Continuing on with my saga of “I’m not very handy, but I don’t want to pay someone to do these things”, I built a wall.

Well, two walls really.

Okay, its a garden bed, but there were bricks involved, mortar, concrete, all sorts of wall-building shenanigans, so I’m counting it as a wall.

My back yard features a garden bed that follows the north and north-east fencelines. Its quite nice, it has some greenery in it that gives the back yard some privacy. Except for right in the middle.

I assume at some point it was supposed to be a feature? It has a palm and a paw-paw tree, neither of which look fantastic, and an “edge” made of rocks.

Pretty crap right? Also, inconsistent, which bugs me more than I would like to admit.

We’ve wanted to fix this little area for a while now, so I thought I would take the opportunity (while I wait to start my new job) to do just that.

In order to avoid making this blog post too long, I’m going to break this mini-project into two posts.

This post will focus on the destruction of the current area and the construction of the inner-wall (i.e. the edge closest to the lawn) while the next post will focus on the outer-wall construction and any miscellaneous sundries.

Lord of Destruction

Sometimes you have to destroy before you can create, and while I regret the loss of a perfectly good palm, it had to come out if I was going to do this. I do not regret the loss of the paw-paw, because 1.) I never got any fruit off it because the bats just ate it all, and 2.) The fruit tastes terrible anyway.

Anyway, the destruction, from easiest to hardest.

The edging. Just modular retaining wall blocks, so easy to move. Pickup, move. Simple. I stashed them inside with the rest of the spare blocks I had (from tearing apart another similar bed on the east side of the house where my vegie gardens are now). I’ll need those blocks later to build the wall.

The rocks at the front, also easy. Tore them out and stashed them on the west side of my house to build a retaining wall.

The paw-paw tree (the one on the right in the picture above) was also surprisingly easy. A couple of good rocks from side to side and it came right out. Whoever planted it didn’t really put it in a good place. It was jammed right into a corner, so the roots had nowhere to go. Also, it was rotten (which I did not know until the top part of the tree almost smacked me in the head).

The palm. Now this was hard. While it didn’t exactly have a massive taproot or anything, it still had a lot of little roots spread throughout the area it was in. One big taproot would probably have been easier actually, because I had to dig a trench all the way around the base of the palm before I could rock it even the smallest amount. A significant amount of effort later, it too fell. I cut it up and stashed the pieces down the side of my house to dry so I could break them apart later for mulch. I did the same with the remains of the paw-paw tree. Never waste any organic matter, it all breaks down in the end.

Now for the hardest bit, the concrete. Underneath the left and right edging of the existing garden beds were concrete slabs. About 15cm thick. These slabs were what the retaining wall blocks were sitting on. You can see them on the left and right in the picture below.

Unsurprisingly concrete is hard to break when you do not have a concrete saw. I do not have a concrete saw.

After about 2 hours of smash-lever-poke-smash-etc with a pickaxe and a crowbar thing (it wasn’t so much a crowbar as it was just a big steel stick with a pointy end) the concrete slabs were broken and removed.

The last bit of cleanup involved excavating some of the soil and moving it somewhere else while I worked on the area. Lots of stones and debris, so I sifted it before dumping it. I’ve got a big pile of knuckle to fist sized rocks from this and all the other times I’ve sifted my soil. I’d love to hire a rock-crusher to turn them into dust and incorporate it back into the garden, but I don’t think you can. Ah well, maybe I’ll smash them myself.

The dogs are curious about the new development.

Time to lay the foundation for the inner-wall.

Is that Concrete in your Pocket or are you Happy to See Me?

I have never laid concrete before in my life. I do not particularly want to lay concrete again.

Anyway, I did some rough calculations and in order to lay the slab at the front for the retaining wall blocks to sit on, I would need approximately 0.01 m3 of concrete (2.6 m, x 0.3m x 0.15 m), which ends up being about 12 bags of the stuff. I went with post-mix concrete from Bunnings for about $6 for a 20 kg bag.

I needed a frame too, to hold it in place while it cured.

At first I considered using some scrap timber that I had laying around (which you can see on top of the concrete bags in the photo above), but I very quickly rejected this idea when I went to construct the frame, as it would have taken too much effort to attach the planks together into the required shape. Instead I just purchased two 3 m pine planks and some wooden stakes. This actually turned out to be a much better idea, because I could brace the planks on the existing concrete slabs and get a nice smooth integration.

Now, in order to make the concrete, I first followed the instructions on the bags exactly. 4.2 L of water per bag of concrete. I could fit two bags of concrete into my wheelbarrow, so 8.2 L of water. Dutifully measured via my watering can and added. Mixing that stuff by hand is rough work too, it’s not easy to move around and it needs a lot of moving around before its ready to go. I treated it similarly to making pasta or bread dough. Well in the centre, add all the liquid and slowly incorporate the dry stuff.

The first batch of concrete seemed a little..dry? I mean, it still went into the frame okay, but it just didn’t look like the same sort of consistency that I had seen concreters work with in the past.

I over-compensated for the second batch.

But finally found a good consistency for the third and fourth batches.

Look at that second batch drip. Terrible.

In that last picture I’ve already finished the concrete a little (with the edger on the lawn side, and smoothing it out a little on top). Generally you need to wait an hour or two after laying the concrete before you can finish it, but in the Queensland heat, it was ready in less than an hour.

Now we play the waiting game, as the concrete needs to sit and cure for at least 24 hours before I can remove the frame and start putting stuff on it. I hope it doesn’t rain.

Mr President, Build up this Wall

Ha ha ha ha rain. This is Queensland, Australia. What’s rain?

Just to be sure, I left the concrete for two days. However, I did come out every couple of hours after I laid it to tap the frame with a rubber mallet. This helps to make sure that the concrete doesn’t bond to the timber frame, which can make it a pain to remove.

The frame came off really easy once I knocked the stakes out of the ground.

Lets build a wall! Its just like Lego, except there’s no danger of stepping on a piece and suffering the most unimaginable pain…imaginable?

Honestly, this part went smoothly, without incident. The only tricksy bit was that I needed to move an entire row of blocks a couple of times in order to get a nice tight fit in the middle. That and I ran out of blocks, so I had to steal some from a different part of the yard. If I can’t find any more of these blocks I’ll probably have to turn the spot I stole the blocks from into a “feature” wall or something.

Mmmmm, looking good. I even used pre-loved blocks, so the only hint it wasn’t always there is the really new looking concrete and the missing grass at the front. Sneaky.

Heres an imgur album of all of the photos together, for your viewing pleasure.

Summary of Tools and Materials (so far)

  • Axe
  • Saw
  • Steel rod thing (crowbar?)
  • Hammer
  • Chisel
  • Rubber Mallet
  • Gloves (important! concrete does a number on your skin)
  • Timber planks
  • Timber stakes
  • 8 x 20 kg bags of post-mix Concrete (I bought 12, but only used 8. I think I ended up making the slab thinner than I planned)
  • Water (duh)

Next Time

Literally, bricks and mortar.