Save garden soil

 Winter 2011-2012: I got inspired to start the garden, below the hexagon house, 16 x 25 feet.

Working next to 1500 pounds of cow manure, I begin the process of removing soil that will later go back in the garden.

There is so little soil on my hilly land that I have to plan how to use all of the soil and make sure I don't waste it.

I'm piling the usable soil to the sides so that it will be close by when the concrete beds are ready to be filled with it and manure later.

 Save garden soil-2  As there had been some plants in these area, there is a little organic matter in this soil, but very little. Still, compared to the other soil nearby with no organic matter, it's the best around.
 Screening soil  In order to put the best soil back into the gaden later, I screen the soil coming out to remove stones which contribute nothing to soil for growing and take up valuable space where good soil could be.
 Rock in my way

 It's not all easy going, as there are many boulders hiding just under the surface, like this one weighing maybe 300 pounds.

By using a digging bar, I pry up one side and place small stones under the boulder, then lift the other sides and continue until it's up to ground level. Then it can be tipped and pried and pushed and finally moved to beyond the edge of the garden.

 Excavation fun  After working on a huge boulder for maybe an hour, it's a great relief to get it out. Time to feel good. I know, cheap thrills. You have to find joy in this work somehow.
 Garden space  The deep end by the bags of manure is about three feet deep, so I have to go deeper, one layer at a time.
 Big job  So I use a pick to loosen another layer of soil and rock so it can be shoveled out.
 Hard corner rock

 This corner is really dense and hard granite and gave me the most exercise.

I'm swinging the pick as hard as I can to chip out small pieces of stone.

This is about the point in the project that I realized that it might be possible to go deep enough into the granite to build a house. But there was no way I was going to do that using a pick and shovel.

 Jackhammer makes it possible

 I found an electric jackhammer on Amazon which I could power with my generator. Wow, what a difference, after weeks and weeks of hiting stone with a pick.

Of course, the constant vibration of a jackhammer can be a problem, and chips fly in your face. Protective eyewear is a good idea, possibly ear protection also.

So I loosen a layer up to a foot in depth, then load it into a wheelbarrow and roll it out and dump it.

 Hole nearly done

 This is what it loks like just after removing all the loose rock.

Here, I have just finished excavating the front porch, just beyond the wheelbarrow.

I had to dig a channel to get to the nearby dry wash to dump the rubble.

I calculate that I dug out and moved over 250,000 pounds of granite, caliche and soil.

 Over my head, finally  Still not done, but the deep corner is over my head. I continued until this corner is about seven feet deep.
 Tin shed begins

 New metal shed

I needed a better place to store materials, gear and tools, so I began a new shed using 2x4 and 2x2 for the frame, corners posts embedded in the ground to keep it from blosing away.

This will be the front wall, the far right opening will be the door.

 Tins shed stage 2  The frame is done and I begin attaching sheet metal roofing/siding; each sheet is 11 feet long and three feet wide.
 Tins shed stage 3

Sides and roof are mostly done, I'm pretending to be doing something on the door frame. Mostly I'm there to show the scale of the shed.

 Tin shed stage 4

 The rood is temporarily attached with boards tied over it. The wind was not kind to this arrangement, as I found most of the roof blown off. It is now screwed on securely.

Photos to come will show that the shed has a door and a real doorknob (wow).

I'm currently expanding the shed another 10 feet on the far side to nearly double the size. I also made wooden shelving and filled the shed with boxes of stuff. So far it's working well.

This kind of shelter will also serve as temporary housing.

 Floor slab - leveling first sections

 Okay, back to the hole in the ground. Here I'm leveling the second section of the concrete floor slab. With my small mixer, it takes about six batches to complete one section of about 33 inches by 15 feet.

Remesh reinforcing is suspended in the middle of the slab, adding strength to the finished floor.

Plastic sheeting is laid over sand and gravel to create a barrier to moisture and radon gas.

 Tim and Kassey help me with the floor slab

 Tim and Kassey help me mix concrete for the floor slab. I thank both of you for weeks of hard work. Together we did 3/4 of the floor.

After my two wonderful volunteers left, I mixed and poured the rest of the floor.

 Meditating on the completed floor slab

 Finally, I have a place to rollerskate, and meditate.

The last section was so big I did it in two parts. Here, the last part is done and I'm in pause mode.

 Corner form ready to receive concrete mix

 Fast forward to building the walls. I skipped pics of making this corner form. It's 2x4s with MDF over them, covered with 6 mil plastic.

The form is two parts - one is the outside of the corner, the other the inside, with plastic-wrapped boards holding up the bent rebar and keeping the concrete inside.

 Three corners done

 One house corner has been done (background) and two more for the entrance.

Wrapping in plastic helps to make concrete harder as it cures.

 Wide view of floor with three corners done


 Same stage seen from above.

View of floor from front

 Farther along, three house corners are done and two entrance corners. Also, two of the entrance corners have been joined with a short wall section, all wrapped in plastic. Only one house corner to do.
 Checking wall form for plumb

Checking the plumb of the wall form just before pouring in the concrete. The find black wire visible on the left goes from the form to a stick of rebar in the floor slab - it keeps tension on the top of the form to keep it plumb.

