Friday, December 18, 2015

The veggie retaining wall

I've wanted to do a wall update, for quite some time now, but I had to organise a new place to store my images first. Thanks to those who replied to my test page, I can now start to share all those images again.

So back to the beginning of our recent wall adventure. It was David's brainchild, although he said my renovating the veggie beds recently, inspired him to make more space. So he ordered 3 pallets of Windsor blocks, and started to clear the area. It meant relocating the compost bins first.

 Late October, early November
~ click to enlarge ~

This is what it looked like, after David's first tidy. The compost bins, to the right of the wire mesh, have been dismantled, finding a new home near the chicken coop. The accumulated dirt from former veggie beds were de-weeded and then the excess dirt relocated, to give us flat ground.

All this digging meant, finding places nearby, for a lot of dirt!

~ Before  ~
mandarin tree

Take note of the mandarin tree, to the left, as it will feature in the building of our wall. But just down the bottom of the slope (to the right of the white buckets) is where we made our first pile of dirt - of many.

Dirt pile

This was to be our biggest pile though, as it had the biggest space to dump it on! This was just from moving dirt, to flatten the ground. We also had to add the dirt, we cut back from the slope, to accommodate the wall.

Cutting the slope back

It's now early November, and the real grunt work begins. Take note of those banana trees in the background, as they too feature in the building of this wall. When our big pile of dirt got bigger though, I decided to use some of it, fixing the ramp to our veggie beds. Here is where the ramp first featured.

Above the ramp

Can you believe the ramp, was first intended to be stairs? So glad we went with a ramp instead, as it meant we can get the barrow up there! Of course, after many years of wear and tear, the poor ramp needed some fill added. Having the excess dirt, meant it wasn't a problem. In fact, it solved a problem - finding places to put the excess dirt.

 Below the ramp - filled and mulched

This is what it looked like, after I added the dirt, and mulched it for protection against the rain. Water, so loves to run downhill. Thankfully, its a small ramp.

Circa 2015

And this is me, trying to avoid the camera David was waving about in my face. I had moved a lot of dirt that day and was nearly finished the ramp. I took a few moments to lean against the shovel - really, it was holding me up! But David wanted to prove, I do actually work behind the scenes, instead of just talking about it online. So you have David to thank for this picture.

Man, that hat is old too. If you spot me in any of our past wall projects, chances are, I'm sporting that hat too. Actually, I went back into the archives and found one!

Circa 2008

I'm actually building the walls between the ramp. Fancy that? And same hat!

 Circa 2009

Okay, a different wall again. But same hat! Looks to be, in better condition though.

Circa 2014

This time, its a drystone retaining wall. Same hat again, and same shirt as 2009. I love that shirt for working in cooler weather. I don't have to wear sunscreen, and the long sleeves shade my arms. It will be a sad day, if I ever had to retire that shirt - or hat!

Please excuse my jaunt down memory lane. In fact, I've just realised, this January will mark eight years, since we started our first retaining wall at Gully Grove. Eight years!!! I can't believe we're still building retaining walls. What's wrong with us? Just kidding, right. You know if we ever gave it up, we'd probably kick the bucket.

Now, where was I? Circa 2015...

Keeping it straight

String-lines! They're very important. Never try and build a straight wall, without one. Trust us, on this. It's up high, to guide where we dig at first, then it got lowered to put the first row of blocks in alignment.

Of course, that string-line showed us, something was in the way of our wall. Bananas! These have given us two crops since we planted them. But some had to come out to make way for the wall.


It was a very hot day, that day too. The kind of day, where you perspire in the shade. So we worked in the morning and afternoon, resting in the shade as often as we could. We had to be especially careful, our little guy didn't dehydrate.

 Father and son

We encouraged him to play under the verandah, but he kept wanting to see what we were up to. So we encouraged him to sit in the shade of the avocado tree instead, and play with his cars. I went inside to fetch refreshments and snacks, then took a picture of the boys, sitting under the avocado tree together.

But it was soon back to work. David spent many an hour, taking out trees and digging trenches. We were rewarded with...


Several banana suckers. These were the first, and potted up nicely. They sport lovely leaves now. But there were still very long trenches to be dug...

Footing trench

And trenches to be filled with road base. At least 150 millimetres worth. Enough to give our wall a solid foundation.

Road base

Then, oh dear, here comes the first course of bricks - *exclaims my back*.

This is where works stops, until I have levelled the first course. David helps by carting blocks into position, and fetching more road base, but the back breaking work of beating each block in alignment with the next, is mine. I have an eye for detail, and the perfectionist's touch, which is why I do the first course, solo.

First course

The white, styra-foam lid, from a broccoli box (background) helped my knees, when I had to bend down. This is about two days worth of work, to get this many blocks levelled. It's the 20th of November now.

