Taking Form

Monday and Tuesday of this week are dedicated to hauling off all the caliche and rocks that the trenching unearthed. Ivan has to bring in his Bobcat and it requires two loads to the dump. (I put a call out to the neighborhood to see if anyone wanted free fill dirt but didn’t have any takers.)

Rain falls hard after midnight and continues until about 4AM. So Wednesday it is too muddy to work in the trenches. (Great weather for clearing out the spring flowers in the meadow which I did all day.)

Thursday and Friday are dedicated to bending the rebar. Ivan modifies the shape of the pond (so that it no longer runs completely under the deck). This is more what I had in mind anyway; however, I’m concerned that it is too shallow. So we dig it out a bit more…we dump the extra dirt in the now available spot that will be under the deck and the rocks in what is now a non-supporting footing.

I’m surprised that the guys show up Saturday morning. (We aren’t up and dressed.) They have to finish because the concrete pourers are scheduled for Tuesday. I detect a note of urgency whenever I speak to Ivan. I sense that making an effort to preserve the garden by doing all the digging and hauling by hand took much longer than he anticipated in his scheduling. I do appreciate it and am trying to stay out of the way. (Although eyebrows were raised when I suggested that the pond should be deeper. I worked alongside them digging out rocks and raking dirt as fast as we could to get it the way I wanted it.)

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2007-05-20. The deeper pond and the pile of dirt we dug out of it. The pond slopes at the far end to make it easier to drain and clean.

The guys on his crew are incredible; I can’t remember when I met such cheerful and hard-working guys. They don’t seem fazed by any change and go after their work with gusto. It’s catching!


Angelina (of fab Dustpan Alley fame) asked me what caliche is. As it turns out, I’m not actually sure that I’m using the correct term but I refer to the yellow hardpan layer of clay that’s beneath our more benevolent blackland prairie clay as caliche. It’s common in all the places I’ve lived in the southwest US. My mother grew up in New Mexico and that’s what she called it. Maybe it’s just hardpan, which my online dictionary defines as “a hardened impervious layer, typically of clay, occurring in or below the soil and impairing drainage and plant growth.”

The University of Arizona has an informative article on conquering home yard caliche. In it they describe it as, “a layer of soil in which the soil particles have been cemented together by lime (calcium carbonate, CaCO3). Caliche is usually found as a light-colored layer in the soil or as white or cream-colored concretions (lumps) mixed with the soil.”

Yep. That sounds just like the awful stuff that I have been fighting all week to keep out of my garden.

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When damp, the texture is like brown sugar.

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When you walk on it, caliche flattens and hardens like cement. Can you make out the footprints?

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When it dries out, caliche forms clods as hard as rocks.

In the Trenches

I’m really too tired to write, so this may be incoherent. On Monday, digging the trenches for the concrete foundation beams commenced. You’d think we were building a skyscraper. The old shed/garage (which stood for almost 60 years) was built on a 4 to 12 inch slab, depending on the slope of the hill. The trenches along the edges of our new walls are 3 feet deep and the slab itself about a foot deep. I didn’t realize that the new concrete foundation would be so deep, so much more engineered than the old one. We’re nothing if not safe in the 21st century.

Now that I’ve seen the enormity of it all, I wonder, was pier-and-beam construction ever an option? I assumed not because of the existing slab. I didn’t understand that it probably could have been removed more easily than all this dirt.

Day 1. Monday.
We couldn’t get (by that I mean, I wouldn’t allow) any heavy equipment into my backyard and so all the digging has to be done by hand. As the dirt comes out, I get to direct where it goes. I marvel at having two men to move dirt around. Mounds of good black dirt begin filling various depressed areas of my yard. I rake and dig and take out rocks and throw them back on the fill pile.

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2007-05-09. A 3×15 foot section is topped up with about 2 feet of good dirt from the original vegetable garden. I had just moved part of my mountain of mulch here and now the dirt is on top of it. Perhaps the worms will sort that out.

Then we hit caliche. And there’s no place for that anywhere in the garden. Wherever some drops it forms an instantly impervious layer. Yikes! We start to dump it on the west side of the little house, but that is uphill and will only compound the existing drainage issues.

Day 2. Tuesday.
A third man is added to the digging crew. Caliche is piled on the lawn and in the back where it will cause further drainage problem before we decide that this won’t do.

Ivan suggests building some sort of sculptural mound of dirt on the back lawn, like a big gum drop. . tentatively agree and then discover that it blocks the carefully made view of the south border from my bed. And it gets caliche all in the lawn.

We are running out of places to put dirt.

Day 3. Wednesday
We solve the caliche problem by deciding to haul it away. The men dump a mountain of it on the driveway. I spend most of the day dismantling the sculptural mound and trying to get caliche out of the lawn.

