Sunday, March 19, 2023

Central Yard Part 5

Yet more digging! Apart from adding (a lot) more top soil to the yard, the last thing to do before we can start planting is install the irrigation system. I plumbed in the supply line for the irrigation system last summer. Since then we've had a backflow preventer added.

It was never included in this blog, but we also laid three (3) schedule 40 PVC pipes from this area to the other side of the yard. These pipes emerge on what is now the other side of the concrete walkway. This is one little bit of forward planning I am proud of.  We need three pipes, because the valve control box will be on the opposite side of the walkway from the main supply line. This means one pipe to bring water to the valve box, another to bring it back to the house side of the path, and a third which is a conduit for the electrical cable, since the control box will also be on the house side of the path. The cable was laid at install, and we also threaded a piece of string through one of the other two pipes, so we can differentiate between them without re-excavating. 

We had a plan of where the trenches needed to go. The system will have five (5) stations, each of which will originate uphill from the areas they will irrigate.

First trench done! We had to dismantle parts of the block walls we constructed a few weeks ago.

Two done! 

Station #2 extends right up to the street: 

As you will know, if you studied the plan, some of trenches will carry more than one pipe. Placing these trenches efficiently, and navigating around vegetation we want to keep, meant we had to deviate from the plan somewhat. 

For the most part I ploughed a furrow with a mixture of a regular spade and the jackhammer, and Amy Sheep followed with the trenching spade. If you're not familiar, a trenching spade is about four inches wide, and can be used to remove loose dirt from a narrow channel very efficiently. It's not good for removing hard dirt, since there is no way to drive the blade with your foot, as you might with a regular spade. The smaller size also makes it a "little and often" kind of tool, as my maternal Grandfather might have described it.

Digging around some of the vegetation required a hand trowel:

Station #4 will be located close to the "V" at the center of this picture:

Station #5 is in the far corner next to the fence.

Digging all these trenches in one day was a lot of work, but we have found by taking regular breaks we can push through and enjoy it. This is a sketch of what we ended up with:

Since I had the jackhammer out anyway, I started digging out for the mailbox post/footing. We are installing a new mailbox at the path where we actually walk past it every day. We used to have what will be the "new" mailbox at our old house in Berkeley, and it has been in storage for five (5) years at this point. 

I was doing ok until I hit a missive boulder. I had to use a combination of the jackhammer and a six foot steel digging bar to smash the boulder into pieces I could actually lift out of the hole. I would have used dynamite if I had any. 

I still have about six inches to go, because I want the top of the concrete to be at least six inches below grade - that way we can plant right up to the post. I'm planning for the mailbox to be hit by a car at some point, and I want to make sure the post comes off best by building a massive footing! I could have carried on, but smashing up the boulder took quite a bit of energy, so we packed up for the day.

The next day, the monsoon-like weather resumed: 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Central Yard Part 4

We've been having awful weather, not just lately but pretty much since the start of the year. Ice on the windshield in the moorings has only been punctuated by endless days of rain and even a few hailstorms. During one break in the onslaught, I managed to sneak outside are start rebuilding the steps that I destroyed a few weeks earlier.

The first step was to re-expose the concrete pier from the old stairs; I'll be building a new pier just behind this.

Dug out for my new pier. The railing posts will be set about a foot deeper tthan the pier.

The next step was to attach the two primary stringers to the deck - I just reused the original joist hangers since there was nothing wrong with them. I was also able to reuse all four original stringers after the rotten sections were trimmed off. I finagled the bracing until I had both stringers level, parallel and plumb with the deck, and then I built some temporary bracing from scrap lumber.

I used a scrap piece of 4"x4" to make sure the footings were in exactly the right places...

...and that was it, because the heavens re-opened and forced me to retreat indoors.

It was over a week later when decent weather and free time coincided, and by then I was busting a gut to get my posts installed and braced:

After that I built a form for my concrete pier: 

I went get the wheelbarrow; it was about a third full with rainwater:

I figured I would need about six bags of concrete for the pier. Fortunately I bought a couple of extra bags, plus there were three more in the garage that I was saving for another project...

Eleven bags was just enough. I had planned the pier to come to the top of the form, but It fell a couple of inches short. 

This is a few days later after the concrete has cured, the forms have been removed and the area around the pier has been backfilled. If you strain your eyes, you can see two pieces of rebar which protrude about a foot from the concrete:

The next step was to cut and drill holes in a piece of 4"x 6" PT which will sit on top of the pier and form the base for the stringers to attach to. 

After the timber is installed, the rebar is "turned over" to provide an anchor. This method was used in the East Bay in the 1930's to secure timber framed houses to concrete foundations; anchor bolts came in the next decade.

The secondary stringers were then leveled, trimmed to the precise length and fastened to the base.

I numbered the treads and risers before I took them apart, so re-installation was pretty simple.

I had to make new cutouts to accommodate the posts:

After that the post were trimmed to the appropriate length, and wood preserver was applied to the exposed end grain.

The sleeves were slipped over the posts, shimmed, at the caps re-installed.

I did not put the railings or handrails back just yet because I will doing some repair work to the deck in the next couple of months....stay tuned to find out exactly what!

