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With the amount of walls I’ve built in the past year, I feel like if Donald Trump is elected I’ll certainly be up for a cabinet position. Of course, I’m building mine to keep dirt in, not people out. While the silo stone walls I’ve erected up have been mostly decorative, the garden wall on the back patio and the one in front of the house are serious retaining walls. And both suffered from horrible original construction – mostly from a misunderstanding of fluid dynamics and hydrostatic pressure. Put simply: a retaining wall is only as good as the drainage behind it.

In the backyard, the gutter had been positioned to discharge right into the poured concrete wall, so it was cracked and buckling (more details in the patio post). In the front, the wall was pitching forward and when I met the home inspector there two years ago he said, “I wouldn’t walk in front of that, a small breeze might knock it over.” I thought he was exaggerating at the time and clearly he was because the walls stood firm(ish) for two years and we’ve had more than gentle breezes. Still, before we landscape the area, the wall needs to be leveled and drained correctly.

My wife suggested this project as something we could complete in a day – having worked in landscaping for a number of years in my youth, I disagreed. When the company I worked for built walls of this size it meant dump trucks, bobcats and at least 3 of the very hardworking people The Donald doesn’t want stepping on his soil (funny how we need them to retain it, though). Still, despite flying solo, I undertook the project this Sunday because it would be essentially zero cost – minus the blood, sweat and tears that have so often accompanied our “simple” jobs. I took the wall down and stacked it on pallets and as expected, each time I removed a row of block it revealed a new level of hell.

If I had to name the layers of stratified soil, I’d call the third layer down “aw, screw it.” Centuries from now, geologists taking core samples will recognize this as the portion of the project where strategically building a garden wall turned into “let’s dump this crap in it.” Allow me to explain. Much to my surprise, the previous owner HAD added drain tile and back filled with stone and pea gravel – both good moves. However, at some point he just started piling up silo stones, bricks, terracotta pieces and other waste from razed structures on the property, essentially building a wall behind the wall and rendering utterly useless the drainage he had installed.

I should point out, for everything I get frustrated about there are plenty of things the former owner was good at. I can be critical of his landscaping – I could not be of his carpentry or woodworking. He left us a solid house, now I can shore up the outside.

So, I have thus far removed the entire wall and started to reset the base. To give you an idea of how far it had pitched – I was only able to lay one-and-a-half rows before the bricks were hitting dirt. This means, of course, I won’t just be straightening the wall by relaying it. I need to remove all the crap he piled in there so I can backfill correctly. Had it been loose material, I could have just shoveled off as I took down rows, but that proved impossible early on in the process. This will be quite the undertaking and every time it rains the project will become an absolute mess, so keeping it dry until complete will be among the most important aspects. The days have also shortened to the point that working M-F will be very hard and despite my best efforts Mexico isn’t paying for it. So, I need some really productive weekends followed by little rain to get this up. Here are some photos of the work so far.

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Hard to see, but I’ve raised the level by an inch to get the bubble centered.

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You can see a chicken and way to the left barely see Basil. None of them understood “stop walking on my wall!” You can also see some the old owner’s drain tile collapsing out of the hill. 

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Yeah, this is how not to back fill a wall. However, it did it keep it up for me to relay the new base without totally re-digging. 

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To finish, I’ll need to dig down and remove all that concrete and brick.

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