12 days of hard labor

When I watched my landscaper installed 1,500 square feet of grass in my backyard five years ago, everything seemed super easy and effortless.  Five years later I realized having a big lawn is a curse.  It takes a lot of work to keep them clean and lush.  It consumes a lot of water.  With all that effort spent to the lawn, I probably got to lay on it less than 5 times in five years.

Act I: the sod cutter

Sod cutter

Sod cutter

Before I know what a sod cutter is, I tried to dig up the grass by hand with a pick mattock.  With a harsh afternoon sun on my back, in 2 hours I was able to remove a tiny area of 10 feet by 1 foot by 2 inches deep.  I was exhausted.  I have stopped watering the lawn for at least a year now so the ground is rock hard.  After 2 hours of hard work I thought to myself, it would take me 300 hours to remove 1,500 sqft; and if I work 8 hours/day, it would take me at least 37 days to dig up all the grass.

The next day I went to Home Depot (HD) and picked up a sod cutter.  But how am I going to bring it home?  I no longer have my truck.  Luckily I have a hitch installed to carry my bicycles.  That should work.  Even with a sod cutter, I had a hard time digging the blade into the ground.  It took me 4 hours to do the whole yard.  The vibration and maneuver of the machine tired me out at the end of the day.  The cost for 4 hours of rental and trailer was $90.

It took me 2 days (Monday and Tuesday after work) to pack and dump all that waste.  My estimate was something around 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of dirt.

Act II: the rototiller

Plastic web stuck to the blades

Plastic web stuck to the blades

Now it is time to tidy up.  I borrowed my brother’s rototiller for this task. During this process I managed to remove another 800 to 1,000 pounds of dirt.  The work was dusty and the smell of gasoline made me wanted to throw up.  At the end of every pass I had to stop and pull out the plastic web that was used to keep the sod together.  My fingers bled from trying to pull them out.

Act III: installing bending boards

Bending boards

Bending boards

My coworker was kind enough to let me borrow his truck during lunch hour to pick up some bending boards.  How hard can this task be?  A lot harder than I thought.  Total of four 12’x16′ trenches (or 112′ long) I had to dig.  On top of that I had to put a bunch of 14 inches stakes to the ground.

[nothing was easy up to this point]

Act IV: the compactor and [it burns]

Burn mark

Burn mark

Now that I got a hang of driving around with a trailer on the back of my car, I was able to get places a bit faster and more efficiently.  With the exception of the rototiller, none of these equipment is light.  And while working alone, I ran into the risk of being stuck or injure.  Lo and behold while loading the dirt compactor up to the trailer, I was so careless that I accidentally touched the exhaust and it burned.

Act V: laying weed fabric

This step was probably the easiest step of all.  I was able to finish the 4 areas in one evening (2 hours) after work.  Then came the next morning the squirrels came and started to tear up some area to look for food underneath.  These critters are very curious and destructive at the same time.

Act VI: planting



Planting wasn’t all that bad and I have always enjoy such activities.  I find it therapeutic actually.  There are 4 different types of plant I picked out – trailing lantana, iceplant, french lavender and aptenia.  They are all arid dry drought tolerance plants once established.

Before conversion

Before conversion

This is the picture before I converted the area.  I don’t think I will  miss it and as long as I live I will never install grass again.

This whole project really took a toll on my body.  I went out for a short bike ride (~55 miles) over the weekend and both of my arms went numb.  I had to move around quite a bit.  I guess I am getting old.  And that concluded my home improvement project for 2015 summer.  I learned and burned myself through the use of heavy building equipment.  I learned to never underestimate anything and always allowed myself extra time to do things.  I learned that everything looks so easy until you actually do it.  I am glad I did it!

Complete photo album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/duclephotography/albums/72157655066470244



3 thoughts on “12 days of hard labor

  1. DT says:

    wow, good job Duc. I have no ideas it takes so many steps. Is the rototiller for preparing the soil? Anh why you need to compact the dirt after that? Sorry about my landscaping ignorance 🙂

    • ducle says:

      I am not an expert so I just wing it. My ground is pretty dry the sod cutter didn’t take everything out so I had to use a rototiller. Some area I am not planting anything so I need to compact the dirt and make it like a trail.

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