24 Carrot Rabbitry

City-fied Self-Sufficiency

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Category : Projects

A flurry of development

With the house set and our loan re-approved, it was time to do all the things we could not do before the house was placed.  We drove from my uncle’s house to the new house almost every day!  (That took a lot of gas.)  Sometimes, we had more than one service being installed on the same day.

First came the septic system.  But not the kind we used to have when we first got married… the kind that’s just a big tank with a drain field.  Those aren’t allowed here any more.  Now any new septic system has to be a “Mo-dad”, which is basically a self-contained sewage treatment system.  It has an electric pump which constantly aerates the system, allowing waste to break down much more quickly and completely.  Then it goes through a drain field, but any treated sewage that makes it beyond that point is simply piped to a ditch or something.

It seems that once it leaves the septic system, it is actually safe enough to end up in an open ditch.

We were very glad to see the guys show up to install the septic system! Our neighbors and the store up the street had been so gracious to us, and allowed us to use their restrooms quite a few times. Of course, we still needed water and electricity in order to be able to use our own facilities, but it was a start.

After quickly digging the necessary hole, the concrete septic tank is ready to be placed. The black things in front are the pieces to the drain field. I was on antibiotics which made me sensitive to sun, so I had to do my picture-taking from the front steps.

The septic tank is lowered into the hole.

I don’t remember what I was doing while this was being done, but I missed the rest of it.  I was probably trying to find an electrician to come and run electricity to the house.  It would have been about the right time.  I spent several days researching electricians at night and calling them during the day while at the property.  I didn’t get any replies to my messages.

Someone finally told me that most electricians don’t like taking jobs this small.  Wow, really?  $2,500 – $3,000 for a day’s work isn’t enough?  How is your average homeowner supposed to get their electricity hooked up, if no electrician will take the job?  My beloved Shay could have run it, but he simply did not have time.

Meanwhile, we had to show up very early the next morning, to get our well dug.  We are so very blessed!  The water here is soft and good.  All of the horror stories about hard well water, clothes not coming clean, rust stains, all that… it doesn’t apply here.  I researched the aquifer and was anxious to see if it was true.

I would have included more pictures, but they all looked like this! That's pretty much what it looked like all day. At 110 feet, the well was done.

With an above-ground tank to give us pressure and a submerged pump that would always stay primed, we were ready to go once the plumber piped it all in -- if I could find an electrician to hook it up!

Our next trip out, we found gravel on our driveway! No more mud!

I had to run some errand by myself, so Bunny-Wan Kenobi sent a companion with me. Spiderman, of course, with his keen understanding of the laws of physics, was very anxious to wear his seat belt.

Still unable to find an electrician, I mentioned my lack of fortune to a neighbor.  The next thing I knew, the pastor of the local Baptist church was installing our pole and wiring everything up!  I could just see God smiling as He brought everything together.

After putting the pole up, it was time to dig a trench out to the well. I braved the sun for a few moments for this picture.

I never got over the amazement that, when no one else would take the job, a local pastor who just happened to be a master electrician wired everything up for less than half the cost I would have had with anyone else. God is good... all the time.

The pastor and our neighbor across the street discovered a siding crack I needed to address with the dealership.

The pastor passes wire to our neighbor, who came over to see if he could help with anything. The neighbor is pushing the wire into the conduit the pastor has run under the house.

This neighbor and his wife have turned out to be amazing people.  I don’t know what we would have done without them.  They, another family to one side of us, and the pastor and his church have helped us immensely as we get settled here.  We are so grateful to God for all of them!

We have been to many churches.  In all of them, we have heard teachings about loving and helping one another, as the church is supposed to do.  In only a couple, however, have we actually seen the people doing it.  Interestingly, it has been only in the very small churches.  The larger ones have ministries and committees, and part of the offerings go to fund these various outreaches to the sick and poor.  It works okay, I suppose, but there is a disconnect between the members giving and the needs met.

In the small churches, there aren’t enough people for committees and lists of ministries.  People help each other more directly.  While the pastor was at our home once (as a guest), we asked him if he knew anyone who needed some light fixtures.  We had removed seven of ours and replaced them with ceiling fans with lights.  He knew two families who could use them, so we gave them to him.

Right before Thanksgiving, I entered a drawing for a turkey through the local paper.  To my great shock, I got a call saying I had won!  I never win anything, and I had bought a turkey for Thanksgiving, and three more which we had quartered and put into the freezer.  I did not need this turkey, though it was tempting to stick it in the freezer, too.

I called the pastor, who gave me directions to a home just up the street from us.  We drove the turkey over there, and it turned out to be the home of a family we had met, that had just lost a very dear grandmother we had gotten to know a little bit.

When the pastor learned that my mom needed a bed frame, he dug around in his own attic, and gave her one complete with head- and footboard.

This is what the Bible meant about the early church having “all things in common”.  It wasn’t some communist thing, with everyone dumping all their possessions into a pile which was then spread equally to everyone.  It meant simply that if someone had a need, and someone else could meet that need, they met the need.

Acts 2:44-46 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; (45) And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. (46) And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,

So it’s been really neat to see that in action.

The plumber came and ran all the water pipes and waste pipes and tied in the gas range and furnace (who knew it was the plumber, and not the gas company, who did that?).

We got our certificate of occupancy, and the pastor asked when our power was going to be turned on.  When he learned it would take several weeks, he called in a favor — we needed the power on, because we were very close to our scheduled moving day!  Seems he had done something for a man who is in charge of service hook-ups for the electric company for this whole region, and the man had told him if he ever needed anything, just call him.

Next thing you know, this man is standing next to our power pole, calling the local inspector.  “These people need their power on.  They’re getting ready to move in shortly.  I already have my men right here ready to put in the meter.  You need to come inspect this.”  And that afternoon, the power was on.

With power came water. Bunny-Wan Kenobi helped hook up a hose we temporarily snitched from my uncle's house, so we could flush out the well.

It was all true.  The water is excellent!

Now that we had power, the trim crew could come finish the house.  At this point, we were hardly ever at my uncle’s house.  We paid just enough attention to the bunnies to make sure they had food and water and a little lovin’.

One of the things that needed to be finished was the siding on the ends of the house. One man worked on this, while the other worked inside.

The man inside worked to complete the trim of the marriage wall, as well as trim all over the house. He certainly wasn't going to win any fashion awards, but I didn't object. It was hot... though the other fellow working on the siding wore jeans and a t-shirt. Much better.

The threshold, which would cover the gap in the floor, would be finished later.  They didn’t have a color that matched the linoleum, only the trim and cabinets.  So the dealership had oak threshold material milled for me!  We stained it with Minwax Espresso, and sealed it with polyurethane.

As we waited for the trim to be completed, as we had waited for so many other things to be completed, the kids read, and Mom took a nap.

ILoveBunnies found a walking stick. These little things are so fascinating!

Some of the clay had washed down from the pad, pooled in the yard, and dried out. The cracked red clay made a beautiful pattern.

