It was somehow important to me to have a big yard. I do enjoy it, even though it’s quite a bit more work than a small yard. Another downside of the big yard is the corresponding big water consumption.

My irrigation system is seven zones. Zone seven is the triangular area north of my driveway. Not long after I bought the Elise we shut that zone down, capped all the sprinkler heads. I park the Chrysler there now. Shortly after that, I quit trying to plant anything in the vegetable garden, so we wanted to shut that off, too. Turned out we were able to cap all the heads but one. Still, between the two zones we cut our irrigation by about a quarter.

We have low water pressure as well. Because of the layout, this affects zone two more than the others. There’s one sprinkler that just keeps an arc of grass green. I had to run my crawler sprinkler to keep the grass green in August. So I need to do something.

In addition, the flower gardens are getting out of control. I’m not a gardener. The previous owner did a great job of planting perennials throughout the property. There’s a great mix of color and the blooms show up at different times. I was able to keep most of the weeds out for several years, with the exception of the morning glory. I never stood a chance against that stuff. The purple bee balm are very nice, until the morning glory tears it down. So I need to do something.

Last spring we lost the three mature arbor vitae we had along the back fence. A heavy snow peeled them like bananas. They were nice screening from the neighbors and I miss them. I need to plant some replacements. Also, while the raspberries in the northeast corner are doing great, the ones I planted later near the shed haven’t done anything. I know what I did wrong, and it can be fixed.

So here’s the plan. First, convert zone two to a drip system. Cap off all the heads but one, and run a line along the east and south fences. Tear out the overgrown weedy flower beds, replace a good section of lawn with stone. Cut some “windows” in the stone around the raspberries by the shed. Plant three small arbor vitae, a bit closer together than the old ones, but slightly better located. And run stone along the back fence to the big raspberry patch.

First, then, the easy part: have Ben come out and do the sprinkler work. He and a helper capped all the heads off, put a pressure reducer on the one working head, and run the hose. They also placed the weed barrier fabric over the lawn. They were done in about two hours.

I had paced out the proposed contour and decided I have plenty of blocks; I wouldn’t have to buy any more, just rearrange them. But once we had the fabric laid down, it became obvious I needed a slight change in plan. I should put a ring around the locust tree, not as big as the existing one, but proportional to it’s space. After laying out this change, I was ten blocks short.

The shopping list then is something like this:

  • 3 arbor vitae (5 gal)
  • 10 blocks
  • 2 more rolls of weed barrier
  • 6 perennials
  • 3 bags of topsoil
  • 4 bags of red mulch
  • 18 tons 1-1½ inch local river rock

The big expense on this project is the stone, obviously. That’s true in dollar terms and the amount of time and physical effort involved. I’ve done this a few times before. I put seven and a half tons of stone in the side yard when I replaced the fence I share with Jeff. And another eleven and a half tons when I took the grass out next to the driveway. In Gilbert I did both front and back yards, two different kinds of stone. I want to say twenty tons of one and fifteen of the other, but that’s probably wrong.

The driver who brought the stone told me he couldn’t bring more than fifteen tons at a time, so it took two trips. First he dropped twelve tons and an hour later the remaining six, right on top of the first load. I asked him what the conversion was between volume and weight. I knew rock this size would be more than a ton per cubic yard. He told me a ton was about two and a half feet cubed. I asked how many wheelbarrows he thought would make the ton; he said six or seven. I told him it would be more than ten for me. Making the prediction pretty much meant I’d have to count.

While I was spreading this rock it was inevitable I’d have a number of stray thoughts.


What’s the definition of work? Force times distance. That was too much work for me to figure out. I knew mass and distance, but force was beyond me. How can I verify the truck driver’s estimate of the volume? The pile is roughly cone-shaped, about fifteen feet in diameter and five feet high. But it’s a bit elongated, and bulges a bit. What’s the formula for the volume of a cone?

I was unable to do the math in my head as I was working. And I had the wrong formula for the volume. With the correct formula and a calculator, we find that at 2.5 feet cubed per ton works out to 281.3 cubic feet while the cone is 294.5. So my eyeball guesstimate of the size of the pile wasn’t too bad.


It took me three weekends (and a few days in between) to move it all. I hauled 211 wheelbarrows full of stone an average of about 180 feet. It turns out I could have done with only fifteen tons. My neighbor took seven wheelbarrows and I spread about 30 loads where I already had good coverage. So that’s a total of 218 wheelbarrows which makes it a tad over 12 loads per ton.

Somebody told me it should take forty-five minutes to move each ton, but they didn’t ask how far I was moving it, so it could take more or less. I was taking a short break every five loads. With breaks, I averaged about five minutes per load. So that’s an hour a ton. Chad and Tim pitched in the last two days, so the last four and a half tons went a bit faster.

I’m hoping this is the last pile of stone I’ll ever have to deal with.

I didn’t do a very good job of taking “before” pictures, and I didn’t make great notes on how long it took to do the other tasks.

It was about an hour to rearrange the blocks and another hour to move several wheelbarrows of soil from the vegetable garden to the new ring around the locust tree. Each window for the raspberries by the shed took an hour, and routing the drip line under the brick path was another hour or so. Two hours to plant the new plants. Roughly four hours to dig up the overgrown flower gardens and two more hours removing shrub and rose stumps. Another couple hours laying down the weed fabric.

So eighteen hours to move the stone and fifteen for everything else. Thirty three spread over about three weeks elapsed time.


I got the flowers planted just in time for a big hail storm, which was followed by a wet, heavy snow a week later. Being under the tree, they weren’t too shredded by the hail and I used the 5 gallon containers the arbor vitae came in to cover them when it snowed. They survived, and appear to be thriving.

The transplanted irises may be a different story. I know it’s not a good time to replant irises, but I figured I’d try to save some. If they die, they die, what do I have to lose? I only moved a few. They’re looking limp and are changing color. But they’re not totally dead. Yet.

This Old House: Shower Tile

And now for something completely different – it’s not about hiking or cars!

I’ve been wanting to have the tile redone in my shower for quite a while. I finally pulled the trigger.


The house was built in 1973 and I’m pretty sure this shower is original. The valve is shot and there’s been a constant slow drip for several weeks now, making it impossible to keep clean.


Two guys did the demolition. They laid out a giant strip of adhesive tape up the stairs, through the bedroom, into the water closet. Pretty clever stuff, except that it prevented me from closing the bedroom door. At night, I had to pull it back, lay it sticky side up and be careful not to step on it. Then lay it back down in the morning.

It’s impossible to get a decent photo, the room is so small. During the demolition it pretty much looked like a bomb went off. Even though they tented everything off, dust was everywhere.

Demo complete

They poked a hole through the drywall into the other bathroom, and the plaster popped off of some nail heads on the opposite wall, so they had to do some drywall repairs and texturing.

Making the new pan

The pan was laid in three layers, with curing time between. Then he laid the floor tiles (sliced stones on a square foot of mesh) and that had to cure before he could stand on it to do the walls.

Floor done


The walls are tile – a weathered wood look that’s made with an ink-jet process. Each piece is unique. There are even knots. I think it looks good with the pebble floor.

Now I have some painting to do.