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In the bridge-building entry I talked about reusing items left behind or that have otherwise outlived their purpose. This is another example of that. Our property once had two 60-foot silos and they were demolished in place. I assume some block was carried away and I know the previous owner used it many places when he needed something heavy and flat. I have followed suite and found they are very useful.

While Kate loves our home, she is not a fan of hills (because they are icy and slippery in winter). Since most of our property is on a hill, there was a lot of slipping, sliding and profanity around the chicken coop last year. Sure, we could have put the coop on flatter ground, but we wanted it closer to the house and that means it’s on a hill.

So, this summer we decided to flatten the area around the coop. The simplest way of doing that was removing dirt from the high side and putting it on the low side. We needed the wall to contain the dirt that was moved. Retaining block isn’t cheap and in my mind the walls would not be tall enough or structurally important enough to negate using professional stone. I also had a load of crushed #8 from a prior project, so I back-filled the wall with that.

Before the building silos were razed, the stone blocks fit together in a tongue and groove configuration. I used the narrow tongue side of the block as the face of my wall. Because the stones are so narrow, it took a great number of them. Some of the larger stones weighed over 60 pounds and had to be carried down from the pile and set in the truck. It wasn’t uncommon to find a corn snake (also called a silo snake) under a stone either. I’m not a huge fan of serpents… but it’s best not to panic over a 10-inch snake when you have a 60-pound stone in your hand.

The excavating was done using a pick mattock and a flat shovel. While quite worn out at the end of it, these two tools together will make easier work of it. If you plan to do any digging, I suggest a pick mattock. You can easily clear dirt and clay with one side and split large rock for easier removal with the other. It’s a great tool.

I broke the project into two steps, building the low wall first and making a flat grade by using dirt that was readily available from the excavation in progress on the new shed. If I’d known I could’ve worked for a few straight days on it I would’ve used dirt from the high side, but I didn’t want a mud puddle if I only completed half of it. (This proved to be accurate intuition as it was weeks before I did the high side).

On the high side, I dug out the hump and used the excess dirt to fill in some low areas around the property. The nice thing about the topography here is there is always an area that could use less dirt and one that could use more.  It’s not dead level, but the best we could do without moving the coop, which is much heavier than it looks.

Best of all we made a drastic improvement to the land while reducing a junk pile of bricks, reusing some dirt, using up excess rock and did it at no new cost. Just a little sweat equity.