Everything was coming together so quickly, it made our heads spin!  We were so grateful to have refrigeration, running water, and power to run fans.

There was still plenty to do, but we had to keep our eyes on a hurricane that was forming, and projected to come in our direction.




Stressing the deadline

The next day, we drove up and parked on our gravel road.  No way we were going to get stuck in the driveway again!  We walked.

That day, at 5:00pm, was the deadline for our loan.  I was to call for an interview with the bank when the house was completely leveled, blocked, and tied down… and the phone call was to be made by 5:00pm, or the loan offer would expire.  If that happened, and they reviewed our application and decided not to re-extend the offer to us, the house would be pulled back off and carted away.

Surely… both halves were there, they were almost finished being “married”, blocked, and leveled.  Surely the tie-downs would be completed in plenty of time!

When we walked to the driveway from our car, this is what greeted us:

It was their turn to get hopelessly stuck! We found the man we bought the land from pushing the setup crew's truck up the driveway! It seems he just felt he should come over and see if the crew needed any help with anything. God is so good!

The other setup truck got a push, too. Conditions were so sloppy, one of the men already had his shirt off.

I felt so sorry for these guys.  What terrible conditions to have to work in!  If it wasn’t about to storm, storming, or just finished storming, the sun was out and absolutely scorching!  The mud pulled at their legs, causing them to use several times the usual effort to walk.  They got so exhausted.

The kids spotted a pretty little butterfly, so I did my best at a picture of it with my cell phone.

Mom chats with one of the crew, as the odd little caterpillar-treaded machine that pulled us out of the driveway holds the house up for him to add blocks. The axles and the last few wheels are in the foreground. There is nothing mobile about this home anymore!

Yet another funny little machine... this one screwed the anchors into the ground.

By this time, I was getting concerned.  It had taken a lot longer to get to this point than I had expected.  The lady at the dealership, bless her heart, was getting really nervous.  She begged me to make the call to the mortgage company and tell them it was blocked, leveled, and tied down, since the crew wasn’t leaving until it was done anyway.

I understood her predicament, but that would have been lying.  Yes, it was rain that had caused all this to run so late — rain had delayed the driveway, rain had delayed the building of the pad, rain had caused work to stop several times, and so on — but the truth, no matter the perfectly valid reasons, was that it wasn’t finished yet.  I waited.

Meanwhile, my joints became slowly more achy.  As I mentioned before, my joints are hypermobile, and I’m usually in some amount of pain, even if it’s minor.  Usually, it’s a little more than minor.  This day, I felt more and more like I’d been walking on concrete floors all day.

It was finally time to tie the house down! At this point, I was not sure we'd make the deadline.

I was amazed at the number of tie-downs this house got!  By the time they were finished with all the ties under and around the house, I think it was over 50 of them!

The poor lady at the dealership was beside herself.  She wanted so badly for me to call the bank.  I thought they might be finished in time, but they kept adding more and more tie-downs.  Not that I’m complaining — I don’t want to turn to Toto and tell him we’re not in Kansas anymore!  Eventually, though, I knew the tie-downs would not be done by 5:00.

I called the bank, but I did not tell the gentleman that the work was finished.  I was truthful, and told him that it was almost finished, but that they were still working on the ties.  He explained that the process of tying it down could actually cause structural damage to the house, and so it was important to wait until all the ties were completed, and I’d had a chance to walk through the house to inspect it.

I determined that I was not going to allow our new home to be founded on a lie.  I would not tell him it was finished when it was not.  When it was finished, I would tell him it was finished, and if that meant we lost the house, then so be it.  I did not believe that God wanted me to lie to keep the home we believed He had granted us a loan for.  If He wanted us in that house, then He was more than able to ensure the loan was extended to us once more, if we did indeed pass the deadline.

And we did pass it.

The pain got worse and worse, and I could not stand or walk for very long.  That’s why I didn’t have more pictures for this post.  Of course, that may be a relief for some of you!

Bunny-Wan Kenobi passes some time pulling roots remaining from trees that were removed. With the ground so wet, they came up pretty easily!

As some of the crew worked on the ties (two around the outside and one underneath), two more worked to finish the roof.

4:50pm came, and I called the bank.  I left a message detailing exactly how far the work on the house had progressed, and what was left to be done.

Finally, at about 6:20pm, the leveling, blocking, and tying-down of the house was completed. The exhausted crew left.

As I waited for my beloved Shay to arrive from work, I stepped inside and slowly looked around the house.  I was in so much pain, it was really hard to climb stairs and walk, but it had to be done.  It turned out that this was more than my usual pain.  I had Lyme disease.

There was some damage, but only the kind that is to be expected when a structure like this has to endure a long drive, with all the flexing it does.  There were some wall panels that were cracked, and there was stress damage to the caulking around the countertops, and other issues like that.  I saw no structural damage.

I called the bank again to leave another message, and again explained the horrendous conditions the men had worked in, which had certainly delayed completion, but that the setup was now completed.

I had told the truth.  Now the outcome was up to the Lord.  I’d rather have it in His hands, than be trying to manipulate circumstances myself!

When Shay arrived, we walked through the house again.  Naturally, we prayed that the loan would be extended to us once more.  For one thing, if it wasn’t, then we had very little time left to put something on the land that we could live in before my uncle got married.  Graciously, he suggested that after the wedding, he could move into his new wife’s apartment until we were able to move out of the house, but we wanted to be able to be out of the house by then.  And the wedding was coming up in early November!

I called the bank the next morning, and the gentleman explained that he had scheduled a review of our application.  I waited on pins and needles for him to call me back.

He did.  They were re-extending the loan.  The house was ours.

The pad was done and rock-solid, and half the house had been delivered.  We scrambled out early the next morning for the installation.  By this time, it was August, the peak of our scorching, humid summer.

We got there and put our chairs under a tree, and it wasn’t long before the setup crew arrived.

It wasn't long before they had driven the back half of the house up onto the pad. The truck would hold the house level until it was blocked.

One of the crew rolls a wheel he just removed down the side of the pad.

ILoveBunnies' hat held some sort of amazing attraction for the love bugs. Love bugs are the scourge of the earth. Okay, maybe not, but they are excessively annoying.

A couple of the crew started distributing the blocks that would be used for the pillars.

The front half of the house arrived! The crew left it on the gravel road in front of our property. Above the trees, you can see the storm clouds gathering. Uh oh.

One of the crew takes blocks up underneath, to set them under one of the two main I-beams. The plastic he is on is 6-mil vapor barrier stuff. Nice and thick.

This man works to level the house with an ancient tool, the water level. In front of the pillar he is building is a pier cap, or a termite cap. These will help protect the house from termites, by removing the pillars as points of access. Naturally, there are other points of access, but this takes care of some of them.

The pieces of wood holding the protective wrap over the middle of the house start to come off.

....... And then, it suddenly stormed. Mom and the kids took refuge at a neighbor's house, while I put things away and was going to move the car out from under the trees. I never got that far, because it turned out that my mom had my keys. So I just stayed in the car.