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Central Yard Part 3

Back at it! The following picture might not look like much, but this is the last bit of the yard that I had to clear of small rocks and general crap that was leftover from the concrete pour. Now we're ready for landscaping soil and more moss rock!

The next day I had three cubic yards of soil and another pallet of rock delivered to this exact spot:

And I had another 1.5 yard bag of soil dropped off where the original entrance walkway used to meet the street:

There was a little bit of daylight left after work on Friday, so I made a gentle start with the wall in front of the porch. I think I raised the level by one more course and did a bit of backfilling...before I figured it was time celebrate the end of the week from the sanctuary of the living room.

Next day, new target: fill the area in front of the house with soil!

Luckily Samuel Sheep was on hand to help shovel the dirt in tut' barras.

This is what one bag (or 1.5 cubic yards) looks like spread out. Lets just say that it was apparent very early in this process that we would be needing a LOT more soil.

The next day Amy Sheep popped out to help. We used some of the soil we had left to construct banks  where we want to build moss rock retaining walls:

This is how they look completed; there will be a lot more soil between the two barriers eventually.

We also finished off the wall in front of the house and backfilled with soil so that there is a uniform upward slope across this section of the yard.

We used the last of the soil to regrade the area where the front path used to be:

At the end of the weekend, the area in front of the house was looking a lot better, but could still use a couple more inches of soil, especially after the new material is compacted.

However, we still need a whole bunch of dirt behind the retaining wall and at the other wise of the walkway...

To be continued....

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Central Yard Part 2

It's Saturday, and it's a beautiful sunny day, about 65F/18 C, perfect conditions for doing some digging! My Father's old mate Jeff Haystacks once told me that digging is second only to swimming in terms of muscle usage and all round good-for-you-ness. Under the right conditions, it can be very enjoyable. 

I'm working on the area immediately in front of the house. I started by digging out around the irrigation connections, and building a quick retaining box from some scrap 2" x 12" PT I had in the shop. We laid irrigation lines and electrical cables below the concrete walkway before it was poured, but we're not ready to connect the pipes to the water supply just yet, so I will need access to this area in the future.

I'm grading the dirt in front of the house to about six (6) inches below the concrete walkway. This will give us plenty of space which we can fill with nice topsoil before we plant. I'm using a scrap piece of 2" x 6" and a spirt level to establish the grade. It doesn't have to be perfect. 

It's not obvious in the next photo, but the ground slopes down significantly from the walkway towards the steps that lead to the deck. It feels weird to step downhill, and then climb steps. The solution is to get rid of the bottom step and raise the grade accordingly. 

To do this, I have to pull everything out, cut the stringers and install a new concrete pad. Dismantling the railings and the first few treads and risers was straightforward, but the rest of the structure was really not designed to come apart.

The treads and risers are constructed from composite material that is rot resistant and maintenance free. I discovered that it is also not in the slightest bit flexible:

Both of the posts were rotted out, so they will need to be replaced...

Getting out the base of the stairs really was a slog. I couldn't do it without damaging the stringers and in any case I discovered rot in at least two of them. So, yeah, there's a decent chance I'll have to re-make the stringers in the not too distant future as well as the posts. 

The top edge of the concrete that supports the posts was more than a foot below the surface, so I didn't bother digging it out - I just cut the posts off at the top of the concrete:

This operation left a sizeable scar on the landscape: It always looks worse before it looks better...I'm going to leave the concrete pier, and dowel into it when I pour the pier for the replacement steps. 

Time to backfill in the spot where the steps used to be? Well, not so fast. There is a sizeable gap between our new retaining wall, and the house, which cannot be filled with dirt alone. 

There are a number of ways I could fill this gap, and I think I will probably end up using concrete. For now though I just need a "stopgap", and I choose a few landscaping rocks and some mortar. It's only temporary if it works!

I continued digging out infertile subsoil and gravel from in front of the house, and dumping it onto the hole where the steps used to be. I don't need this area to be perfectly flat, I just need to remove enough material to accommodate at least six inches of top soil.

This is later:

Did the same at the other side of the porch:

We still need quite a lot more dirt in this area and inside the new retaining wall.

I took a break from digging and moving dirt to dig out several small trees and clear out some sections of the yard in preparation for our irrigation system...and ultimately for new trees and shrubs. This spot gave up a small citrus tree and a hawthorn sampling:

I also removed another small citrus tree and a mid-size maple, which sadly died during the drought a couple of summers ago, from the area next to the soon-to-be-moved mailbox:

This produced a decent sized debris pile...

I also unearthed a number of large landscaping rocks and about a dozen house bricks while digging out these trees. I've lost count of the number of "ornamental" house bricks I've removed from the yard since we moved in. No doubt we'll figure out a use for the nicer rocks.

Another job.....the double gates at the side yard used to work perfectly, but that was before the concrete walkway was installed over the spot where the cane bolt deployed:

I thought about drilling a hole in the concrete, but instead I moved the cane bolt to the other side of the gate and made a new "hole" by hammering a piece of copper pipe into the ground. I also filled in the gap where the decomposed granite meets the walkway. Gates back in service!

Filled-in a few low spots at the stairs while I was at it:

This is how the side yard looks at the end of January...we'll be planting in the next few months.