Blocks need to come past bananas

The closer we got to those banana trees, however, we realised the first cull wasn't enough. Bananas, have really thick, fibrous roots. You cannot just cut through them. You really have to dig the whole tree out.


So down came MOST of the rest of the clump of bananas, left over from the first cull. At this point, I knew we wouldn't be eating bananas this year, but the wall wasn't going to continue without these tough choices. Thankfully, some healthy young plants remained in situ, and they'll grow again.

A little inspiration

We were feeling really fatigued, with the extra grunt work the bananas brought, so David inspired the crew, with a taste of things to come. We hadn't even finished the first course, and he was lining up courses two and three. It gave us the push we needed to forge ahead.

~ Nasturtiums ~
wall area, behind

Meanwhile, the adjacent vegetable garden watched our progress. I still loved to visit the veggie beds too. They fed us zucchini, beans, spaghetti squash, silverbeet and herbs. It was great to have them so close to our hard work, because it was just another reminder of why we were doing this. All the more ground to grow more food on.

Second course

So then course two, arrived, and we didn't manage to get any photos until several courses later. So much work (inside the house too) with so little time to take pictures outside! To be honest, between courses two and four, it was all a bit of a blur. I must have been sleep-walking through it all.

Inspection complete

So then course five, suddenly shows up, along with our second wind. Just as well, because the supervisor came for his first, official inspection. We got the thumbs-up. Is it just me, or are they hiring those supervisors, younger and younger?


We got the big, cheesy, grin, to approve us for laying the final courses. Love your work, young Sir, and your kiddie sized, hand spade. That won't be lost in our garden, like the black crowbar did.


At the other end of the wall, progress was a little slower - course three, I believe. The other courses weren't far behind though. The blue metal is where we dug the drain pipe, that comes out from behind the retaining wall. Another pile of dirt, on both sides, to be used as backfill later.

Proof of former residents

When we got to course five though, we were getting to the point of covering up the holes, that were dug by bush rats. Because this is where the compost bin was formerly. With it now removed, and all our stomping about, the bush rats are long gone from this area. Its another reminder why we had to take this space back. While I love wildlife, I wasn't a fan of their moving into our vegetable patch for midnight snacks.

December 13

This is where the mandarin tree, comes back into the story. When we first planted it, on the side of an expose hill, I had no idea a wall would eventually be built around it. Now it is though, we can lavish more feed and mulch around it, because it won't run the risk of travelling downhill.

~ After ~
December 18
mandarin tree (left) remains of dirt pile (right)

Once we backfilled with dirt, we were able to mulch. Which I'm sure the mandarin tree will enjoy. Along with all this rain, which visited in our final push to finish the wall. I don't mind working in the rain though. As I prefer it to working in the heat.

December 18

There is more of the wall story to tell, but this is enough for one blog post. What you see in the above image, is "this" side of the finished wall. I've planted a few ground covers, to hopefully, cascade over the edge of the wall, and help to shade the ground for the mandarin.

One final push, and we should be done the whole wall soon.

I look forward to seeing this area maturing, just as much as I enjoyed looking back upon all the past years, we've been throwing dirt around, Gully Grove.


  1. that is really impressive Chris - wow you do execute a straight line! Transformation.

    1. Thanks Phil. Transformation with purpose. The straighter the wall, the more veggie space to grow food in, underneath. ;)

  2. I love your walls! I wish someone would gift me a few hundred of those lovely blocks. The mandarin will love its new landscaping.

    And I've learned something about wall building: slight backwards slope...that's not just the camera angle is it?

    1. Thanks Bev. :)

      The blocks aren't cheap to buy, but a block wall will last indefinitely. It's why we didn't go with timber retaining walls, because they'll last 10 years, then need replacing. Between 15-20 years timber retaining walls, become unsafe. Just depending how much moisture, heat and termite activity is in the area.

      But I understand wanting to have them gifted. There are cheaper ways to get them however, and I'll write a post about that soon. I don't know when exactly, as we have a long list of things to do before Christmas. But its definitely worth writing about. Thanks for reminding me.

      The angle you see in the images is called, the angle of repose, and its the designated angle, where (combined with gravity) the weight of a wall, will lock itself into place. It's part of the fabricated block design, but its also something which has been understood for thousands of years, with the building of drystone rock walls, without mortar.

      It's fascinating stuff. Well, it is to me. ;)

  3. At first I thought your "supervisor" was using one of his cars to test if your wall was level:) This is a marvelous wall and esthetically really pulls things together in that area. I'm hoping you are having a great Christmas as I remember you mentioned guests. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

    1. Thanks Linda. We did have a Merry Christmas, but glad its over now. Until we do it all over again, next year. ;)

      Our supervisor likes to climb the walls, to test for structural integrity. I was a little surprised he didn't wear his safety hat, so I had to call him down on numerous occasions, lol.


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