Just because they showed up to collect the money, is no guarantee that they’ll show up to do the work… and if they do… I can’t pay for it!

Since I know that many of you are awaiting with baited breath (what would that smell like? Baited Breath?) to hear what will become of my backyard, I thought I’d update you.

If you remember, last time I blogged about my slowly eroding backyard, I was in turmoil over the thought of spending gadzooks of cash on a retaining wall and/or loads of plant material. But you’ll be happy to know that I made a decision.

Taking the advice of three “experts” on erosion, I have decided to forego the retaining wall (at least for now) and in the words of my Civil Engineer, we’re instead going to just, “Plant the shit out of it.”

Pardon the language.

The first contractor my Engineer recommended, apparently wasn’t hungry enough in this economy to give me a good deal. In fact, he didn’t even show up with a tape measure, and instead used the old, “I’m just gonna step off the length here and guesstimate” method of measuring. Which, I’m all for unless we’re talking about a great deal of money riding on the actual size of the project, which we are. He also didn’t include in his estimate, any additional dirt to fix the low spots, or bobcat work, or erosion mat, or anything like the second guy did. I may need someone to come do the work for me, but I’m not an idiot. I know what needs to be done.

The second guy came, with a TAPE MEASURE (Haaaallellujah!) and did actual measurements and then provided me with an estimate that, while still expensive, was not a whole lot more than I could have done it for by myself. AND, he could start today, which tells me that he is hungry and clearly not terribly busy right now.

Contractor #1 – Ill-prepared and playing me for a sucker

Contractor #2 – Well prepared and giving me a more than fair price

“When can you start?”

But, my backyard can be broken into three sections. The right side, I’ve already landscaped and put in some steps leading down so that I, and the kids, can access the creek and bamboo farm at the bottom without busting our crowns in a tumble:

hillside landscaping 1

See those elephant ear plants there? They are freakin’ HUGE! Each leaf is about the size of a beach ball. It does like it some hillside!

The opposite side of the yard, is the left side and it is really steep. There is also enough dirt left over there that I’m not so much worried about “fixing” it as I am about just keeping it from getting worse. So, this weekend I went around and scarfed up some great deals on some Maple trees and planted five of them on the hillside, along with two nice River Birch sets that I got from a local nursery. I also extended the cheapo-deluxe corrugated drain pipe so that it doesn’t deposit all the water on the middle of the slope (brilliant! those original builders!)

hillside landscaping 3

I also got some fairly cheap wire and some wooden stakes and made little aprons for the front of the tree so that I can mulch around them without it running down the hill.

It was hard work doing all this on the hill, but I’m happy with the way it turned out and I think it’s going to be really nice when the trees grow in, in a few years.

This just leaves the 80 foot long section in the middle, which my contractor is hopefully gonna fix for me:


So, let’s just hope now that my contractor actually starts today and that we don’t have a “Money Pit” situation on our hands, “Yeah, I’m gonna need another check before I can do any more work…”

Adventures in pipe replacement – part deux!

georgia My plumber arrived on time yesterday morning, apparently from Georgia (formerly part of the Soviet Union, not the state in which I live), and commenced working. However, based on a previous conversation I had with his office, I was under the impression that he would be using a pipe replacement technique in which they slide the new pipe inside the old pipe and then pull it all the way through, splitting the old pipe in the process. The idea here is that you can run a new line without ever having to fire up a trencher.

That was not to be the case.

By noon, I had a very circuitously trenched path from my water shut-off valve, down the hill, around my grass, through where some of my prized bushes were placed, under my sidewalk, and then through yet more bushes (flame creeper azaleas).

When I saw the path of death and destruction, I nearly cried. Me, a grown man.

The fellow doing the work, in broken English, explained why the “split and replace method” didn’t work and why he had to trench, and then I explained how he’d just destroyed about $300 worth of plants, not including the $600 Seiryu Japanese Maple that he laid his boring pipe against and rubbed off a 1.5″ strip of bark, right before WINTER!!!!

I was pretty upset.

By 4:30 p.m., he had the pipe in the ground and was just letting the PVC set before turning the water on and I began the arduous task of getting my plants back in the ground. Unfortunately, he put the pipe right under three of them, which meant, despite his having buried the pipe 13″, I still had to raise the mounds up where I put the plants just so I could cover the existing roots.

I fumed. I “huffed.” I made very annoyed screeching sounds when I talked. It was not my finest moment, but this was like having someone come into your house and write all over your walls with pink magic marker and then having the paint store tell you that they don’t sell your particular color anymore!

In the end, he helped me put everything back and I watered it in as best I could. I surveyed the damage again this morning and it looks like most of my big stuff will make it, though I lost an entire section of Creeping Jenny and probably two Flame Creeper Azaleas.

