Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Ton of Concrete Later...

In our back yard we have a small patch of dirt surrounded by concrete adjacent to our house. Tim had a great idea in the spring-- a garden. He tilled the earth in this small plot. I even planted a few strawberry plants. As soon as the first strawberry would begin to ripen a blasted bird would snip a little bite out of it, rendering the whole thing inedible. After this happened to 20 or so strawberries, I gave up. It was only May and I was done.

What was once a neatly maintained and fenced in little area became a weed patch once again. Monkey and Sullivan could still fit their little bodies in between the wire fencing, so it did little to deter them from digging in the dirt. They were nice enough to leave the strawberries undisturbed. I didn't even take a photo of the embarrassing state of affairs in this weed garden. If only I could cultivate fruits and vegetables as well as I could cultivate weeds!

We'd had enough. Tim got pretty ambitious and decided to concrete this area. You heard me, concrete it... ourselves. We're pretty ambitious DIYers-- "A" for effort is the motto around here! Even for us, this was a big project given the level of skill concreting requires. We did some research on the basic steps and I asked my friend Kim for advice. Her husband is a professional, so Phil if you're reading this, please stop now. Trust me, you don't want to see the craftsmanship that comes next.

Tim removed the wood retaining walls and dug up the roots of 4-5 bushed that were buried deep in the ground. Next he had to dig out a good 6 inches of dirt and transplant it to the back of the yard in a low spot. I'm sure the neighbors wondered what the heck we were doing, burying dead bodies or something (those are actually hidden in the vacant house behind us in case you were wondering). Finally, he poured gravel into this trench. Thankfully, he did this over a two week period. Sadly, I don't have any photos to document all of the hard work that went into it, but I'm sure he can attest to the back-breaking work that took place.

You'll notice a strip of black in the above photo. This is a strip that absorbs the shock so to speak when the concrete expands and contracts in the cold and heat. Thankfully, Kim gently reminded us that we should install this so our newly poured concrete didn't crack (thanks Kim!). We opted to place it on 3 sides. The 4th side had a small strip (4" wide) that we wanted to be flush with our new concrete.

Brian brought his truck and helped Tim pick up the concrete from Home Depot (thanks Brian!). We purchased twenty 80 lb. bags. 20 bags x 80 lbs. = 1600 lbs. You read that right: 1600 POUNDS!!! I did help Tim with this project, but most of the physical labor came from him because the bags were too heavy for me to lift.

We dumped each bag into our mixing trough, added the prescribed amount of water, and mixed. I did more of the mixing than the lifting. Even that was shockingly difficult. Shoving and pulling 80 pounds of concrete/gravel to mix it evenly with water is no simple task. We added extra water as needed to get the concrete the right consistency. The next time you see a concrete truck you should thank your lucky starts there is machinery to help us with bigger projects!

We dumped each bag of concrete over the gravel. After 17 bags were in, we smoothed it out and skimmed another wet batch over the top. We did our best to use a board to level the concrete. It was tremendously difficult to do because the concrete contained bits of rock that would lift as we pulled the board across the top. For our first attempt at concrete, I'd say we did pretty well. It is a level slab that slopes appropriately away from the house. It's definitely not smooth though. We took our hands across the top and tried to smooth it out in small circles. It's not pro-quality, but it's a functional space!

As the concrete dried, we placed a penny with the year in the corner. This was Kim's suggestion to commemorate our concrete experience in this house (great idea Kim!). Every few hours, we spritzed the top of the slab with water to keep it from drying too quickly. We also placed a tarp over the top and blocked the dogs from trampling in our freshly poured project. We certainly get an "A" for effort on this one!

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