Rainwater pools in the tire tracks behind the house, and begins washing some of the fine clay particles from the pad.

Work resumes as soon as it stops raining, but you can see that the smooth, hard surface of the pad has softened, and has begun looking like a well-walked beach. After this, it was so much harder on the crew. It was wet, the clay was soft and stuck to their shoes, and the sun came out and just drilled them into the ground.

The crew decided they'd better get the other half up onto the property, before it rained again and they couldn't get it past the end of the driveway.

They unhitched the truck and began moving the house with a small piece of equipment with the heart of a riding lawnmower. Amazing that it could pull all that weight. As he maneuvered and finished turning the house, the sun broke through the clouds.

They used this odd machine to slowly walk the house the rest of the way up the driveway, and onto the pad with the other part of the house. As you can see, the property had drained pretty well by this point, but that didn't mean things weren't still soggy. More storm clouds brewed in the distance. The guys had noticed this, and had stopped removing the protective barrier from the half that was already set.

Moments later, the rains returned.  Once they let up, the crew decided to let the land drain while they went for lunch at a truck stop down the street.  We climbed into the van, and told them we’d see them there.

It didn't happen. We had a slight delay, and the crew was up the highway a couple of miles by the time we headed out. We made it to the end of the driveway. I could see that getting out might be difficult, and I navigated it the best I could. It was no use; the end of the driveway was already too soupy. We tried all sorts of things, even shoving sticks under the tires for traction, but they were buried too deep. So there we sat, wondering how long it would take for the guys to start wondering where we were.

When we saw them turn down our road, we could see them start laughing and waving.  They had realized at some point that we had told them we’d meet them there, and we hadn’t arrived.  “I wonder if they’re stuck in the driveway,” one thought out loud.  Yep, we were stuck in the driveway.

Thankfully, their handy-dandy whatchamacallit machine was up to the task! They pulled the van backward as I steered, and then I drove out by cutting through the shallow ditch on our neighbor's property, only a few feet from the driveway. The other side of the driveway was in worse shape, so I couldn't go that way.

Having rescued us, it was time for them to return to work. ... Assuming they could get back up the driveway, which was quickly turning into a swamp. The powered rear of the truck slid off to the side and almost got stuck, as they tried to make it all the way in.

When we returned from lunch, we found them working to bring the two halves together, in a procedure called "marriage". The "marriage wall" is the doubly-thick wall that runs down the middle of the house. Even where you walk from room to room, you have the marriage wall at the ceiling and floor.

More storms approach, as the men fight to bring the house together and finish the center ridge of the roof before it rains again. In the end, they had to tarp the rest of the roof until the next day.

They work to finish leveling so they can tie the two halves together and do the ridge of the roof. As I said, it wouldn't all happen that day.

I had thought we were supposed to do a walk-through for our loan once it was blocked and leveled, which it was. We waited for Shay to arrive, and then we tied bags over our mucky feet, so we could walk through. We had to cut the barrier between the two halves and step through to pass between some rooms. I found out later that the walk-through was to be done once all of the tie-downs were completed. Oh, well. At least we got to see it, and it was so exciting to walk through it!

Exhausted, we headed home, knowing we’d be right back early in the morning.

Siting the house!

Sorry this has taken so long, I’ve been having some technical difficulties:  http://rabbittalk.com/blogs/24carrot/2013/02/21/hey-i-got-in/

The last post about our new country adventures, I showed you the clearing of the area for our new house.  After it was clear, we had to figure out exactly where the house was going, and then get it there.

We went out to the land again, so we could decide on a site for the house.  We had done this before, before the logger came, but all our marks were gone.  Time to do it again!

Bunny-Wan Kenobi and ILoveBunnies observe as we get out string, stakes, and paint.

We staked the corners, and then tied that plastic marking ribbon to them. This is actually just after we returned to move the footprint 10 feet forward, to get a little more out of the possible target area of a large pine on the property line with the neighbor. We could definitely see that tree coming down in a storm someday.

My beloved Shay put marking paint along the lines, as well. Unfortunately, right after this, a sudden squall opened up on us, and washed much of the paint away.

The double-wide mobile home that we had ordered had been built very quickly, and had already been delivered to the dealer.  (We had looked into buying an existing house, etc., but it just never worked out.  That’s why we finally ordered a mobile home.)  Our loan offer from the bank was time-sensitive, but it kept raining.  We had to wait for the end of our driveway (not yet having a culvert or anything, so the water just ran through it) to dry out enough for things like dump trucks and bulldozers to be able to get in again.  Also, the clay pit that our pad material was to come from was flooded, so that had to drain off.

So we sat and went crazy, as the lady at the dealership got more nervous as the time on our loan ticked down.

Finally, we were able to rub a couple of dry days together, and it was time to get the pad done!  The gentleman we bought the land from did all of our bulldozer work, including the pad.  He and his wife are so sweet.  He expected to be done in a couple of hours, and the home dealer was planning to set one half of the home that afternoon!

With the pad just begun, the dump truck driver offloads a bunch of red clay, which will make an excellent pad.

The bulldozer spread and compacted the clay. The back half of the home arrived, and the crew just left it for the next day, when the other half would arrive.

The kids read on their perch, as the pad is built.

As the dump truck brings load after load, the gentleman with the bulldozer checks for level.

Finally finished compacting and leveling the pad, he went around the edges, compacting those and putting horizontal grooves in them, to keep water from rushing off too quickly and damaging the pad. Much more material was required for the pad than he had expected! While the pad is just above ground level on one end, it's some 2+ feet off the ground on the other end! The land does not feel like it is that sloped. You can see the difference between the level surface of the pad, and the slope of the house next to it. Even the vertical blinds tell about the slope. If I recall correctly, it took 300 cubic yards of clay to build this pad.

With that, it was time to run back home to make dinner, so we could go to bed and be back early the next morning!

Once the property was bush-hogged, and the driveway was bulldozed, it was time to get the land cleared.  The house, having been completed early, was already sitting on the dealer’s lot, and time was ticking on our loan offer.  We needed to work quickly.

We called the logger who had cleared some land farther down the road.  The wood had brought a nice amount of money for the landowner, so we hoped that this would be the case for us, as well.

As it turned out, the logger came and looked at our trees, and said that our trees were only good for pulp because of the large number of branches they had.  Unfortunately, the bottom had fallen out of the pulpwood market, and he was barely getting anything for it, he said, so it would cost us a decent bit to get it done.

Being pretty much at his mercy because of our situation, we agreed, adding some incentive for getting it done very quickly.

Logging day came, and we headed out to the property again.

When we arrived, they had already long since begun. They had loaded a truck and carried it off up the road.

Three large piles of branches greeted us at the back of the property. I could see a lot of burning in our future!

The two pines in the front yard still stood, and the logger would add to the piles left from the bulldozing.

He had already begun adding to the other bulldozed pile.

Mom walked among the trees still marked for removal. We had a little while to wait for the logger and his crew to return.

When they did return, we stayed at a safe distance! ILoveBunnies and Bunny-Wan Kenobi watched the tree-toppling with interest.