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2007-05-09. More good dirt is piled on the low end of the lawn. I’ll probably take out that tree…where I let a fallen cedar elm sprout out of the old trunk.

A lovely rain about 10:30 pm–not enough to make things mucky or fill up the trenches.

Day 4. Thursday
A beautiful morning after last night’s rain. I take a break from moving dirt and rocks because the garden needs some work. I do manage to transplant a clump of society garlic (thanks, Pam) and dig up some bulbs that need dividing (or rather, need moving to a sunnier location).

Around 3:30, the digging is finished. On the northwest corner and the southeast corner the building is level with the ground.

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The northeast corner, where the pond is, juts 22 inches above ground level. This makes a convenient perch to sit and dangle one’s hand in the water. But on the southwest corner, we are 16 inches underground. Hmmm. Just like the main house. As the Japanese say, Komatta, desu ne.. (This could be a problem.)

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We Have a Plan

Zanthan Gardens Floribunda Ivan Spaller

Ivan delivered the plans this morning. The gray rectangles are new beds to plant. Hmmm. They get a fair amount of sunlight….

Zanthan Gardens Floribunda Ivan Spaller

I’ll have to look at this pictures every day to keep me going. Right now there is a small mountain of dirt and nowhere to put it.

Shed Not A Tear

The tagline from Croupier was “Hang on tightly; let go lightly.” That pretty much sums up my attitude in life. I have a hard time letting go but once I make the decision…poof!

Ever since last summer when we installed the new kitchen window, we’ve come face to face with an incontrovertible realization. There’s a damn ugly shed in our backyard. This pretty useless outbuilding with a leaky roof and infested with termites is a blight on the whole back garden. Worse, it collects junk. We fill it with empty cardboard boxes, rotting lumber, old bottles, defunct garden hoses, and broken toys.

Last year’s (still not quite finished) kitchen remodel left us sick of DIY projects. So we decided (the Garden Ranters will gasp) to hire someone to do it for us. And worse (please Garden Ranters, don’t go into apoplexy), we are going to convert it into an Outdoor Living Space. Our little cottage doesn’t have a separate dining room and although our kitchenette table is fine for the two of us, we thought it might be nice to have people over from time to time. (I did so enjoy having the Austin Garden Bloggers.)

I found a design I really liked (mouse over the upper right thumbnail). Our first job was to cut down the Texas Mountain laurels that are standing where the new deck will be. I never intended for them to grow there. I planted seed in the drip line hoping they’d sprout and they did. Thing is, I never got around to transplanting them. So there they’ve grown for ten years and 7 feet.

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Our first job was to cut down the Texas mountain laurel that I’d grown from seed.

Next we had to clean out the shed. I collapsed all the cardboard boxes and bound them up for recycling. I took a decade’s worth of black plastic plant containers to Barton Springs Nursery for recycling. Pam @ Digging took my blue bottles and turned them into an artsy bottle tree. The rest of the stuff, we left for the builder to haul off as trash when he demolished the old shed.

Which he did today. Looks better already!

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2007-05-01. I love the possibilities of a clean slate.

Where’s Waldo?

Saturday morning the designer from Floribunda is coming over to assess whether we can afford his services to design and construct a screened-porch house to replace our falling down shed. After booking the appointment, I looked around my yard and panicked. I haven’t mown the lawn yet this year and the weeds are about a foot high. Garden tools and hoses are scattered about giving witness to my short attention span. Only the imaginative eye can discern the wildflower garden hidden in the among the dandelions, thistle and chickweed.

And inside the shed! Of course he’ll have to go in the shed to measure and check the foundation. Myself? I haven’t been in the shed in over a year. During our kitchen remodel we just kept stacking boxes and torn out pieces of house in there until it was impossible to get one more thing in. Last summer the paper wasps took over and we let them have their way with it.

So, I spent the day trying to make the place look less like we lived here and more like “important clients whom you might want to include in your portfolio” lived here.

I didn’t get much done though because I kept getting distracted by spring. I spent a lot of time taking photos of the Narcissus ‘Hawera’ in bloom. Then I had to lie down on my belly and admire the Muscari racemosum (or is it M. neglectum?)

Muscari racemosum replaced with 20070314. Not my garden.
Grape hyacinth aka starch hyacinth aka M. racemosum aka…

I found one bluebonnet bud that had finally blued up and opened. And lastly when I was watering the magnolia (which you might notice is not cleaning the shed) I saw another anole, the third this week, basking itself among the Mexican plum blossom. Trying to get a photo of the anole ate up a good portion of an hour. (Mostly I just sat and talked to it.)

I stopped and looked at everything so the garden doesn’t look like much of anything–I did manage to build a garden sculpture out of bricks I found in the shed. I’d been meaning to do that for several years now.