Friday, November 29, 2013

More work on the Raised Garden

Our last posting on the Raised Garden said that we had the digging done.  But in fact, we only had most of it.  We had dug out to the cement tiles that ringed the raised garden.  These were originally under the railroad ties.  But the dirt from the raised garden continued under them.  The tiles are 12 inch square.

So we moved the tiles back 12 inches, revealing a 12 inch wide margin of dirt that still needs to be dug out.  We started on the back wall.  The digging was fairly easy, but as we got to the actual decomposed granite walkway, it was apparent that this whole approach was badly thought out.

There is nothing between the rock and decomposed granite of the walkway and the dirt of the raised garden except a (now badly deteriorated) stretch of garden fabric.  As I removed the dirt from the raised garden, the rock and decomposed granite then collapsed into the pit of the raised garden.

In addition, digging on around revealed a couple of very large rocks still in the raised garden, in the upper right corner of the picture below.

We used the jack hammer to break these up so that we can remove them.

We also had to jack hammer out some rock in the opposite corner.

All of this work has been substantially delayed because of frequent rains which both fill the pit and make all the dirt and rock too wet to work in, so it's been months since we have been able to make much progress.

Our objective at this point is to pour a retaining wall around the perimeter of the raised garden pit, to hold out the rock and decomposed granite, and to be the base on which to build a new raised garden using 6x8 inch limestone blocks instead of the railroad ties.  We have 40 bags of concrete in the garage waiting to be used for this wall, as soon as we can finish the digging and it's dry enough to work.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Test of Palisades Zoysia for the Backyard

Someday all the digging in the backyard will be done and we will want to put grass back in.  I checked with the City and they recommend

"Palisades Zoysia, buffalo, and native seed blends like Habiturf or Thunderturf. Palisades Zoysia will do better in the shade, while the other grasses do better in sun.  You will have to find out what turf grass is best for you."

Since the hope is to make the back yard more shady, it seems like the Palisades Zoysia is the recommended type.  A brochure I found about it said

"Palisades is a medium textured, dark green Turfgrass best suited for residential lawns and commercial sites when a non-traditional lawn is desired.  Developed by Texas A&M, Palisades Zoysia grass scores high in shade, cold, and drought tolerance making it the perfect lawn for all areas of Texas."

In our case, the shade and drought tolerance will be useful.

But will it work in our yard?  To test it, I went and bought two pieces of it and put it down in the backyard, over near the fence where the digging should be done. 

Zoysia comes as sod which is cut into pieces.  Each piece is about 16 inches by 24 inches, so putting them down like this gives me an area 16 inches by 48 inches.  (Actually they seem to have cut them short, so it's about 16 inches by 46 inches).  After putting the pieces down, I walked on them to press them down to the dirt, and then watered them well.  This weekend is supposed to be wet, so they should be well watered for the next two or three days.

I bought the two pieces from King Ranch Turfgrass, for $5.41.

The plant on the left is from the raised garden and should go back once that is rebuilt.

Friday, September 6, 2013

New Roof

We had a roof put on in 2004, but in 2008 there was a major hail storm.  Our insurance company totalled the roof. They estimated a complete re-roof would cost about $24K.  After our deductible of $10K, they wrote us a check for $14K.  The roof did not seem to me to be in bad shape, so I waited.

Now, in 2013, I'm beginning to see spots where the roof is wearing out.

(Although this spot could be because of trees brushing against the roof).  And one of the skylights looks like it is coming apart.

So I checked Angie's List for roofers and choose three: Clear Choice Roofing, Masada Roofing, and Dayton Roofing and Renovation.  Each of them sent out someone to look the roof over, measure it, and discuss what needed to be done.  I figured that I needed (1) the roof replaced, (2) at least the one skylight replaced, and (3) the solar panels removed and replaced after the roof.

Each of the three companies sent PDF estimates by e-mail.  The overall costs were similar -- $15,023, 13,587, and 16,085 -- but with different attention to the solar panels (some included the cost; some did not), and the skylights.

We went with  Dayton Roofing and Renovation because they did the best with the skylights -- they bid to remove, rebuild and install 3 new (Velux) skylights, as well as including the cost of removing and reinstalling the solar panels.

It took about a month to contact the roofers, get the estimates, pick one of them, and get things scheduled.  Dayton subcontracted the solar work to Curtis Christian "The Solar Man" (512-442-8081). They came out today (Friday, 6 Sept 2013), and removed the solar panels.  They got here about 7:30 AM and were done by 9:30 AM.  They removed the panels, and put them on the back porch.

And removed the rails that the panels are mounted on.  The rails are bolted to the roof, thru the roofing, and into the roof rafters.  Originally this used lag bolts, but these were removed and replaced with large hanger bolts.  A hanger bolt has a screw on one end (which goes down into the roof rafter), and a bolt (for use with a nut) on the other end.  So these can be left in place and roofed over, leaving the bolt sticking up for the solar rails to be put on.
To make it easy for the roofers to see and avoid them, I painted the hanger bolts florescent yellow.

The re-roofing took 3 days -- Monday thru Wednesday.  First they took the existing roof off.

Then they distributed the new shingles.

 and put them on.

They also rebuilt and replaced all the skylights.