A crew member made the cut...

...And the logger used his Bobcat to push the tree over in the desired direction.

With the tree felled, it was time to cut off the branches. Great, more to add to the gigantic burn piles!

The logger lifted the trunks effortlessly with the claw-like device on his Bobcat.

The trunks were loaded onto a truck.

As all of this was going on, I noticed something about a very tall and beautiful pine we were going to keep. A large injury.

As I looked closer, I realized the tree had been girdled a long time ago. The coil of rusty barbed wire still sat next to the base of the tree. It was obvious that the tree had been trying to recover from this injury for a very long time, and had not had a lot of success. There was sap everywhere, and missing bark. I called my beloved Shay quickly. This tree had to come down... did he want me to see if I could get the logger to take it?

As I waited anxiously for Shay to call me back, the crew worked on grinding the final stumps and roots into the ground. Finally, I heard back from Shay, and ran out to the logger.

The logger asked what I would offer for him to take the giant pine. I had $100 in mind, but told him straight that I did not know what the job was worth, and that I would trust him to give me a fair price. He asked how $100 sounded, and we shook hands. The tree was coming down one way or another. It was $100 extra to the logger, $2,000 later to a professional tree remover after the house was up, or a storm. We picked the $100 option, and the logger himself made the cut, as it was going to be difficult to take it out without taking a lot of other trees down with it. We understood we would lose at least two.

He explained to me how the cuts worked. What he left uncut would act as a brake, pulling the tree to fall in that direction. It was fascinating to watch it fall exactly as he wanted it to. As it fell, its branches grabbed the other two trees we knew we would lose -- a maple and a pine -- and brought them down. Other trees lost limbs, but no other trees fell.

At the end of the day, we were left with a barren landscape. We were sad to take down all those lovely trees, but we knew our house would be safe.

The next step would be to decide again exactly where the house would go, as our markers were gone.  Then we could get the pad built, and the house set!

Preparing the Land!

Well, we have entered the nutty time of the move.  The house has been delivered to the dealer (only 2 WEEKS early!), and is sitting there waiting for us to have a place to put it!

But first, here’s my favorite line from the deed to our property, which we paid for in full:

"...the buyers, their heirs, and assigns shall have and hold the described property in full ownership forever."

Of course, property tax laws make all land- and homeowners renters anyway (pay your property taxes or you’re evicted and your property and/or home sold).  BUT it is still a very exciting line to read in the deed.  We showed this sentence to our kids, and explained to them that since they are our heirs, this means this property isn’t just ours, it is theirs.  Particularly for ILoveBunnies, who is five years older than Bunny-Wan Kenobi, this produced quite a bit of excitement.

I also want to take a moment to explain how this got paid for.  My grandmother and grandfather came from very modest backgrounds.  My grandfather was in the Army, then later started an advertising business.  They saved up.  They bought wisely.  They invested wisely.  Their savings grew.  They bought this house in a very nice, up-and-coming neighborhood, and continued to save.  The neighborhood has up and come, alright.  Whenever one of these older homes is bought, it is razed and replaced with a mansion.

Fast forward to the last few months and the settlement of my grandmother’s estate (my grandfather passed away many years ago).  It is the wisdom of my grandparents that has paid for this property we now own, and put the down payment on the mobile home we are about to install on it.

For Shay and me, life has always been very much paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes that hasn’t been enough.  My grandmother worried about me, knowing how little we made.  Then she got to meet Shay a bit less than two years after we were married.  She saw how much we loved each other, particularly how much Shay loved me, and his deep faith in the Lord, and she knew I’d be alright.  She knew our life would be difficult, but that I’d be alright.  And that’s the way it’s been.

We are so very, very grateful to them.  It is my sincere hope that they would be pleased with what all their work is accomplishing for us now.  I have no doubt that they would be delighted.  We have gotten to the point in recent years that we have been able to save somewhat.  But this economy is not like the economy my grandfather and grandmother built their investments in.  Our investments are not in bonds, developments, and things like that.  We have been investing in things that will get us by in emergencies and further our self-sufficiency.

So anyway, here we are with this raw piece of land.  It used to be a hay field, which explains why it is relatively smooth and well-drained, and why it had no trees until the last couple of decades (got to see that in Google’s historical imagery).  Then it had a driveway running through it to a long-gone house somewhere east of us.  That’s all that’s been on this land.  It’s never had electricity, phone, water, sewer, anything.  Where do you start?

The first step is getting the place bushhogged. Forget the thick woods at the front of the property for now, we need to work with the grove of pines in the center of it and the clearing at the back. When this picture was taken (from the clearing toward the grove), you could hardly see into the grove at all because of all the brush.

What a difference! Now you can see into that grove. While I was standing more near the corner for this shot, it's still from the clearing, looking into the grove. Somewhere in there is where the house will sit.

Unfortunately, some of the pines are in the house's footprint, or are too close. Our property is on the top of a very gently sloped hill, but a hill nonetheless. These pines grow very tall, with very deep tap roots, so they make marvelous lightning rods. So... top of hill + lightning rods = not too safe. We marked all the trees that are to come down, so the logger will be able to tell which ones to take.

In addition to being lightning rods, these trees eventually become hollow, making them even more of a threat to have around.  The trees we are leaving are enough to give us a bit of shade without endangering the house.  However, we will be planting replacements — trees that grow 30 – 40 feet tall, and don’t have the deep tap roots that lightning finds so irresistible.  Eventually, all the pines in the grove will be gone, because eventually they will be a danger to the house (they grow 80 – 100 feet tall).

ILoveBunnies gives Daddy's machete a try on a bit of brush left over from bushhogging. Neither she nor Bunny-Wan Kenobi was able to replicate Shay's effortless one-swing slice of young saplings, though.

Bunny-Wan Kenobi decided maybe he'd be better with a saw instead.

We learned some quick lessons, as it has been a while since any of us has been this rural. We got some hats to keep the sun and ticks off (from above, anyway), and some field-grade sulphur and pantyhose to keep the chiggers away! We also got some light-colored, long-sleeved cotton shirts for protection from sun and chiggers. Mosquitoes are nothing compared to the misery inflicted by the tiny chigger!

Chiggers are redbug larvae, and they love brush and tall grass!  After our first visit to the property, when it was being shown to us, I ended up with a lot of chigger bites.  I had forgotten about chiggers, not having dealt with them since I was a teenager!  Contrary to popular belief, they do not burrow into your skin.  They inject enzymes into your skin which liquefies the cells, and they feed on that.  Your body’s response is to wall off the injury with a crusty tube.  Unfortunately, this only helps the chigger.  After a few hours (usually long after the chigger is gone), the site begins to itch.  It is both the enzymes from the chigger and the tube your body has built that contribute to the horrific itching that follows and lasts for two weeks.

The next time we went out, it was my mom and ILoveBunnies who came back with chigger bites.  This was when I realized we needed to do something to keep this from happening.  I remembered going to camp for 2 1/2 weeks every summer when I was growing up, way out in the woods.  We used sulphur to keep the chiggers away, and it worked quite well.

