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Lotta work (continued)

Posted by joeabbott on January 31, 2015

In the previous post, I detailed the weekend task we had ahead of us!

imageThe planting strip

The first order of business was to agree on the design for the planting strip. I had in mind a few inches of timber above the ground with a couple of posts defining the ends; Suzy was looking for a taller wall defining more of a “raised bed” look. In the end, both options required about the same materials, so off to Home Depot I went, returning minutes later (they’re very close) with an 8’ 4×4 cedar post and a couple of 5/4”x6” cedar planks.

The picture to the right is what we agreed on: our fence (light brown) is a cedar fence about 6’ tall and has a 2×4 strip along the base. We’d dig into the ground a little with our cedar planks (green) but leave the majority proud above the earth and then include small pillars (purple) every 4’ to break it up. The sections boxing the fence in on the ends would just butt up against the base strip.

Cutting lumber

IOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         trimmed the planks to 4’ each and brought three sections up to the area. We laid them roughly in place to visualize the splendor of the new planting area, chatted a bit more, and I was back to the shop to make the posts.

I nipped off the tops of the posts to form a shallow pyramid shape and made them a bit longer than needed: about 16” (we’d leave about 8” above ground). Then to keep them from “tipping over” easily, I’d purchased several L-brackets and attached the posts to scrap 2x4s that would then be buried and provide a bit of stability.

The last detail, and the one that took the most time, was providing a notch in the posts into which the cedar planks could nest. The thickness of the plank exceeded my dado blade setup,so I had to give each post a couple of passes but, simplified, the process looked like this:

  • Setup my table saw with a dado blade (it allows for cutting thick troughs)
  • Add a stop-block so I wouldn’t saw through the “pyramid” top of the post
  • Saw the trough through the post up to the stop block
  • Remove the post
  • Chop out the curved portion of the cut with a chisel so it provided a square shoulder for the cedar plank

This is all overly complex and the last portion, chopping out each post to provide a square shoulder, would have been unnecessary if I’d just nipped the corners of the cedar plank to nest into the curved portion of the dado cut … but, I wanted to “lock in” the cedar plank against the top shoulder for a more stable fit.


At this point, we were ready to install the pieces … which is about as easy as it sounds. In the areas we laid out the parts, we dug some troughs with a big landscaping pick axe … I, unfortunately, strayed from the 10” line and we dug up quite a bit too much … cleared a bit of the top soil, and then buried the posts. Once the posts were established we seated the cedar timbers, made any adjustments, and then filled dirt around the posts to fix them in place.

At this point we emptied one of the still-breaking-down bins of compost into the very bottom of the planting strip. Then we hauled the emptied compost bin (and it’s a heavy beast) off and turned the earth that was sitting below it … choosing the best soil as the next layer in the planting strip. Later we’ll add a final layer of proper planting soil but, for now, the planting strip was finished.

Clearing the area

With the compost bin moved it was time to dig out the area where we were planning to install the retaining wall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         It was later on Saturday than I’d hoped but we still had enough daylight to make some good progress … and yet, that progress seemed a bit insufficient. We dug to the line defining the retaining wall but mostly spent the day hauling bag after bag of earth to the various parts of our backyard. And, to my dismay, most of those places required going up the steep hill!

Over the years the chickens have dug out areas, the hillside has slumped in places, and various divots and low places just seem to appear. But with about a cubic yard of dirt being pulled out of this area, we had plenty of material with which to rectify these deficiencies. And the rocks … had I yet talked about the rocks?

Stones of all shapes and sizes but plentiful in every shovelful of earth. We bolstered existing dry streambeds that we’ve created in the yard from all our projects and have enough to start another. Compliments the glacial past, our yard is thick with them … no resplendent in them! And, with our property butting up against a well-traveled, long-standing road, we find the detritus of a civilization happy to cast their no-longer-needed materials to the side. We’ve found 50 gallon barrels (or parts thereof), hubcaps, and plenty of old bottles (or bottle shards, more likely) but this project we only came across paving tar (asphalt) and the remnants of a mylar balloon.

Oh … and several stumps. And these proved the worst.

While you’d think wood stuck in the earth for years would be this friable, disintegrating, mushy stuff, the wood we came against was dead as some cold, hollow place deep in the earth but it was strong and vibrant as youth itself. I pulled and pried and struck at it with both a proper axe (splitting maul) as well the landscaping pick axe, and it held together heroically under my assault. In the end, I moved the parts I wanted moved but they extracted a price as told by the tale of my aching back and the sweat freely running down my face.

It was about 6PM and time to call it a day.


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