Monday, June 6, 2011

[Jon] Project Back Yard: Beginnings

Guys, I'm so excited. I've finally convinced Jon to contribute some material to the blog. This is his first post (if you don't count his original guest post), but I hope there will be much more to come. In addition to providing me with 24-hour tech support for the blog and social sites, he's also tweeting from the front lines of fatherhood. Follow Growing Up Senge on Twitter!

He's sitting on all kinds of gems as he hangs out with Alice all day. And as the brains and muscle of all our home improvement endeavors, he should have lots to share as we gear up to tackle the next round of projects. Without further ado, I present his introductory post!

The time has finally come. After three years of living in our little house, constant brainstorming, planning, even several attempts at starting, after our little girl's first birthday, it is really time to put in a back yard. The site has been cleared of its hearty Southern California chaparral and this weekend, I spent a morning unearthing, cutting, and removing runner roots from the enormous jacaranda tree we’re all but certain used to shade our entire back yard.

When we were shopping for a house, we’d use Google Earth to research the neighborhood -as much as you can glean from dated satellite imagery, anyway. It was helpful for us. So before we looked at our house in real life, we looked it up on Google Earth. The photo showed a huge purple tree smack in the middle of the back yard, 100% visible from space. However, when we saw the property, there were only two orange trees tucked away behind the garage. We asked about the tree. The seller's agent said he'd ask, and then told us the seller didn't know anything about the tree. We didn't really buy that, but couldn't imagine what motivation she'd have to lie. She was only the second owner of the house, and her grandparents were the first. Surely she'd have remembered a tree in her grandparents' back yard? Plus, the Google Earth photo is dated 2006 and we bought the house in 2008, so she must have had some dealings with this mysterious tree?

one mysterious jacaranda.
our house is the blue-gray roof below/left of the tree.
No matter, the tree was gone, but the roots and stump were still haunting our yard. The stump had been cut off flush with the ground, otherwise I would have considered keeping it for yard interest and a spot to chop firewood atop (if you’ve ever split firewood on anything other than a stump, you know why people prefer a stump).

the back yard (sans jacaranda), as of this weekend. it looks virtually the same as when we bought it, save for the added bamboo panels on the block wall fence (for added height and privacy) and the avocado tree in the foreground - a container tree added to the patio a few weekends ago.
In last year’s attempt to get started on the yard I removed as much of the stump and root system as I could, and got just about all of it. Because dynamite stump removal is frowned upon in suburbia, and a front-end loader was out of the question, I hacked everything to about 12-18 inches below finished grade. I called that good enough to plant grass over. However, the horizontal runner roots were still there, taunting me. These needed to go because they sit just under the surface of the soil, in the way of all the infrastructure that will have to go in there. That all ended on Sunday.

There were only two linear feet of root visible above the dirt, but they were pretty far from the actual stump, so I knew I was in for a bit of digging. I used a trenching shovel to carefully cut a deep trench all around the roots that were visible and followed them as far as I could in every direction—sometimes they had only two ends, sometimes five! It was quite a knotted mess of dead tree. I’m not a pro, and don't really know anything about tree roots, other than this stuff needs to come out. And what’s the worst that could happen? Decisions needed to be made along the way: leave a long root in tact or break it up to make things easier to work with? I cut a few of them apart with my trusty ax/maddox combo (a great tool for busting up just about anything in a yard), and one root I left completely intact and tore the entire twenty-foot length of it out in one go. I can't tell you how great that felt!

one giant root. busted. you can't tell from the photo, but it's almost as long as the garage (on the left).
I have a bit more work to do to finally seal the grave of our mystery jacaranda for good, then move onto the next step: tilling and solarization for the summer. More on that next time.


  1. Wow, Jon! Impressive work and great dad post! Who knew you were so manly? :)

  2. That root looks like a prehistoric monster. I'm glad you wrestled it to the death.


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