And when it was over, the solar man came back and re-installed the solar panels.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Excavating the Raised Garden

During all the work on the backyard, Linda has been continuing to work in her raised garden.  The pathway across the back yard was built around the raised garden.

The sides of the raised garden are railroad ties, but over time they have settled.  Before we can put the flagstones on the path, I think we need to seriously address the raised garden.  The sides of it need to be well supported.  I am thinking of replacing the railroad ties with solid limestone blocks.

To do that, I will need to dig down to create a foundation to put the limestone blocks on.  So first, I remove the railroad ties.

Then I start digging, taking out both the soil that was brought in to make the raised garden, but also the sub-soil below it.  This exposes that the railroad ties were placed on a layer of concrete pads, 12 inches square by 1 inch deep.  We leave those in place to define the edge of the raised garden.

And digging.

Until I hit bedrock.

And then I extend the digging around the back of the raised garden.  Pulling rock out of the dirt, as well as the dirt itself.  The dirt has a nice top layer but very quickly becomes very heavy clay soil, still damp despite weeks without rain.

We continue to dig, around the edges of the garden.

and continue

and continue

Until days later, we have cleared out all the way around the raised garden, plus about half of the entire contents.

This lets us get out all the rock that is in there, down to bedrock.  Now we can see how the rock floor varies in height.  We will want to pour a concrete footing that will be even all the way around.

Finally, 21 days after we started, we have excavated the entire raised garden.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Removing the old olive tree

The old olive tree, in the South Bed, is just not thriving.  It seems not to like neither the cold nor the heat.   The other two olive trees are doing much better, growing bigger and faster.

So I took it out. We considered this possibility when we were excavating the south bed.

I dug down and took out the rock that was under it.

and then filled it back in with dirt and compost.  The drip irrigation system in this area needed to be repaired.

and then 5 bags of mulch on top of the area to cut down on the weeds and evaporation.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Drip Irrigation for Zone 2

10 August 2012

Time to add the drip irrigation system for Zone 2.

The first problem is attaching to the water supply line.  We can dig up the Zone 2 valve, and then attach to it. We need first a filter, then a pressure reduction unit, and then we can start adding the drip irrigation.

There is a slope from one end of Zone 2 (by the gate) down to the rain barrel, so we design the drip irrigation system to run from the house to the path, rather than the long way.

We have a lot of parts and tubing left from our earlier projects, but we do need a bunch more of the Tee connectors, and eventually we needed another 100 feet of the drip irrigation tubing.  No one here in town seems to sell it in less than 500 feet, but Sprinkler Warehouse in Houston sold me 100 feet of XFS-06-12 with next day Fedex shipping for $40.71.

Once the irrigation system is put in place, we then needed 4 inches of dirt to cover it.  We bought 8 cubic yards, which should be more than enough.

 and the result is a nice clean Zone 2, ready for planting.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Finishing the excavation of Zone 2

While we are trying to fill the backyard with dirt (and leaves), there is still a bit of digging that is needed for Zone 2.  Zone 2 is the area between the house and the new path, starting at the gate to the backyard, expanding out around the Chinese Pistache tree and then narrowing down to nothing where the path meets the back patio.

We've dug up all along the house, plus the area down by the patio, and out along the path up to where the irrigation water supply for the North Bed runs under the path.  That leaves just the point of the area North of the tree.

It takes several days to remove the dirt, sort out the rock and get down to the big slab of dirt at the bottom.  We want to try to avoid the roots.  We find a number of old Coke cans, beer cans, paint rags, and especially chunks of asphalt.

Finally we have the dirt removed from most of the area, and can clearly see the rock slab.

A couple of hours of using the jack hammer reduces this one big rock to a lot of smaller rocks.  We leave a section of the rock right next to the path, because part of it underlays the path wall.

Once we get all this rock out, we are able to get a couple of rocks out from under the tree itself.

 This creates a "cave" that goes right in under the tree, showing how much rock is still left. 

 Continuing the excavation, we get all the way around the tree to where we were in November 2011, finishing the excavation for Zone 2. 

The next step is to fill all this back in with dirt.  We want it to be about 4 inches below the final level.  After it settles, we will put in underground drip irrigation in this section, put 4 more inches of dirt over that, and be ready to plant.

After a couple more weeks, we have this area completely filled in.  Now we just need to wait to let it settle.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Filling in the Backyard Pit

Having excavated most of the rock out of the backyard, now it is time to fill it back in.

This takes lots of time, and seems to make little progress.  The dirt in the pile has to be loosened up, mixed with lots of leaves, and then dumped into the pit.

Eventually, making my way across the yard, the pile of compost and mulch gets in the way, so I have to move it to another area of the yard.

Since the area in the front, with the grass has not yet been dug up, I want to leave some room to be able to do that, so I try to stick close to the cement wall for the walkway.

As we go around the corner, it is obvious that some of this needs to be dug up and cleaned, to clear a path for filling in the pit.

These big rocks, by the base of the tree, should be removed, while I have the chance.

That leaves it much cleaner, with room for dirt to be moved from the pile into this newly cleared area.

And so, over time, we are working to fill this in with a mixture of leaves and dirt.

This is slow going.  Partly, it takes time to mix the dirt and leaves, and partly the dirt pile is in the middle of the yard and so is in direct sunlight most of the day, making it difficult to work on it for very long in the Texas summer heat.