Notes from Windward: #64

Backfill Bonanza

hauling in the dirt - lots of dirt

the new dump truck / snow plow
showing off its stuff

     We have a plan for how we want to develop this property in a sustainable manner - we really do, honest. It's just that building a sustainable community is a really big undertaking that requires substantial amounts of effort, money and luck in order for it to happen. Since the task is complex and at times overwhelming, we long ago learned that we had to go with the flow and tend to the matters at hand, trusting that we'd get to other parts of the project in due time.

     Each spring kicks off a new construction season as we strive to use the window of time that comes between when the ground's too wet to dig and when it's too dry and hard to dig; it's a rush against the calendar in which we try to do the earth work that will establish the range of construction projects we'll then be able to tackle through the summer and fall.

     Given the high clay content of the soil in this area, that window of opportunity's applies to everyone else as well. Consequently, when the county decided to straighten out a couple miles of the road that runs in front of Windward, and since that involves moving a lot of dirt around, they wisely elected to get the earth moving work done in that late-March to early-April window when the ground moisture here is just right.

     The other wild-card that came our way involved a piece of heavy equipment that turned up at the annual Pine Grove auction that I've talked about in many previous issues of this newsletter. Each spring we hold off making serious plans until we see what sort of equipment and materials turn up there. Given the limited budget we have to work with, and our unwillingness to go into debt to finance construction, we've come to take our cue as to what to do each year based in good part on what turns up at Pine Grove.

Walt adds five more cubic yards
to the dining hall

     Most winters are relatively mild here with only a few snowfalls per winter that exceed six inches in accumulation, but not every winter is that mild, which is a good thing since the snow pac is the primary way that our water table gets recharged - a skimpy snowpack forewarns us of a dry summer.

     This last winter we were endowed with the mixed blessing of a thirty inch snowpack. That was a comfort in that it assured us that there'd be water in the ground come August, but after the third week of being pretty much snowed in, the residents were getting restless.

     Usually we just use the big tractor and a scraper blade to clear a path for the passenger vehicles so that folks can get to town and shop, but that's really limited to working with snowfalls no more than a foot in depth. Much over that, and we just have to wait it out. Given a well stocked pantry and woodshed, that's no big deal, at least for a while, but there does come a time when the urge to get out and do things builds builds, and there are few things as contagious as "cabin fever."

     Having just been through a winter like that, one of the Pine Grove offerings really caught our eye. It was a municipal dumptruck/snowplow set up complete and ready-to-go. We huddled and decided that it was something we wanted, not just because of its ability to keep our roads clear in winter (Windward's got more than a mile of on-site road), but because it would help significantly with our goal of earth sheltering buildings such as our dining hall and our solar greenhouse.

adding another ten yard load
to the new entrance

     Our backhoe does have a front-loader that will transport a cubic yard of dirt from here to there, but that's a tedious practice that puts a lot of wear on the backhoe (the only good thing I can say about it is that it sure beats the heck out of moving dirt in a wheelbarrow). Usual practice is to use a front loader to load dirt into a dump truck, and then use the truck to transport the dirt to where it needs to go.

     The upshot is that we were able to prevail in the bidding on the rig. We had to pay more than we wanted to, since we weren't the only ones who saw how useful the rig would be, but that's the way of such auctions. All in all, we figured that we still got a bargain.

     Driving it home, I did notice just how much right-of-way folks tend to give you when you're driving a rig that big with a massive blade on the front ;-)

     Pine Grove just happened to coincide with the road crew's work on the part of the road that runs along Windward's eastern boundary. Taking the bends out of the road entailed moving a lot of dirt to somewhere else, and as far as the county's concerned, the less distance they have to haul it, the better. Consequently, I was able to work out an arrangement whereby they dumped a good deal of that fill dirt on to our new entrance thereby raising its level considerably.

30 cubic yards of prime topsoil for the garden

     They were willing to do that because it was the closest and quickest way for them to dispose of the dirt that was in their way, but Windward's a big place, and they don't have time to custom deliver the dirt.

     Which is where our "new" dump came in real handy. On the one hand, it only carries a five cubic yard load, instead of the ten yards that the double axle trucks carry, but that's offset by its ability to maneuver into tight spaces and deliver the load very close to where it's needed. Since our truck was an honest to goodness truck, they were willing to let me get in line and be filled up just like the big trucks since that was just one less run that the county truck had to make.

      As a result, I spent most of a week hauling loads of fill dirt to all sorts of places around Windward. For example, we now have some fifty cubic yards of fill dirt stacked up behind the dining hall. Later in the year we'll bring in a bulldozer to tuck that in against the retaining wall that forms the north side of the dining hall.

     Also, I was able to stack about fifty yards of dirt around the 5th wheel trailer to create a terrace garden. Not only will that provide for a nice bit of personal garden for that location, it will also provide a level path for persons going from the trailer up to the dining hall.

dirt for the 5th wheel's garden terrace

     Another advantage is that while the county crew was just hauling and dumping, I could take the time to sort out the loads according to what sort of fill it was. For example, loads that had a lot of rock will be used to backfill buildings or fill in low spots, but some loads were prime topsoil. That dirt was set aside to be mixed with used bedding and manure to make the soil mix we want for constructing raised beds. We're planning on using for the upper garden area, about an acre all told, to grow perrenials such as lavender, saffron and asparagras in permanent raised beds.

     Given all the piles of dirt decorating our landscape, it sort of looks like Windward has a case of the      All told, we've been able to use this window of opportunity, and our nifty new dump truck, to acquire about six hundred cubic yards of clean fill dirt. To put that in perspective, that's enough to cover an entire football field with more than a foot of dirt.

     All in all, regardless of what sort of snowfall we get in the winters to come, we figure that the dump truck has paid for itself already.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 64