Category Archives: Construction

Prep work for the garden and storm shelter

Andrew gave me two Christmas presents this year: A Leatherman Wave multi-tool and a fire ring. Does he know me or what?? I use both of them every time we are at the farm and I love them. Especially the fire ring. It’s so awesome to have a big roaring fire to warm up with and cook our lunch and dinner over!  

We have been making baked potatoes in the fire every week. Super easy and delicious and a great hot lunch.

This is Emily’s version of helping at the farm – she’s making sure our extra culvert is still in tip-top shape.

The girls also both got a nap which was super desperately needed.

Above is what Andrew and his mom and brother worked on all day: continuing to prepare the containers for the storm shelter. Andrew painted and painted and painted. And he welded unistrut to the ceiling of the second container (which was delivered last week) for the lights that will go in there. The above container is his mom’s and the second one is ours. They will form the base of the storm shelter – more on that next week!

In the above two pictures there was no filter or manipulation. It does actually look like this at our farm. I still can’t believe it’s really ours! Above you can see our container collection. The short white one is Andrew’s office. The white one on the right and the yellow one in the back are identical – they will be the foundation of the storm shelter. The orange one is our current storage unit. Once the foundation for the shelter is drilled and the containers are in place, we will move all our stuff into the new one (and get rid of some things and organize it better, I’m sure!)

One of the last things we did was continue to work on the hugelkultur beds. My MIL used the loppers to straighten the beds and trim off anything sticking out between them. Emily and I started hacking away at the pile of dirt and got all of two wagon loads moved onto the beds. It’s a lot of work to move clay soil!

Storm Shelter

Given that we live in Texas, and that we live in a fifth wheel, having a storm shelter in place before we move to the farm is a very important concern for us. We have been through several designs, and I’ll explain what we’ve decided on and why.

Most people, when they think of storm shelters, think of shelters that are underground. This doesn’t work in Texas for a couple reasons. First, tornadic storms are usually accompanied by incredibly heavy rainfall, and the soil in Texas can’t absorb the rain fast enough. We’ve seen our land subject to flash flooding and know that if we put a shelter underground, we might be safe from a tornado, but the shelter could quickly fill with water and drown us inside. As that seems like a terrible fate, we moved on to other methods of safety from storms.

We own three shipping containers; two are 40′ long and one is 20′ long. Andrew built out the inside of the 20′ container (put in insulation and interior walls and an interior door) and will use it as his office once we move to the farm. The other two containers are for storage; one is for our use and one is for my in-laws.

Our current plan is to use these containers for our storm shelter, and to anchor them super firmly in the ground. We debated between traditional concrete piers and helical piers, and decided on the helical piers. The installer is coming to the property this week to have a look at our conditions. We are going to put four piers in the ground for each of the 40′ containers, and cut them to level. They will sit 18′ apart. Then we (and by “we” I mean “the professional we hire”) will weld a 10″ steel plate to the top of each pier. Then we (and by “we” this time I mean “Andrew”) will rent a huge tractor to lift each container into place, upon which the professional welder will weld the container to the pier. And then Andrew will lift the 20′ container on top of the other two so that they make a large U shape. The 20′ container will also be permanently welded in place. We will make a staircase up to the top, and that will be our storm shelter. Each of the piers is rated to hold 20,000 lbs, so if/when a tornado does come through, those buildings are not going ANYWHERE.

We staked out the corners of each container on the ground this past week, and it is exciting to imagine the containers moving into place soon!

Update and Garden Dreaming

We took a super awesome road trip over Christmas so there hasn’t been much to say about farm work. We took our new truck through west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and back through a bit of Oklahoma. It did pretty well until we were in Colorado for several days and the temperature did not rise above freezing. It did not start at all. Then Andrew discovered a built in block heater – bless you, Ford! We got to see many many members of my side of the family and the girls got completely spoiled. When we arrived back in Texas we were a little fatter, a whole lot more rested, and raring to tackle the next steps on preparing our land so we can live there!

We have four more projects to complete before we can pull the fifth wheel to the farm.