Here’s a before and after:

IMG_2347 IMG_2353

It’s hard to tell the difference here, but there is one. If nothing else, the difference is in my psyche!

But we have water now. I washed dishes, I cleaned, I wiped things down, I FLUSHED! (repeatedly). It’s a great feeling. Honestly, I don’t know what people did before modern plumbing. I really don’t!

The Hills are Alive…with the smell of…beneficial nematodes…

I have crap all over my yard…literally. But it’s not what you think (or maybe it is).

My dad was the original tree hugger, only without the politics or the VW van (and the weed). He grew up in the North Carolina mountains and from the time I was able to talk, he would point out trees and tell me what kind they are, and how to tell them apart. Then, of course, we had a garden growing up where I got to learn the joys of kneeling under five-feet-tall okra stalks as ants dropped onto my naked back, and how picking cucumbers and squash in a short-sleeved shirt is a HUGE mistake (it stings!).

So, I’ve always felt a kinship to the earth, but I’ve never really been a conservationist. I wanted to be, but like so many of us, it just hasn’t been convenient. Well, our new neighborhood is part of a recycling program, so I’ve become a lot more “green” than I ever was before. Even if you’re not especially green-oriented, the peer pressure of seeing stacks of recyclables next to your neighbor’s driveway is enough to motivate you to rinse and recycle.

Taking it one step further, I’m trying to go eco-friendly in my yard too. We live on a slope with a nice little creek at the bottom of the hill, so anything I put on my lawn eventually ends up in the creek. So rather than use the highly effective, yet economically disastrous nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizers in my yard, I’m using human waste.

Not my own of course, but that of the good people in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. See, the water treatment plant in Milwaukee also makes an organic fertilizer called “Milorganite” (Link complete with video goodness). This fertilizer is nothin’ but good old recycled and sterilized human waste. And it smells like it too.

The net benefit to nature is both in the runoff that won’t kill the fish, and in the fact that it actually promotes beneficial buggery in the soil, as opposed to killing off the beneficial buggery like synthetic fertilizer does.

The downside to this organic fertilizer includes the smell (ugh!), which supposedly fades in a few days, and in the fact that it takes a LOT more fertilizer per square foot, even though the price is similar.

Once again, doing the environmentally right thing, costs more money than doing the easy thing (electric cars, insulation, etc.) but it’s worth it right? Now, how to keep all the neighborhood dogs away from the yard until the smell dissipates is another thing entirely.

You Know You’re Getting Old When…

We bought the house we now live in late last year and when I first toured the house with the Realtor (I’m not sure she’s an actual REALTOR) one of the first things I did was look at the backyard. After walking out on the deck and peering over its edge onto a backyard that had a severe slope that started right after the deck supports and ended up about 12 feet down the hill, I immediately said, “No way!”

But after looking at a dozen more houses and finding nothing comparable for the price, I did what we all do when we REALLY want something, but when there are valid reasons for not getting it…I rationalized.

I rationalized that I could plant grass and shrubs on it and it would be beautiful. I rationalized that I could build steps down the side leading to the flat area down by the creek. And indeed, all these things have come to pass (well, I wouldn’t call it “beautiful” at this point just yet).

However, having had to weed-eat this hill (since it’s far too steep for a mower), while trying to keep from sliding down the hill at every step, I finally decided maybe it was time to re-think my idea. And again…I rationalized, except this time I started thinking about this hill and my caring for it when I’m in my 50s. It went something like this:

“Do I really want to be trying to cut this grass without breaking my neck when my body is 15 years older and more beat up than it is now? Will I be able to afford some kid to come do it for me? What if they don’t do a good job? What if he hurts himself while trying to cut it and he sues me?

So, I finally decided that, while I could leave the shrubs and small trees, perhaps I should just lay down a thick carpet of pine straw and be done with it. And so, I headed to my local Mega-Home Upkeep Mart and bought 12 bales of pinestraw.

It didn’t even cover a 1/3 of it. And have you ever tried to walk on pinestraw? It’s very slippery, especially on a 15 degree slope. There’s apparently some trick to laying down pinestraw on a hill and as far as I can tell, it’s basically that you put the bale on your left, grab some in your hand and throw it on your right. Forget trying to do it uphill/downhill. As I found out, you’ll only sliiiide down the hill every time.

So now I’m considering having someone drop me off another 30 bales and finishing the job. They wanted about $5.50 per bale (spread) for someone else to do it and I can buy just the bales for $3.49 at the Mega-Home Upkeep Mart, so that’s a good bit o’ savings. My only question now is how I’ll refresh it every year. I won’t be able to climb all over the hill to lay a new layer like I did this time. I might just have to stand at the top and toss it down. I’m sure the coverage would be excellent (NOT!).