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Seeking suggestions for cheap and efficient grading/excavating techniques

Seeking suggestions for cheap and efficient grading/excavating techniques

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  #1  
Old 03-09-08, 11:51 PM
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Seeking suggestions for cheap and efficient grading/excavating techniques

Hi. I've been surfing the web for several hours to look for grading/excavation techniques and am having trouble finding ideas. I'll describe the situation first.

I've owned my home for three years (the house was built in 1972). Over the years, several improvements have been made in the backyard with no attention paid to drainage. These improvements combined with my neighbors' semi-annual filling in of their side of the PL have put me in a hole. I have a corner lot and I am the high point so I don't take on their water, but my overland access to the public storm sewer is blocked by a variety of obstacles (sheds, out buildings, a garage and a sidewalk).

I am planning on installing a swing set/play area for my kids and would like to resolve the drainage issues while I'm at it. I want the play area to be 6" of pea gravel so I'll have to excavate an area +/- 22'L X 22'W X 6"D to install the set. There's also another +/-50 cu. Ft. of random high spots, that block other drainage areas, that also needs excavation and re-grading. I'm going to use the excavated material to fill the other side of my yard that collects water. I'll then pitch everything to the play area and I am going to install a dry well and a sump to pump the water to the nearest sewer (or use the well as a rain collection system for irrigation during dry spells). I realize this is not the best solution, but short of getting my neighbors to tear down the obstacles, it's the only solution.

I just got layed off from work so hiring a landscaper/contractor to do the work is outta the question. What I'd like to know is the best (and cheapest) technique to excavate the play area while not completely destroying my back.

I'm young and not afraid of labor, but it seems a daunting task for a dude and a shovel. Would it really be that bad? I've never excavated that much dirt so it's hard for me to appreciate it. I don't want to get it started and then realize it's too much.

I'm considering a Bobcat, but I've read it's not wise to rent one if you've never used one before. They say you can do more harm than good. The yard is pretty tight, so maneuvering will be difficult with little room for error. They're also expensive. How hard are they to operate? Is this small of a job worth it?

I'm also considering renting a tiller to loosen the dirt and then shoveling it. Will a tiller be of any use? I've never used one before. I don't know how far down they go, or how easy they are to use. I assume it's simple to operate.

Any suggestions on the best & cheapest way to move the dirt? Even the best types of shovels to use would be appreciated.

Thanks for your help,

Big Jones
 
  #2  
Old 03-10-08, 06:43 AM
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Hi,

If you're not faced with large tree roots, this is probably something you could do by hand. ("Young and strong" being key words

A long handle shovel for pitching the dirt, a wheelbarrow, a mattock for roots and a tarp to cover your excavation or your work pile is really all you need.

It mostly depends on your work ethic, I think. If you like the kind of mindless pleasure of working just for the joy of using your muscle, and if you like being able to say, "I did this all myself, by hand!" (That's me)

Or, if you don't want your yard in disarray for a month or so, get a bobcat. They're not hard to operate at all.

Be sure you have the utility company mark your property, first, though. That's a law.
 
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Old 03-10-08, 10:12 AM
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I do enjoy mindless repetitive physical labor. It cleanses the brain. The last time I got layed off, I hand thatched the front yard (+/- 3000 sq. ft.) and I loved it.

There are no roots out there to the best of my knowledge so that should not be a problem. I had JULIE out last year and there's no public utilities in the back. A previous owner ran some electric to the pool in that area so I have to locate that myself. Hopefully it's in conduit or pipe and not BX. My wife is not keen on the time required for the project, but she's excited about the play area and the elimination of the low areas. We have a large bloodhound and she'll take advantage of the mud (I guess there's nothing like a mud bath). That's a problem unto itself. I can take her out to the front yard, but my wife will not be good about it (my wife's not much of a dog person). The time required to complete is a big disadvantage to doing it by hand. That's why I was considering the tiller. Do you think it would save a considerable amount of time? I'd have to rent one to till the side being filled anyway to break up the shovel loads before fine grading and seeding/sodding.