-Storm shelter
-Septic system
-Concrete pad

I think I will do a separate post on the storm shelter because it’s going to be a big ole project and we’ve done a lot of revisions on its design.

Andrew thinks he can do most of the work for the septic system. Our county allows the owner of the land to do the work as long as they approve the design. That will save us a lot of money, and plus he’ll get to rent and operate a backhoe, and that’s just fun.

We were going to pour the foundation for the barn and add about 20′ for the fifth wheel to rest on, but it looks like the barn foundation is going to be wayyyyy more expensive than we anticipated. So we will likely do a smaller pour for the fifth wheel to sit on and save our pennies for the barn foundation.

Now for something I’m super excited about: My first big garden! I wanted to do a lasagna bed in the fall to plant in come spring, but that requires running water, which we didn’t have until recently. I didn’t really know what else to do, though. The soil is fairly clayey and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time tilling and amending the existing clay just to end up with barely-adequate soil for growing in.

Then someone on a Facebook gardening page introduced me to the idea of hugelkultur. It’s a German word for mound garden. You pile logs/sticks/branches on the ground, pile grass clipping and leaves and organic matter on top of the pile, and cover that with soil. Well we have all of that in abundance! I was very excited to be able to use the trash brush piles and pile of sticky dirt that was left over from the driveway grading project. We haven’t started constructing them yet. I know that’s going to be a muscle-building project for sure. But I’m still super excited and today I got out all my seeds to look through them. We’re going to need a LOT of garden space…

Driveway construction 

We hired a Bobcat owner/operator to make us a driveway on one of the sloppiest days of the year. But man, it was so worth it!  First he graded the driveway, and made the ditch for the culvert. Andrew went to buy the culvert, and he and the Bobcat guy laid it in place.

Then four loads of driveway gravel got dumped at the entrance, and got spread with the Bobcat.

Did I mention it was a rather sloppy day?

This is how it looked at the end of the day! And here is a video Andrew made of the process.

Now we have running water

The massive job of digging holes and gluing pipe is done; we have running water. I was asked if I felt like a pioneer recently. I said yes, like Ma and Pa Ingalls, only with the benefit of power tools rented from Home Depot.

Andrew rented a trencher from Home Depot and while it was kind of a pain to run, it was a whole dang lot better than digging the whole thing by hand.

My beautiful farm daughter who announced to me “Mama, I ate some dirt!” Well, good job there kiddo.

My mother-in-love glued every joint of PVC pipe together and was definitely the best person to do that job. She is so meticulous. I don’t think those pipes will ever leak.

The girls loved getting to play in all the dirt we dug up.

Here’s Andrew running the trencher. And lest you think he had all the fun, he most certainly did not. I did some of the trenching myself!

A 90* joint in the ground.

This is where it joins our co-op water. We were very lucky to be on the right side of the street; they said that a mile down the road, the water hookup is on the south side of the street (we are on the north), and it would have been much more costly to get the water run under the road.

The moment of truth: the water is on and runs!

There was also the super fun job of getting all that clay-mud OFF the trencher before it went back to Home Depot. The girls and I tackled it and we did a great job together, I think.


Andrew made a video of our trenching days; have a look!

Further fence progress

When we went to the farm on Tuesday this week, there was some new scenery! Fence posts and a couple gates!

The girls had a blast climbing and swinging on both gates.

Andrew had the idea to take the girls to where we want to build their play area and just watch them play. They loved it. Ellie found tiny yellow wildflowers and picked some for everyone. Emily joined in, and at one point dropped some in my lap to “put in da collection.” Yes, our two year old properly used the word “collection.”

The scenery at the farm is really a total bummer, huh?

It’s Thursday now and the fence is DONE! Next step: Driveway. I got the paperwork in to the county development driveway engineer dude* and am awaiting his phone call. Hopefully all that’s required is hiring a guy with a bulldozer to take out the old fence, some brush, and install a culvert.