To dress for chiggers, you first put on pantyhose.  Even the MARINES do this!  Chiggers cannot get through pantyhose.  Then you put sulphur on your skin in the various places chiggers prefer — around the waistband, around any band on your skin (the bands and straps of bras, for example).  More around your neckline and shirt cuffs, and under your arms.  Without pantyhose, you also include the top of your socks (and down to your ankles, if your socks are loosely woven), the backs of your knees, and around the waist and legs of your underwear.  Believe me, if you’ve found a chigger paradise like we have, it’s a lot safer to go with the pantyhose.  You do NOT want chiggers in your underwear.  Trust me.  You tuck your pants inside your socks, and your shirt inside your pants, in an effort to keep the chiggers on the outside of your clothes.

After bushhogging, it was time to get a driveway bulldozed!

The same man who bushhogged for us came to clear a driveway for us. A good number of trees had to come down in the dense front woods to give us a driveway. Here, he forms a pile of downed trees.

We'll have a lot of burning to do!

He works back and forth to smooth the driveway. He won't finish it just yet. That'll happen after the home is in.


Looking from our gravel road, down the driveway toward where the house will sit. The post at left marks a corner of the property.

The driveway goes right into the grove of pines, where the house will be.


You can now see and travel from the old driveway that cuts through our property to the new driveway.

We have rented a 20' shipping container to use as a secure shed for now, until we're all settled in and have a regular shed.

Meanwhile, as I said at the top, the home we ordered arrived at the dealership TWO WEEKS EARLY!  So we went to sign the papers and take a look.  When we arrived, only one half was actually there.  When we finished signing, we went and took a look at it, as well as we could.  We heard the other half was almost there, so we waited.

Here comes the other half! It was so exciting to watch it get hauled in like that. Our salesman watches from the left. Oversize load? You'd better believe it!

The red shutters are just as pretty against the siding as I had hoped!

Mom and Bunny-Wan Kenobi watch as some steps are put up to the door so we can go in. All of us but Shay had come from the property, so we're all in our woodsy clothes.

"What did you put in that thing?!?" This is the incredulous question we got from the driver. In his 20 years of pulling mobile homes, this was his heaviest haul. While it is normal for them to blow some tires on the trip, which is why the accompanying truck carries a load of extras, he had gone through 13 tires, and two sets of brakes had flown to pieces.

One of the brake failures had sent shrapnel into the vapor barrier and insulation under the house. This dealership has amazing service reviews, though, so they were quick to assure me that they will take care of the damage. And I know they will. That's the kind of reputation they have.

What did I put in that thing?  Well…

We wanted a solid, well-built home that will be safe, well-insulated, and last a long time.  I did some upgrades… mainly things like upgraded linoleum throughout, with a thick, high-quality linoleum that will last a long time, and won’t be an allergy or asthma issue like carpet.  I turned the dressing table in the master bathroom into a linen closet.  I added a second, larger pantry to the kitchen.  I kept the options that extended the cabinets to the ceiling and upgraded them to a more durable kind (one of the upgrades the salesman had already figured I’d want).  I put in a gas stove and furnace, which I have missed since we lived in Delaware.  I put in some of the decorative upgrades they offered, such as arches in a couple of places.  These upgrades wouldn’t have accounted for a lot of weight, though.

Shay, on the other hand, requested some upgrades that added a significant amount of weight.  Thick plywood floors instead of oriented strand board.  2″ x 6″ exterior walls instead of 2″ x 4″.  Maximum insulation, something like 33/19/33.  Not a lot of weight in the insulation, but it gives you an idea of the types of upgrades he was after!

It has 2″ x 8″ floor joists on 16″ centers, just like a stick-built home, too.  Very nice.

We can’t wait to see it all put together, and also see the rooms we couldn’t get to that day.  Well, we could have, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut the plastic.

Until then, here’s a shot of part of the kitchen.  A bit grainy, but it’ll give you a idea what it looks like…

I upgraded the Formica, too. It was unclear whether it was more durable, but I had already chosen it before I knew it was an upgrade. I really like it. This island is humongous! I will be able to do so many things on it. I have a lot of counter space, even though I took some of it up adding the second pantry.

One of the standard features of the kitchen was a beautiful arch over the stove with columns that rested on the counters beside the stove.  It housed the vent and light.  As you can see, I did not get this feature, even though it was very pretty.  I was really concerned about how far away the light was from the stove, and that my mom would not be able to see well when she cooked.  I saw a photo of a model that had the arch, and the light was on.  You could see a little of the light on the wall behind the stove, but you couldn’t see the light on the stove.  For Mom’s sake, I nixed the arch.  We weren’t really sure how we would like navigating around the columns, anyway.

Thursday, the logger is supposed to come to take the trees we need removed, and grind the stumps.  He assured us that he doesn’t grind the stumps to the ground.  He grinds them into the ground, and grinds the roots, too.  They won’t be coming back, they won’t be termite havens, and they will be gone plenty enough for the home to go where they used to be.

Rabbitry Rehab

I cannot believe the massive quantities of pollen that are currently being spewed into the air by all the plants around here right now.  After a very mild winter (not quite as mild as last winter, but still), everything has just suddenly kicked into high gear.  Even the oaks are pollinating right now, and I’m sure it’s way early for that!

I was convinced I was coming down with a cold.  Allergies will sometimes give me a swollen, blistered throat in the morning, but it subsides during the day.  If I have a swollen, blistered throat that stays around, or begins to creep down into my bronchial tubes, I have a virus.

Or so I thought.

Three of us had the same symptoms, and we thought we were all getting sick.  Mom went to the doctor today.  Nope, not sick.  It’s allergies.  It’s all this pollen!  Ugh!

So in the midst of this pollen dump, it was time to refurbish the rabbitry.

Refurbish?  Already?  Isn’t the thing just over a year and a half old?

Well… yes.  But we had some flaws in our rabbitry that needed fixing.  I will say that I figured we’d get more than a year and a half out of the rabbitry before it would need an overhaul. But we have learned a few things.

1. Don’t use corrugated waste chutes, especially corrugated tin, if you do not have much clearance between the chutes and the bottoms of the cages. If you do, you will not be able to clean them well at all. If you use tin, it will rust quickly anywhere you are unable to clear the bunny berries that get regular doses of urine.

2. Don’t use 16-gauge floors. They bow between J-clips, and the whole floor bows, giving you even less cleaning clearance. We even had one wire break. We didn’t have problems just in growout cages, but even in the buck’s cage. It’s just not strong enough, unless maybe you’re raising dwarf rabbits.

3. Don’t have your top gutter come to the middle to drain. It makes reaching the cage below potentially very unpleasant.

4. Don’t use regular Bass J-clips. We ordered our cages from Bass (oddly, 14 gauge sides and top, 16 gauge floors — still trying to figure that one out), and they came with J-clips, which we used to assemble the cages. These clips are way too weak. They would fail occasionally, and we once had a bun get loose because three of them failed. She could have gotten hurt, or it could have happened with a litter of babies in the cage. The instructions said to put them at 6″ intervals.  Shay put them every 5″.  Still, the floors sagged and the clips failed.  If the clip is weak enough for a 10-year-old with a pair of pliers to yank off in less than ten seconds, you need stronger clips.