Having the yard unavailable for the dog and the kids will be tough. My father is pushing me to hire people but he's a "sit at a desk" kinda guy. Not one for labor. There's an abbundance of cheap illegal labor in our area and he's used such a contractor before. He insists it would be cheap. I'm opposed to that idea on principle alone.

I'd prefer to seed it in the fall but an entire summer of exposed dirt will be very difficult to deal with. I might just end up sodding it.

I didn't think of covering the area with a tarp, thanks for that. That should help with some of the mess.

Thanks for the vote of confidence.
 
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Old 03-10-08, 02:16 PM
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I agree with you on the "labor". Maybe you could invite your dad to get out from behind the desk and help I think all of America got fat because we always look for the easiest way to do things!
 
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Old 03-10-08, 02:44 PM
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Totally agree about the weight issue. Shortest distance between two points, is the best route... Right?

Not sure if I would accept his help though. I'm a hustler and get frustrated by "slowness". Especially if I'm hot and sweaty. I think he'd hinder more than help. I've got several friends who'll will work for food and beer (mostly the beer). I'll recruit them.

I think I'll just go the manual route.

If anyone else reading this has any suggestions to make the work easier please share. I'd love to learn from your mistakes and not make them myself.

Also, I live in the Chicago-land area. When's a good time to get it going? I know the ground is still frozen now. Any idea how much above freezing weather it takes the top foot to thaw?

Should I spray the entire area to be excavated with veggie killer? Will that make it easier to break up the topsoil when it gets moved to the fill side? What's the best way to handle the existing grass? Should I kill the grass and turn over the fill side before I bring in the fill? Will it make any difference at all?
 
  #6  
Old 03-10-08, 05:17 PM
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I seem to be continually doing small landscaping projects on my rural property and find a tiller does a good job of breaking up the sod and top layer of soil.
 
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Old 03-10-08, 05:22 PM
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Sorry, didn't mean to ignore your other questions. (short attention span)

A roto tiller might help you breaking up the clods after you've turned them with a shovel, but if the earth has never been turned, you'll burn the tiller up before you get through all that.

No point in using any vegetation killer until you're ready to finish. Many seeds will be released while turning the earth and will sprout after you've sprayed.

After your ground is leveled and sloped, then spray. You can seed, in most cases, soon after spraying...look at the directions on the Round up, to see how long you have to wait.

You could probably seed as late as May and still have some grass this summer as long as you can water regularly. Then overseed again in the fall.
 
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Old 03-10-08, 05:28 PM
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Greg,

How many horse is your tiller? They rent (if I remember correctly) 3,4,5 HP models. I think the 3 was a front and the 4 and 5 HP were rear tines. The rental fee is $75 a day, but I've been seeing used ones for +/- $250. I was thinking about trying to get a buddy of mine to go halves on one. I saw an electric one for $100 on Ebay. I'm assuming the 115V wouldn't be powerful enough to tear the sod's root structure. Any suggestions?
 
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Old 03-10-08, 05:41 PM
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I have an inexpensive 5 hp front tine tiller but the rear ones work better.
I would get as big a one that you can afford and partnering up is a good idea. Owning it would allow you to do this project on your own time.

I have seen electric tillers and the ones I looked at are just toys.
 
  #10  
Old 03-10-08, 06:42 PM
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I noticed that you have kids. Now, this idea may get me in trouble.... but... I'm actually looking for an excuse to rent a mini-excavator - for my son's 7-year birthday party this summer. $100/day is cheap entertainment for a gaggle of children. Yeah, something bad could happen but I doubt it.

Would your kids like to sit in your lap and drive a bobcat?
 
  #11  
Old 03-10-08, 08:15 PM
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Greg,

I just talked to my buddy... he said he bought one of those tiller attachementa for his gas powered trimmer last spring. He's not very mechanical or tech-savvy and he didn't know the specs. I assume its in the 1-2 range. He said it only has 3 or 4 tines (Tines, right?) on it. I'll check it out. He said he tried to use it in the garden last year and it did a poor job. Like I said he's not very handy so he probably dug in too far too fast, but I assume it's still chintzy.