If the first wall sections are perfectly plumb (vertical), the rest of the wall above them will be easier to keep plumb.

Note that the wall form hugs the back corner, poured a week earlier. It's plumb. 

 View of all corners and wall sections

 This was a big day - two wall sections poured. Each section is 24" by about 8 feet long and requires 2.5 batches from the mixer.

Each batch requires 9 gallons of gravel, three of cement and 10 sand. The sand and gravel come from the wash 200 yards away and 50 feet down, caried up in a backpack 12 gallons at a trip, weighing 140 lbs.

Mixing and pouring the concrete is the easy part.

 Pic of first wall course done (except wheelbarrow entry)

 5/2014: Four more sections done, and that completes the first course of wall, except the entry for the wheelbarrow, where the red board lays.

Now begins the fun (and harder) part: flipping the forms around so the 'legs' hug the sides of the completed wall, and then pouring the wall up to four feet high.

So one more course like the first one and the walls will be half done - about 100 trips to the wash for sand and gravel.

 May 2015

 Mid-May 2015 and the walls are now four feet high - yes, I actually made all those trips to the wash. A nice flash flood brought me tons of new sand and gravel for concrete.

Here the walls have been poured higher and a few corners are left to pour. The last one - the right side of the door entrance - is wrapped in black plastic to let it cure for several days.

Hard to see, but the form is now on the opposite side of the door frame, clamped to the lower concrete.

 crane holds form

 End of May, here's a look at how I use the crane to hold and lift the heavy steel forms into place. The crane is on small wheels so I can raise a form and then position it by pushing the crane base around. Not very elegant, but it works.

Here, you can see the entry walls have yet to be poured, but all the rest are up to four feet high.

 crand holds form 2

 Another view of the same scene, you can see the corners have also not been poured, just the wall sections.

There are two ways to do walls and corners: Pour a wall section on either side of a corner, as in this pic, and then pour the corner to join them; or, pour the corner first, then bind the wall forms on each side of the corner and pour them.

 corner form to be poured

Here is an example of the first method. The walls were poured first, and now, after attaching a corner form, I will pour the corner to join them.

The bottom course was done the reverse. I had a huge corner form made of wood. I poured all the corners and joined them later with walls.


 water supply extension

 My water supply from two tanks was installed years ago only as far down as the hexagon, so now I had to blast through a foot or two of solid granite to bury the extension to the new house.

I use a propane torch used for tarring roofs to heat the 2" pipe until it is soft enough to bend around the inevitable corners and to conform to the slope.

 two new sections to 6 feet

 The first two wall sections in the back left have been poured and still have the forms attached.

If you look just to the left of the top of the ladder, you can see the water supply pipe coming down the slope to that corner.

Here, the entry walls and back corners have been poured, so I'm starting the third course, taking the walls from four to six feet high.

 new sections closeup

 Closer view of the two new wall sections, poured and wrapped with black plastic on top to keep them damp to cure well.

The leftover concrete that I had poured in a bucket and now use as a crane weight has been taken down to hold a wire attached to the back wall form to keep it plumb (vertical).

You can barely see another wire from the crane to the other end of this form for the same reason. Walls must be as close to precisely vertical as possible.

 new wall sections and water supply extension

 A look towards the same wall sections. The water pipe enters the excavation there and continues along the wall to the shower, the kitchen and exits the front corner to give me a spigot for a garden hose or fill buckets on my front porch.

There is a ball valve on the water pipe just before it goes down, and it is covered with what looks like an upside-down bucket with a green cover. It will later be burried; the cover is access to the valve.

 new wall sections from above  A view from up on the slope.
 Loading Arches

 New Project: Greenhouse

These arches are actually halves of the assembled arches of the greenhouse. Two sections are coupled to make an arch measuring 30 feet at the bottom, 11 feet high in the middle.

I have them in temporary storage here in the wash and am attaching them four at a time to the back of my quad, then driving about a mile up the wash, until I have to park and unload them.

 Unloading Arches

 Here, at the end of the ride, the quad cannot continue, so this is where I take materials I have brought up and unload them, in preparation for carrying them another mile to my land.

In the background are black tubs of compost for the completed greenhouse.

 Carrying Arches

 Speaking of carrying... here is a typical load of two half-arches on my padded head.

When all of the greenhouse parts have been carried up, they will be assembled into complete arches, using a coupler to join two of these halves.

Full arches, 30 feet wide at the bottom and 11 feet high in the middle, will be spaced four or five feet apart, mounted on a short wall close to ground level, then attached together at apex and on the sides for rigidity.




On Growing
Survival Food

More DVDs
Are Coming

This web site is here because the knowledge about survival is critical to many of us right now. This survival retreat in the desert is the demonstration of various technologies which help us become free of dependence on fossil fuels, the grid and other things which are part of the problems we face as a global community.

The DVDs will appear here as they become available.