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5. Once you have good J-clips, you will suddenly find you want a better J-clip tool, and you will suddenly realize why you need a set of J-clip removal pliers.

So it was time to correct the flaws.

Woody’s Wabbits sells cages with 14 gauge floors for just a couple dollars more.  I just didn’t know that at the time.  The floors began sagging pretty quickly, both overall and at the edges, between the J-clips.

I ordered replacement 14 gauge floor panels, heavy stainless steel J-clips, and floor supports from Klubertanz.  I ordered precut panels, because I can’t seem to make more than 5 cuts on 14 gauge wire before my hands start begging for mercy (I can cut 16 gauge wire all day).  I also didn’t want to ask Shay to do all that cutting.


16 gauge 1"x1/2" floor wire at left. The same wire in 14 gauge at right. The 14 gauge is much, much stronger.

I burned the cage floors with Shay’s torch to sterilize them, and then we pulled out all the 16-gauge floors. ILoveBunnies and Bunny-Wan Kenobi were responsible for this. Once ILoveBunnies began putting a new floor on Pinto’s cage with the new, hefty stainless steel J-clips from Klubertanz (very impressive things), all floor removal went to Bunny-Wan Kenobi.

I had heard on RabbitTalk about the nightmare of removing J-clips… that it was nigh unto impossible without the special removal pliers. I wasn’t sure why it should be so hard. Sure enough, I set the kids up with an array of tools to choose from, and within just a few minutes, they had perfected a fast removal technique. What was all the fuss about? Were my kids really putting to shame a forum full of experienced cage-building adults? It sure seemed like it.

ILoveBunnies grasps a J-clip and rotates it to find the end.

With the clip end up, she approaches the clip again.

She grasps the clip end and pulls it back.

She continues to pull back, twisting if needed. You can see the clip is quite open now.

And she's done! Less than 10 seconds have elapsed. Actually, I had her do it extra-slowly so I could take pictures. I ended up taking them over two clips, because she still did them too fast!

Both of the kids could do it in less than 10 seconds. Once Pinto’s cage had the floor off, ILoveBunnies started putting the new one on. Suddenly, it was very clear why all the talk about J-clips being such a pain! These things were strong!!! Now it was abundantly clear that the regular Bass clips were not desirable at all in cage flooring.  It was also clear that if I ever needed to remove these new clips, I was going to need that removal tool!

With the kids working on the cages, Shay began on the waste chutes and gutters.  First, he pulled out all the corrugated metal.  This was a pain, and he finally resorted to hammering them off from below — which, of course, sent all kinds of dried *ahem* stuff into the air.  He probably should have worn a dust mask.  Yuck.

(Over the course of the rest of the day, Shay gashed his hands on leftover slivers of metal from the old chutes.  We would dash inside, clean it, dress it, and dash back out.  We needed to have the rabbits back in the rabbitry before dusk, when the mosquitoes suddenly all come after you at once!)

Once the old chutes and gutters were out, it was time to install the new ones.  For chutes, I had bought 10mm Coroplast 4′x8′ sheets from a local sign company for $26 per sheet, three sheets total.  They cut the sheets in half for me.  We bought some vinyl gutters both for gutters and for diverters.

The diverters keep waste away from the wood frame. Shay cut the front off of a piece of gutter, to make a piece of vinyl flashing. Here is a diverter after it was affixed with the correct angle.

Shay ended up removing them, and reattaching them as he installed the chutes.  Don’t know why, but his usually flawless math failed him somewhat, causing him to cut to fit instead of cutting off a calculated triangle.

Close-up of a diverter.


An end diverter.

While Shay wrangled with diverters, Coroplast, triangles, and numbers, I spread pelletized lime under the rabbitry.

I spread 4 20-pound bags of lime with a garden rake. It'll help keep smell down, and hopefully create a hostile environment under there.


The new chute material going in. Like I said before, Shay had to take the diverters back out, and install them with the chutes. You can see that the top corner of this diverter has not been pulled all the way up so the ends can be screwed to the post.

A view from the west end of the rabbitry. You can see that the diverter has been pulled up and secured.

After the chutes were on, Shay installed the new vinyl gutter. To get maximum angle, he sliced off some of the top edge of the back of the gutter on the high end, so he could raise it higher.

I came behind and caulked with clear silicone. It's only been, say... almost 20 years since I caulked? It's true that the caulk would not have the proper curing time before we set the rabbits over it, but Shay figured it would be okay anyway. It is.

The opposite end of the gutter. We had to use a joiner to extend it another couple of feet, then a corner to direct it over a bucket. I caulked all around the joiner and everything. We do get some urine that sits there, but it's easy to remove.

Meanwhile, ILoveBunnies cuts the old floors into baby-saver wire strips (then realizes she's cutting 3", instead of 4"). We have had quite a few baby bunny escapes, so we knew we needed to put some closer wire on the does' cages. These strips will be attached to the outside bottom edges of the cages with the old, unused Bass J-clips, since they don't need to bear weight.

Bunny-Wan Kenobi bends over the ends of the baby-saver wire where it crosses under the doorway. This will keep us from cutting ourselves when we reach into a cage.

Keep going, Bunny-Wan Kenobi! You're getting there!

With the baby-saver wire on, it was time to install the floor supports (also called "floor spreaders") I had bought to help ensure that the floors would not sag. Unfortunately, there were no instructions with them or online anywhere, so I emailed them.

First, I took pliers and bent the tab out a bit, to make it easier to wrap around the cage edge.

I slid the tab behind the baby-saver wire, so that it would go around only the edges of the side and the floor. The tabs weren't long enough to go around all three securely. Sometimes, I could reach inside the cage with pliers and help bend it through, but mostly I just pushed on it from outside with the pliers. Some things there just isn't a tool for.

The instructions from Klubertanz told me to "crimp" the tab firmly to the cage floor, but there was no floor wire close enough to clamp it to. Instead, I pulled out my J-clip pliers, and clamped it with that. It bent the tab all the way around, so that it almost met itself. Maybe that's what they meant.

A view of a tab from the inside, after being clamped with the J-clip pliers. That should be secure.

Another view of a tab. The J-clip to the right is supporting the floor, while the one to the left is holding baby-saver wire. I added more J-clips to the floor edge after installing the floor support.

An entire floor support, front to back. I also took the opportunity to use needlenose pliers to further bend the long baby-saver wire ends that curl around the doorway. Don't want any injured bunnies!

Fluffy and Nibbles settle back in after the day's upheaval. We didn't get the baby-saver and floor supports finished that day, so we did them a few days later.

Fluffy eyes me warily... she's had enough excitement today! I'm not taking her out again, am I? No, I'm not. Not today, anyway.