Do you think it will be worth tilling the fill side before I bring the dirt over? I guess my concern is providing a good foundation for the new lawn. The lawn that's there now is patchy & weedy and very compressed. If I toss 3-4" of new soil on top is the new lawn going to have a good foundation for it's root structure? I was thinking of spraying it with veggie killer, then running the tiller about 2-3" deep to break up the existing lawn's roots. Then bring in the fill and plant on top of that.

Thanks for your help


Kobuchi,

It sounds like you're asking for trouble. I have 3 kids (boy 6, girl 4, girl 4months) and the big ones love to climb on trains, trucks and construction equiptment. My brother in-law works as a mechanic for Catepillar and we get to visit their yard on Sundays. It's pretty cool. The place is empty and he has access to the key room so he takes us for the occasional ride. They were really afraid the first couple times but they love it now. Personally I wouldn't do it. There's too much liability involved with other kids. Maybe just as a "special daddy-son activity". I live in Chicago's suburbs though, so parents are pretty up-tight around here.

We go camping a lot and we have bonfires in the back yard all the time. For his sixth B-day he wanted to have a "Camping Cook-out" and roast hot dogs over an open fire (one of his favorite foods). Now like I said we do this all the time with my kids and they know to respect fire. When I had a horde of kids over I was amazed at their complete ignorance of fire. They had no idea how hot a fire gets. I luckily had some friends over to help monitor things, but kids move fast. There were no accidents but we had a couple close calls. In the end the kids all had a blast and I think he wants to have the same thing next year.

I'm sure playing with a bulldozer/digger would be a very memorable experience, but you'd be screwed if someone got hurt. Hell, you could lose the house. It would go against your homeowners insurance.

Anyone have any idea on timing to start the project? I'm getting the itch to get going now that I'm talking about it. It's probably better to wait though rather than fighting frozen ground.
 
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Old 03-11-08, 04:55 AM
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I would forget about the tiller attachment. Not nearly enough power or weight.

If you are going to use Roundup to kill weeds you need to do it while the weeds are actively growing.
Spraying the soil immediately after tilling and raking won't do anything.

It might be a good idea to rent a tiller just to see if it will work for you.
If you have a very hard clay type soil you might have to hand dig initially to break up the surface.
 
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Old 03-11-08, 08:16 AM
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My logic behind the veggie killer was to kill the root structure of the existing lawn. You know how chunks of grass can be a total pain to break up? When it comes time for fine grading, I don't want a bunch of lumps in the top layer of soil. I also don't want to have to break up all the chunks by hand, or throw them away. My thought was if I kill it before digging it up, it'll crumble more easily throughout the process. I realize weeds are going to germinate, and there's nothing I can do about that. I'm not sweating that part.
 
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Old 03-11-08, 05:25 PM
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If you are talking about using Roundup it will kill the roots.
But, you have to spray the leaves while the plant is growing and wait a couple of weeks in warm sunny weather for the plant to be mostly dead.
If you get cool cloudy weather it could take many weeks.

My experience is that it isn't a whole lot easier to deal with an old lawn with dead roots.

A tiller will break up the lumps of soil and grass so that you will be able to rake it up.
 
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Old 03-11-08, 08:34 PM
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Thanks. That's really what I was seeking. How well the tiller breaks it up. I remember as a kid, I helped my parents install their pool. My mother threw away all the lumps of broken sod because she couldn't get them incorporated into the regraded dirt.

I used some stuff from Kmart last year (Kgrow?) on a different poject. I applied it on a sunny morning and it rained that eve. The next eve everything was dead. I mixed it twice as stong as what they suggested but it worked really well. The buddy I was telling you about with the tiller attachment used pre-mixed Roundup and that stuff sucked. The stuff from Kmart was a concentrate and it was half the price and (when used per the directions) yielded 4 times the volume.

Thanks again.
 
 

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