Saturday, June 6, 2009

My Long-Winded Gardening Story

Each year I try to tackle a new project in my yard. My yard is basically just a mountain. I'd like to make it into a molehill. When we bought our property, we didn't think about the whole building-a-house-on-a-mountain. We just saw that it was the cheapest property in the area we wanted. Being first-time home buyers, we didn't really grasp the difference between a flat piece of property and a sloped property.
When we inspected the property after the house was being built, we started to realize the work we had in front of us. When we walked to the back of the house, we were greeted by a 15-feet wall of dirt. We invested another $7,000 to have the builders put in some retaining rocks in the back of the house.

The first year we lived in our house, we paid someone to move dirt from the back of our yard to the front of our yard, and Kulani and his brothers and a few friends built a retaining wall in the front.

To have dirt moved: $2300.
Retaining wall built by ourselves and cheap family and friend labor: $1500.

(Forgive me: I'm a numbers person. I like to know how much stuff costs. I record these numbers not to brag; because believe you me, I know people spend A LOT more on their landscaping. If anything, this will prove how cheap I am. But for those thinking of doing their own landscaping, I think the numbers will be helpful.)

Later that year we also paid someone else to put in grass and a sprinkling system. Well worth the money, because I don't think Kulani and I could have ever done it by ourselves, and you can only take advantage of so much friend and family labor.

Landscaping cost: $6,000.

The next year me and my little brother Ed worked on getting the sides of our house done. The landscapers never finished one strip of land that they started. Luckily, they did put in all the watering tubes: I just had to figure out how to connect it all. I bought some topsoil and paid someone to do the hydroseed. Me and Ed put in the sprinkler tops. A neighbor had a skeetsteerer and carted all the topsoil up my hill. My brother-in-law Kuhia figured out how to connect the sprinklers with my system.

Strip of grass total cost: About $600

On the other side of the garage, we wanted to put cement. We hired a guy and paid him half the money, but then he never came to do the job. $1200 down the toilet. So instead, me and my little brother Ed covered the area with mulch. The neighbor to the right of us assumed the whole area was our responsibility, due to a long story that involved the developers in the area taking out the surveyor's stake, because they had to redo parts of the sidewalk concrete. Luckily, Kulani's dad is a surveyor, and he put the mark back in the ground, so my neighbor could better see where her property started and our property ended. At any rate, we still haven't done much to this side except the mulch. But my neighbor hasn't done anything to her side yet either. Next year we will likely put in the cement driveway.

Cost of driveway so far: $1700.

In the picture above near the bottom, you can see some irrigation boxes. When we put in all the mulch, one of my irrigation boxes had no cover. I didn't think it was a big deal to have it covered or not, because (a) I'm stupid and (b) first-time home owner. Oh, it is important. So much debree and gunk got in there, that I could no longer turn the secondary watering system off or on with my long turnkey (my turn-off switch is approximately seven feet underground inside a 2-inch PVC pipe). Because I wanted the ability to turn my secondary water off and on, I had to dig to where the switch is at. It took me at least three hours of digging to get to the bottom. I made sure to have not one, but two, covers on that thing. I don't want to have to do that again. The importance of having the water turned off will be clear later when I explain my garden.

In May, I fixed my planting beds. I bought some plants and bark mulch, which I haven't had in the front of our house because I've been working on other projects, and because the watering was always a little hooey. The planting beds still need work, but it's a good start. Total cost: $50-$100.

So there's this small PVC pipe that was hidden behind a very large rock at the side of my house. I knew it would give me access to a water supply and was put there by the landscapers years ago, but I didn't know if it would be connected to my sprinklers. My parents were visiting last weekend, so I solicited my dad's help in helping me figure it out.

Using a crowbar, we pushed the rock far enough away from the PVC pipe to saw off the top.(After turning off the water source, of course. That's why I needed access to that darned on/off switch.) I turned the water back on manually using the on/off key, and nothing came out. So then I tried turning it on via the electric-watering gridbox. Bingo! Water that's connected to my sprinkler system! So I decided to build my garden on my retaining wall steps, so if we happen to leave town, the automatic sprinklers will still water my garden.

I glued a longer piece of PVC connector pipe to it, then connected the funny pipe to that. I drug the funny pipe around to my garden boxes, which are a sort-of "square-foot" gardening technique, but I built the garden boxes with stuff I'd collected over the years: old railroad ties, some wood the Mitchell's (my neighbors) didn't want anymore, and some leftover retaining wall bricks. I don't think my soil content is great this year, as all I did was use manure mulch and till it into my rocky ground (using a tiller my neighbor Ellen let me borrow, bless her heart). I'm afraid I don't have enough actual soil. Anyone out there know how to help me amend my soil post planting?

The water source. I have a whole new appreciation for old-world aquaducts and whole civilizations being built around water sources.

My mom brought me some raspberry starts from her garden, but they went into shock almost as soon as we put them into the ground. I've been praying the little fellas survive.

Another picture of my garden.

I've had many problems figuring out the right fixtures, etc. for my garden. I found this handy little contraption that's supposed to ease the flow of water to 25 psi. Before finding that, the water pressure would blow off my tubing.

A view of the garden from the upstair bedroom--look to the bottom left. You can also get a nice view of the work I have in front of me. Yes, that's all my yard and not the neighbor's. My goal is to take out a sagebrush bush a day with my pic axe. (It's the only tool that can get rid of those eyesores.) My dad says I should keep the sage brush, because they're "perrty."

Cost of garden and various watering features (drips, sprayers, etc.) and multiple trips to BJ's Plumbing Supply for the right connectors (I kept trying to fix 1/2" connector pipes with my not-quite-1/2" tubing. Turns out there are connectors for those smaller tubings.): $100.

My next project to be done in July or thereabouts is to install my pavers. I bought these pavers off of Craigslist from a family in Alpine. I hauled each of those pavers from their yard to my house via my multi-use and versatile mini-van (a mom's best tool). It took four trips. It was a very good workout. Perhaps I could get some cheap labor by marketing my weeding as a chance to "workout." Join my outdoor gym now for free!

Cost of pavers off of Craigslist: $140. Future cost of sand: $100-$150.


Scott and Jami said...

This information is very helpful as Jami and I are starting to look at buying our first home and we often wondered if we should buy a home with a yard finished or a yard unfinished. Your prices maybe will help us as we put offers on homes. Thanks.

Morkthefied said...

My advice, Scott, is that if you do end up building a house, see if you can also get it landscaped and the cost rolled into the mortgage. Unless, of course, you like working in the yard and are good at it; you have a flat, small yard that would be cheap to do yourselves; or you have a lot of family/friends to help out. Best of luck with house hunting!

MarySquare said...

Cindy -- your garden looks great! I'm doing a garden with a friend at the Purdue Village community garden and it is 25' by 50'. Way too big! And we're blessed with lots of rain here, but that also means lots and lots of weeds. I've already harvested snow and sugar snap peas, lettuces, all kinds of herbs, radishes, and spinach. But the weeds are always there and always depressing. Next year I'm doing something much much smaller. The house we're buying has a small garden bricked into the side of the yard that is currently grass.

Oh and yeah, we're buying a house. Build in 1930, totally reminds me of Grandma Christenson's house, even with a creepy cellar, except you get to the cellar through a door in the kitchen. It has a coal chute and a room where all the coal used to hang out and rain water cistern. We're doing it old school! Will call you so that I don't have to make a longer blog post...