Squeak heads immediately for the farthest corner. She's glad to be back home!

Pinto doesn't care, he's investigating the camera.

East end of the rabbitry. Top is Pinto, bottom is Fluffy and Nibbles.

The middle of the rabbitry. A growout cage is at top, while Squeak is below. No longer does the top gutter split and drain over her cage! The bottom gutter still splits there in the middle, though, and drains into a pan.

The west end of the rabbitry. Thumper is at top left, and another growout cage goes to the right. Below is where the third doe cage goes. It was Pearl's cage before she died.

Pinto checks out another disturbance coming from just outside his cage. What's going on? He's such a curious bun. He must find out what's happening!

Yay! The visqueen is coming down! Winter's over, so it's time to let the breezes in! Pinto is beside himself.

And it’s done!  We bought a couple of heavy-duty squeegee heads, and a long handle.  Shay cut the handle in half, and put the squeegees on the two parts.  Time will tell how well this works, but I think it will be great! :)

Installing rain barrels

My tagline is “City-fied Self-Sufficiency”, and one of the necessities of life is water. If you don’t have alternative access to water, and your service is interrupted for some reason, then things could get pretty desperate for you rather quickly.

Now, you can’t just gather a bunch of water from your roof and go drinking it. Well, I suppose you could, but it wouldn’t be very wise. That water has been on your roof… you know, along with the birds and squirrels. You drink the water straight, and you could end up with some really fun illness.

The main use for collected roof water would be the garden, and that’s how we plan to use it. However, in an emergency, the roof water could be distilled, or put through a ceramic water filter to make it suitable for drinking.

Our city had a community sale of rain barrels and compost bins, and we decided to take advantage of it. So we stood in line for a good while, in the hot sun, for the chance to buy four rain barrels and two compost bins.

Four rain barrels and two compost bins wait to be installed.

You may recall that I posted about making your own compost bin. Yes, it works, and yes, I’m using it. It’s also full, and I need more compost space. Shay could build more, but we thought we’d try these bins as a quick, cheaper way to greatly increase our compost capacity.

Shay and my uncle finally got a weekend that was not scorching hot, and decided to install the rain barrels. Shay went out and bought some lengths of gutter, gutter clips, and some spray paint that matched the gutters we have.  He and my uncle placed the barrels, and then Shay carefully rerouted the gutters to the barrels.

One gutter now snakes along the wall to get to the rain barrels, while missing a window.

Shay cut and bent the end of the gutter to help force the water down if it should flow very quickly. Here, you see a steady trickle of rainwater, in spite of the fact that the rain was long over, and it was just sprinkling. The mesh screen in the lid of the barrel has caught some leaves and other tree stuff. The mesh also keeps mosquitoes out.

Two of the rain barrels, sitting in the sprinkling rain. Once the first barrel (on the right) fills up, the water flows through a short connecting hose to the other barrel. Once that is full, there is an overflow hose at left that will discharge the excess water into the yard.

The other gutter swings around and into the carport.

The gutter enters the carport, turns, and abruptly ends above a rain barrel. The second barrel has an overflow that leads right back out through this space into the back yard.

Bicycles temporarily block the rain barrels (which, thankfully, don't need attention at the moment). We were having a rash of car break-ins, and I was concerned that the bikes would be way too easy a target.

A few days ago, we had a severe weather system move through here.  The two barrels outside cover more roof area, and are full to overflowing already.  The two under shelter in the carport are almost full, as well.  So now I will start using this water in the garden.

It’s amazing how dirty roof water is.  All that dust and pollen gives you brown water.  If we ever have to drink this water, it will need good filtering, to be sure!

Homemade compost tumbler

I’ve been wanting a compost tumbler.  We generate enough yard, rabbit, and kitchen waste, I should be able to make some slammin’ compost!

Where my uncle works, they get plenty of things in 55-gallon metal drums, so we were able to get one for free (Thank you, Uncle’s boss!).  It had some sort of solvent/denatured alcohol stuff in it, so we let it air for a long, long time.  Months.  I know these barrels aren’t normally favored for this, but by the time Shay started working on it, the residue was gone.  It just smelled of rusty drum.  Some cement, some wood, some wheels, and some hardware, and Shay has turned it into a compost tumbler for me.

My new compost tumbler!

It rides on wheels, and is turned by a handle on the side. I do have to be careful as I am bringing the handle back up and around, that I don't lift it off of the wheels. Occasionally, it does start to roll off track, but, as long as I keep an eye on one of the wheels, I catch it quickly and just reverse the direction until it pops back into place.

Holes drilled in the ends, and in a row along the bottom, ensure good air flow through the contents and also help release excess water.

A file made these edges safe. I don't run my fingers along them on purpose, but I shouldn't get cut on them by accident.

I’ve already filled it up with dropped hay, bunny berries, garden trimmings, and such.  Now I just need to paint it black!

I rotate it every day or two, spraying the contents with water when needed.  We don’t have a lawn mower (my grandmother made my uncle get rid of it so he wouldn’t mow the yard anymore because of his age — so someone else cuts the yard), so I can’t grind the stuff up before I put it in there.  This will make it take longer to turn to compost than if I was able to shred everything up really fine.  Oh, well.

Shay admits that it cost more in the end than he expected because of the hardware (had to be suitable for outdoors), but I have a compost tumbler, and I’m happy! :)

In our next major step toward self-sufficiency and greater preparedness for tough times, we wanted to have a garden.  Now, mind you, we could have saved ourselves great expense and just tilled up a plot in the yard for a regular row garden.  Except that we do actually want to grow something besides rice.

You see, this yard was engineered some 60 years ago as a kind of overflow for water coming down the neighborhood hill.  Why, I have no idea.  It would seem to make sense that you channel the water toward the street, and then into the big drainage ditch behind the neighborhood.  Of course, that would require that you put the right sized pipes in from the beginning (um… no, they didn’t… they ended up replacing them with larger ones some time ago), but maybe designing the drainage correctly so that somebody doesn’t end up with their yard being used as a detention pond makes too much sense.  Maybe there’s something more to this design that I just don’t know about and understand.  *sigh*

(Oh, and making sure that the big drainage ditch is maintained well enough that it doesn’t have trees growing in it would help.  My grandmother spent many an hour bending the ears of the local officials trying to get them to do their jobs.  Especially since their lack of action periodically flooded people’s homes.  Eventually, they did clean the ditch out, and the larger drainage pipe keeps the bottom of the hill here from flooding as badly as it used to.  But I digress.)

So what happens here when it rains heavily is this:  for a while, all looks normal.  It’s raining, stuff gets wet, water puddles and runs down driveways to the streets, water runs down the streets from the top of the hill to the streets at the bottom of the hill.  It takes a while, though, for the water to collect in the yards at the top of the hill enough for it to start flowing.  You look out of our back window to see wet grass, and you move on.  The water reaches the channel at the side of our yard, and, once it reaches a certain depth, it suddenly breaks through into the back yard.  You pass by the back window again five minutes after you looked before and glance outside, and you now have a lake where the yard once was.

