in the front lawn.  More about that tomorrow...

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Bye Bye Ridge!

There has been this ridge in the backyard since I moved here 29 years ago (and by coincidence, this is the very week I moved here).  It has always been a problem.  Too sloped and uneven to mow.  A few years after I moved in, I was able to get it mostly cleared of scrub trees and vines.  But they kept growing back and English ivy slowly took over.  I cut back the tree seedlings many times and even painted herbicide on the cut trunks, but it hardly slowed them down.

I finally contacted an excavator who came out and gave me a quote for leveling the ridge and raising a portion of the front yard that flooded after heavy rains.  I accepted the quote on the spot and they said they would do the work the following week.  When they didn't arrive, I called only to be told they were too busy.

So I contacted some other excavators who decided the job was too small.  Only one agreed (reluctantly - he is 45 minutes away from here) and would not come out to give a quote - I would have to accept the cost afterwards. 

Then, Monday afternoon, the original contractor called to say they had a break in their schedule and could do the job the next morning if I was still interested.  I was, and they did!

I am delighted with the results.  They did even more than I thought they could (considering 2 small trees I wanted to save).

It looked like this to start...
They started by scraping the scrub tree seedlings and ivy off the top and sides.
Dumping it in a truck for disposal.  You can see the amazingly long ivy roots hanging down.  No wonder that stuff is so hard to kill!
The ridge was already nicely lowered from just that.
I would have had them just pile the scraped ivy all up in a corner to compost, but there was enough soil mixed in that they probably would have just kept growing.
See the soil dust rising from the bucket?  We havent exactly had drought here (lots of rain in June, but almost none since then).  Even 4' deep, the soil was dusty-dry.
The equipment is cool (literally).  The Bobcat cabin is sealed, air-conditioned, and has a stereo system inside!
They carefully worked around the 2 trees, watching for the 1st sign of main roots.  This one is a holly tree.  It's hard to kill.  When I first cleared the ridge so many years ago, I accidently cut it down and it regrew multiple trunks from that mistake. 
After all the scrub tree saplings and ivy were gone, they heaped up the remaining soil to examine the quality.  We had expected the ridge to be unusable gravel and clay, but it turned out to be good sandy loam so they moved it out as a base to raise the sunken front lawn.
Then they dumped 2 truckloads of topsoil on that!  They spent a good bit of time grading it carefully.   The whole area is now a foot higher than the drainage easement at the property line.  Unless we have a really severe hurricane before the grass I'll plant sets in good roots, my front yard flooding should be over.
They even spent time carefully smoothing the added soil to the existing lawn.
Here is the new front lawn...
And here is the new back yard!
I don't plan to cover the entire area in lawn.  Lawn is boring...  I plan to put a mix of Spring and Fall blooming azaleas around the inside edges of the trees and wildflowers and some long-lived perennials in  between them.  It will be fun to decide exactly what to plant where...

I need to drag out the roto-tiller first.  Even though the Bobcat has track treads to reduce soil compaction, the new surface is still too packed to just plant in.  The front yard will just get grass.

I wish I had had this done 20 years ago!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Excavation Back On Track

To summarize, after the two huge trees were removed weeks ago, I had an excavator scheduled to arrive the next week to remove a 6'Hx50'Lx15'W ridges covered with English ivy, poison ivy, wild grapevines, and various 3' weedy tree saplings that I have never been able to kill.

The excavation contractor came out, provided a quote for that work and raising the sunken front lawn.  I accepted their quote on the spot and we shook hands on it.  They said they would arrive the next week with a day's notice.

Near the end of that week, I called to see when they planned to show up.  They decided they were "too busy".  I think that they simply got better jobs and didn't need my smallish one.  I wrote a negative review on Angie's List (a contractor review site) and found another person who was slightly reluctant to do the job ( I was on the far edge of his work are) but agreed to to the excavation and plant removal (but not the lawn raising.  Well, I can get topsoil locally, so OK.  But it would be 2 weeks...  It bothered me that the person would not come out to provide a firm quote, but the person had an "A" rating in all categories one of which was "fair pricing". 

Meanwhile, I emailed the original excavator pointing out that they had offerred a firm proposal that I had accepted and we shook hands on it.  I expected a "sorry, we really are too busy".  Guess what?  They called yesterday afternoon and said they could come out this morning if I was still interested.

I was, and called back immediately to confirm I wanted them to do the work.  For one thing, they had come out to look at the work so they knew what was involved.  And they proposed to do the lawn-raising too.