posted on May, 2 2009 @ 12:45 AM
Although I'm from a ranching and hunting family, my wife is more of an urbanite, and it typically takes a great deal of coaxing on my part to
convince her of the necessity of survival-oriented projects. We have made a lot of progress, however, since we married in 2001.
For example, she now understands the vital role of firearms in a modern survival strategy — that, if you aren't armed and aren't prepared
to arm yourself, you will find yourself at the mercy of those who are armed...and those individuals do not necessarily have your best
interests at heart.
Today we're geared up for extreme survival situations, have trained in mountain backpacking, and are Red Cross certified in wilderness emergency
first response. In testing our skills, we've made extended solo excursions (just the two of us), unarmed, into remote and rather perilous
wilderness areas, from the Smoky Mountains to high in the Canadian Rockies.
So, she has come a long way.
Nevertheless, you would have thought I had proposed group sex or something when I casually suggested growing our own food out in the
backyard a couple of years ago. She was thoroughly opposed to plowing up our property and creating "a mudhole," insisting that there were
plenty of farmer markets in the area to supply our needs.
After explaining to her at length that we cannot depend on the providence of others in a SITX, I finally resorted to the husband's
secret weapon — I offered to build a large planter for her for her birthday.
Against her every instinct, she could not refuse a gift lovingly constructed by her husband. Remember that, guys.
Large Backyard Planter Project
First, it was essential to locate the area of the backyard that received the most direct sunlight (for about 8 hours a day). This wasn't easy in my
case, as we have towering 70 and 80 foot oaks and pecan trees all over the property. After observing for a couple of days, I pinpointed the area,
drove a stake at dead center, and used string and a can of spray paint to lay down a 14-foot diameter working area. She wanted it circular,
and I had to concede — it was her birthday present, after all.
We live in the piedmont of the Carolinas, an area notorious for hard clay rather than rich top soil, and I knew this project would first require
excavating and pulverizing the clay within my working area, which I did to a depth of about 18 inches.
Pick-axe and shovel were required, as our "soil" also contains an extraordinary amount of large rocks — I removed over 300 lbs of rock from this
little 14-foot excavation.
After pulverizing the clay, the pernicious weeds and grasses were easier to extract and discard. In preparation for laying a ring foundation, I
obtained a quantity of "blemished" cinderblock from the local brickworks, which is about a third of the price of premium cinderblock. Don't
ever buy premium cinderblock or brick for projects like this, unless you're Donald Trump. Buying blemished (slightly defective)
bricks, you can usually negotiate your price.
Once the loose soil is weeded out, I go back over the working area with a metal detector, looking for rusty nails, rusted shards of metal, et cetera.
I'm the kind of gardener who likes digging with his bare hands, and I'm telling you I do not want a rusty nail through the palm of my hand,
nor a filthy laceration from a rusted tin can lid — that's a trip to the doctor for a tetanus injection; and if you're in SITX and a doctor isn't
available, then you've just exposed yourself to tetanus.
Before sinking my cinderblock, I cut up a length of PVC water pipe, glued in a couple of elbow joints, and laid a little irrigation pipe from the
outside of the ring to the center. I cut those pipes back later and fitted them with a RainBird sprinkler head and a hose connector.
I happen to have several tons of river sand loitering on my property, so I laid down about 6 inches of sand in the circular trench around the
perimeter, compacted it, then started sinking my cinderblock.
I packed the cinderblock in place with sand, also, which will allow the planter to drain properly. At this point, I cultivated about 400 lbs
of river sand and 200 lbs of composted cow manure into the pulverized clay, and worked it in... So I now have about a 2-foot deep bed of
reworked soil — 18 inches below the ground and a mound above ground.
Now I'm ready to start laying concrete and brick and mortar. NOTE: This is the first time I've laid brick, so no heckling from the Freemasons
out there. You can probably see in the photos that this area of the backyard is not level — in fact it's a downhill slope to the right
— and I decided to correct for this by building up a ring foundation about 6 inches higher on one side than the other, leveling the planter.
This called for some concrete forming, and there are a number of prefabricated concrete forms on the market for achieving various shapes,
right. But if you want to spend about 1/5 the money, go to your local lumber place — where they actually rip lumber, not just stock it —
and ask them for their scrap Masonite. Masonite is a marvelously flexible composite material that is perfect for forming concrete. Shape it,
stake it in place, and start pouring.
I did cut up a quantity of half-inch hardware cloth and laid it in to reinforce my concrete.
I poured concrete foundation in two arcs, 6 inches deep on the tall side, then 2 inches deep on the low side, made sure it was level, then started
laying brick. Again, I cannot emphasize enough that you do not need premium brick for a project like this. Go into your local
brickworks, tell 'em you'd like a cube and a strap of blemished (slightly defective) brick, and you'll save yourself a lot of
Also, get yourself a GOOD set of gloves for working with brick. Brick is not stone. Brick is a manmade glass. It is sharp. It
is unforgiving. It will cut your ass up but good if you try working it bare-handed.
I like the 3-hole brick for a couple of reasons. First, it's lighter and easier to handle. Second, you fill it up with mortar and it locks into the
construction like a bitch. Once the mortar sets, you couldn't pull a brick out of there with a claw hammer. Solid bricks tend to separate
from the mortar, right, and come loose. What I'm building here is a big double-ring of brick with mortar going right through and fusing the
I hid the fact that this is 3-hole by capping it with a fan of bricks on edge, right.
[edit on 5/2/2009 by Doc Velocity]