Our last heavy rain was almost two weeks ago.  Yesterday was our first rain at all since that day, and it barely rained enough to get everything damp.  Yet the yard has just dried out to the point at which you no longer sink into it as you walk.

So now you have a clear idea of the challenge of having a garden in our yard.  Well, unless, like I said before, we want to grow rice.  I have no doubt that rice would do very well here.

Not to be deterred from self-sufficiency (and fresh veggies), I began looking into how to have a garden in an area that holds water.  The key to it, apparently, is to build a raised bed that is 18-24″ in depth.  Wow, that’s big.  And… *sigh* it’s expensive.

One of the highest points of the yard is right beside a fig tree.  My uncle had built a grape arbor there some 20 years ago.  It was roughly 4′ x 19′, and the grapevines had not survived but a few years (maybe because they still got too much water — it is one of the highest points, but it still floods).  So Shay decided to turn the structure into a raised bed for me.

I looked at different methods of raised bed gardening, and settled on Square Foot Gardening.  I got the new book, which is updated and easier than the original method that the author developed some 35 years ago.  I have read that not all of the plant information in the new book is as accurate, though, as one would like, so it is recommended that it be paired with a book like the Garden Primer, which I already have, thanks to my mom and my uncle.

This method has many great reviews.  People can’t seem to glow about it enough.  There is the occasional person who tries it and doesn’t care for it, but the vast majority love it.

Unfortunately, I can’t build the 6″ deep raised bed that the method calls for.  Mine has to be 18-24″ deep.  So mine will cost significantly more.  But we’ve been selling stuff on eBay, and pooling unexpected checks and such, to build up enough money to do it.

So we went and bought the lumber, screws, twine, and other supplies for the garden.  Shay handpicked every piece of wood for it.

Our nice, fresh-cut-wood-smelling pile of lumber. The box held parts for the wheelbarrow we bought that day as well. Boy, is that thing going to get used!

I know about the debate about treated lumber for vegetable gardens.  That was because of the arsenic compound that was used to preserve the wood.  They don’t use it any more.  The new copper azole preservative is supposed to be safer.  Still, many home vegetable gardens have been built with lumber treated with the arsenic compound, with no ill effects.  It’s my understanding that it doesn’t leach out very fast or very far, and, just because it is in the soil, that doesn’t mean it will end up in your bell pepper.

When Shay took another look at the grape arbor, and found out how old it was, he decided it would be better to replace it than to use it and have to start replacing parts of it in a few years.  So we tore it all down.  Shay figured since we weren’t using the original structure, he could make the garden to the largest dimensions allowed by the wood he had bought.  This turned out to be 5′ x 20′.  The author of Square Foot Gardening suggests that it really shouldn’t be more than 4′ wide (for the sake of easy access), but it isn’t that hard to reach in 2 1/2 feet rather than 2 feet. Adding one foot to the width and one foot to the length adds 24 square feet to the garden, while using an additional 16 linear feet of wood (one foot per side, four planks deep) — wood we already had; we would just be cutting it longer.  Adding 24 square feet to the garden without making it one foot wider would have taken an additional 48 linear feet of wood (six feet on two sides, four planks deep) — wood we would have to buy if we wanted that space.  That was pretty hard to argue with.

Anyway, then it was time to lay out the garden.  With Shay’s construction experience, he was able to get it square and level, in spite of the fact that the ground is quite uneven.

Four lengths of hot pink twine marked out the plot. The holes you see already dug are four of the six holes that held the posts for the grape arbor.

Getting it all level. Shay didn't go for absolute perfection, since this was a garden, not a shed or something. But he came as close as he could without sacrificing a lot more time.

We used old arrows that had been given to Shay as stakes. They were bent or missing fletchings. They turned out to be perfect for use in the wet clay dirt -- they would stand straight unless the twine was disturbed. Instead of being pulled over like a wood stake, they would bend, and then stand back up once the pressure was back off of the string. Yet they could stand up straight under enough pressure to keep the string taut. Shay put a small piece of Duck tape on the arrow to keep the twine from going out of level.

Getting it square. This appears to be out of square, because the long side of the square is running downslope, while the twine is level. If you look straight down on it, though, you could see that it is indeed square.

Then it was time to erect the posts. Unlike the arbor, which had less structure, the garden would not need cement. The rest of the structure will keep the posts in line. As Shay cut wood and we began attaching cross pieces, Mom and I also furiously began emptying old flower pots into the old grape arbor holes. We eventually had to raid my uncle's pile of dirt to finish off the holes, but he still has enough to fill the other yard holes we have.

The top is finished, and the first set of 2" x 6" lumber has been attached. The height of the garden is not necessary or even suggested in the Square Foot Gardening book. It is a mirror of the arbor, and will support more climbing plants for us, and will also support clear plastic sheeting in the winter (we could use hoops, but this should be easier for my mom), as well as netting in the summer. We have incredibly determined birds around here. It also will support hanging baskets, which hoops would not. You can see we finally got all the holes filled in! Shay realized around this point that he had made a mistake in measuring. Forgetting to take into account the thickness of the wood for the sides, the resulting garden space will actually be 4' 9", rather than an even 5'. He said it helps keep him humble when realizes he's made a mistake like that. It really won't affect the garden much, though. I love my Shay!

The three full 2" x 6" layers are in. Additional 2x6s were added inside to take care of the quite variable distance from the ground to the bottom of the first level of 2x6s. The depth of the garden ranges from 19" to nearly 24", because of the lay of the land.

A closeup of the inside. You can see how the bottom 2x6 is angled to meet the ground. The one at the opposite end is actually a 2x4, because it was so close to the ground at that point. Shay initially wanted to dig channels for the bottom layer so that it would be level with the rest, but that would have taken a lot of time and effort, and gained only a little in the way of aesthetics.

The full length of the garden. You can see how the bottom layer is inset, like a kitchen cabinet. This tends to hide the fact that those pieces are angled rather than straight, like the three upper courses are. I think it looks just fine!

Short one length of 2x4, Shay reused a piece of the old arbor as the center crosspiece.

Meanwhile, Bunny-Wan Kenobi used my uncle's dirt pile as a place to try out his John Deere tractor with plow attachment. The little booger really works, too... miniature furrows! Pretty funny. Oh, and that is a medical bracelet he is wearing.

Now that most of the building is finished, we can start filling it.  We’ll put down newspaper first, then chicken wire (for moles), then line pretty much the whole thing with landscape fabric both to keep the mix in, and to keep weeds out.  I then need to put at least six inches of sand in it, to allow ample drainage for the garden.  Excess water needs to be able to drain out, something that would most certainly not happen otherwise.  The rest I will fill with a concoction known as “Mel’s mix” — a 1:1:1 mixture of compost, coarse vermiculite, and peat.  I may go deeper on the sand, depending on the prices of everything involved.  For now, it appears I will need approximately 2 cubic yards each of the sand and the three ingredients of Mel’s mix.  Cha-ching! Now I get to start calling around…