Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cracking the front wall

What a few weeks we've had lately! Actually, try nearly a whole year to get the front retaining wall half done. It's taken us that long to get to this point. We had the 5 pallets of bricks delivered last December (2008) thanks to the Rudd stimulus package money, and a small tax return we'd put aside since July.

Here are the bricks out the front...and there they waited for 6 months while we got the earthworks done by hand. Once the middle of summer hit us we slowed progress on the wall dramatically - but then we also had chicken coops to build as well. At least that could be done under shelter.

But back to the wall! This is the big beautiful beast in all it's eroded glory! Looks a bit like Ayres Rock, don't you think? Not quite as big - but certainly big enough! We had always wanted to deal with this wall since we moved in, but money, resources and time had to be juggled. The first priority was building the garden shed to hold all our tools, so we could get to big projects like these. If you don't look after your tools, they won't last the distance.

Ours certainly needed to go the extra mile. Using our firm favourites - a mattock, shovel, rake and wheelbarrow (oh and garden gloves) we started to dig in the middle of the wall.

And kept digging...but be patient, this strange plateau has a purpose!

After months of dirty hard work, we finally completed the plateau for our RAMP. Why build a ramp I hear you ask - isn't that just creating extra work? Yes, it certainly is!! But the length of this front wall is over 30 metres. Rather than having to walk up or down either side of the wall, we decided to plonk a ramp straight in the middle. The idea was also to create a gradual incline to make traversing the hill easier.

But wait, there's more - heaps more! We're talking over 6 months work here.

After the plateau was dug, our next step was to retain the front section. So we dug a trench according to the manufacturer's instructions (450mm wide x 130 mm deep). The white post is an approximate marker for height.

We then filled the trench with 100mm depth of road scalpings, compacted, then laid the first blocks. We had to use a string line to get the wall straight. Note that the coloured blocks for the wall is "Sandstone" too. It blends well into our soil which does have naturally occurring sandstone in places.

Here is Dave, ceremoniously laying the final block! We wanted to jump for joy at that moment, but we knew there was still a long way to go yet.

We set-back the bricks 2 and a half blocks, with each new course laid, on either side. So it created a kind of pyramid shape. In the front we planted out an old wheelbarrow - ironically the one which had helped us build the retaining wall for the garden shed! It's like an old retired worker now, laying back in the garden watching the flowers grow. Thank you old wheelbarrow, you helped make the front wall possible!!

Now on to an ugly photo - one I could've easily kept out but it's important to demonstrate the reason for this wall in the first place. Soil erosion!

We intend turfing the ramp to stop the sediment running down, but here you can see what a bit of heavy rain can do. When the run-off wasn't coming from this ramp, it was coming straight down the hill. So this is the more serious side of this project. It's not just something to look at. We need to stop the soil eroding away!

With that in mind, we recently finished one of the other walls behind the ramp. We had to cut the wall back a little, neaten the base and cut the trench into the ramp. You always get excited with the first few barrows of dirt, but then...

They keep coming as the trench gets longer...

...And LONGER...twenty metres long, in-fact. Sure, I can boast about it now but we darn well earned those 20 long metres of barrowed dirt. Especially when we hit rock in the middle. It threw an extra week of work onto our schedule. Dave got a bit arty with the rock too, but I'll save that for another post.

We finally got to lay the first bricks, after the trench was filled with road scalpings. Quite a ways to go yet!

Here I am in the middle on the first course. I can tell you, my back was really feeling it too. Dave was working hard at his casual job (no permanent work yet) so I plugged away at the first course during the two days it took to complete. You really do have to pay attention to your first course. They *absolutely* need to be straight. Any irregularities will show up in the following courses of bricks. I used a spirit level and rubber mallet to make the bricks level.

You'll be happy to know I'm nearly at the end now.

Here are the 5 courses of bricks, laid and backfilled with their drainage layer. Rest assured we have ag-pipe laid at the base of all these bricks too! You need the water to be able to get away, or it messes with your footings.

Another photo taken from the ramp plateau - or as Dave likes to call it - the Mezzinine. You may notice we chose a different coloured brick to the ramp. This was "Autumn Brown" and we deliberately chose a different colour to add perspective. It really shows up when you look at the front of the wall.

And here is where I'm up to at the moment. Back-filling with dirt! Yet another job for the trusty old mattock, shovel and rake. Once I get this done, I'll cover the lot with bark mulch. We get it free from our local tip, the first Sunday of every month. All it costs is the fuel to go get it.

We've had quite a few misadventures building the wall too, but I'll save that for another post!


  1. What a huge task!

    I can appreciate how much work the wall was as we took almost 2 years to build a raised garden bed made from besser brick. I call it the great wall of china.

    Hope you are enjoying your wall. it looks lovely.

  2. What an amazing job you have done! The wall looks lovely!

  3. I am even more in awe of your work since helping my sister build a (much smaller) retaining wall at her new house. And all I did was babysit for 3 days...

    Great work!

  4. Wow you have both done such a fantastic job!
    You will both have great arm muscles after all that digging!
    Can't wait to see the next installment - Emily

  5. The walls look fantastic - what a mammoth effort! hope you enjoy sitting down long enough to appreciate your work... :)

  6. wow what an adventure & boy does it look great you did a fantastic job
    lov to see what "Arty Work" Dave has done with the rock

  7. Thanks for the generous comments, and it's nice to see others having a go at retaining walls too.

    They're a pain to put in but done right, they should last a few decades.

    Even babysitting counts Rinelle, because don't they just love the opportunity to find their way into the dirt and play. ;)


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