*may or may not be his actual title

Fence progress

When the girls and I went to the farm on Friday, I didn’t take any pictures of the fence crew starting their work because I felt like a creeper doing so. Instead, here are some pictures of our girls getting messy! They had chosen to take their money and each of them bought a $5 set of sand toys. We went to the place I mentioned in the anniversary blog post where there is lots of sandy soil and we dug up some sand and put it in a tote.

Then we took it to the nice spot under the oak trees where we hung the tire swing, and they played there for a good hour and a half! Which is amazing; they haven’t seemed to really love the farm the way Andrew and I do. But we are finding ways to help them love it.

These next pictures are from when Andrew went to the farm on Saturday. Below is a panoramic photo of the area where our entrance gate will go.

And some closer shots of the posts they set in concrete for the gate and entry fence.

On Friday they estimated they’d be done on Wednesday. I’m so excited!

It’s fence day!

Today the fence installers are coming! We didn’t expect them until next week, but they had a change in their schedule and now it’s our turn! Andrew has a meeting in town so the girls and I are gonna head out there to meet the installers. Pictures later, of course! 

Brush clearing progress

Yesterday a cold front passed through north Texas, so we took advantage of a chilly morning in the upper 70s/low 80s to go back and work on finding the fence. After a couple weeks of highs in the 100-105 range, a morning that was 78° was pretty nice!  

The cows were super friendly this morning. Andrew had taken a bunch of discarded papers and magazines to the farm to start a compost pile, and they’d helped themselves to it. Andrew dumped another bag of shredded paper on the pile, and a cow came right over and took a big bite! After that I herded them away. Ellie heard me say that I hurt them instead of herd them, so we had a vocabulary lesson.

The herd still came down to visit us while we worked on the fence. 

Here are the before pictures. 

And after. Yes, that is our port-a-potty. Actually, it’s a lug-a-loo, technically. Don’t you feel educated now? 

All we did was find the fence and clear it for about six feet. It was completely buried in grapevines and thorny brush and little trees, about 6-8′ deep. That’s the hole you see in the thicket. We cleared it in about two hours! It was a lot of work, but this time we had a working chainsaw and that made a HUGE difference. Andrew worked the chainsaw and I hauled brush to the brush pile. 

Now it’s ready for fence installation! We hope! 


Power tools are necessary and dumb

We got a quote for doing the fence on the western border of our land, and for the gate that we will need on the southwest corner. The quote is quite reasonable, we just need to clear the fence where the gate is going to go. On Tuesday we headed out early in the day to clear as much of the brush as we could. Andrew stayed up late replacing the fuel line in the chainsaw so it would work. We got to the property before 8 which was a remarkable feat. It was a lovely morning, for August. About 82 degrees, and then it started raining just a few miles north of us, so we had some terrific cloud cover. It was all going well. Here’s the before pictures:
  There’s a fence buried in all that brush.
  Our tools were: the chainsaw, the riding mower, a big new set of limb loppers, and a weed whacker. Ellie was a good help too!

There were lots of grapevines on the fence, so I harvested all the grapes I could.

It started so well, then things started going downhill. The chainsaw just wouldn’t start. Andrew pulled and pulled on that starter and it stubbornly choked every time. I even prayed for it to start. Then it would start, run for two seconds, and die. It was so incredibly frustrating! The brush was full of thorny things that were so numerous they were hard to cut with the loppers, but were too thick for the weed whacker string to handle. And there were so many larger limbs that the lawnmower couldn’t get them, plus the ground was too uneven. The chainsaw was the perfect tool…if it would have been running! Gah!

We worked for four hours straight and made some visible progress, just not as much as we wanted to.

Again, here’s the before:

And here is after:  You can see a bit of fence now!
 We really needed to get nearly to the larger tree to the left of the power pole.

However, Andrew was thinking about it, and he’s realized that we won’t have to clear the whole fence. We need about 6-8 feet of access along the fence on each place the fence crew has to tie in to the existing fence. That means we got nearly all we needed to on the one corner where we worked so hard. This weekend he’s going to try to do the same on the other side. Then when we have the driveway installed, the person driving the bulldozer can take care of everything else that’s there. Yay for heavy machinery! A pox on power tools that work fine one night and not at all the next day when they are very necessary!