Solarizing The Back Yard To Kill Weeds

With summer approaching, it’s time to start focusing on outdoor projects and leave the indoor projects for the winter. Even if the weather doesn’t want to cooperate. The previous owners of my house had a section of the back yard, about 1500 square feet, sectioned off to grow grass including an underground sprinkler system. When I moved in to the house it had been unoccupied for a while and the weeds had taken over. I tried growing grass where it used to grow but haven’t had success.

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The problem, the low water grass (buffalo grass, blue gamma, etc) I’ve tried growing can’t compete with the weeds. I refuse to use chemicals to kill the weeds and I’ve tried manually cutting down the weeds down and pulling them out but it hasn’t been effective enough (especially against the dreaded goat heads aka Tribulus terrestris).

I’ve discovered a chemical free method of eliminating weeds on a large scale called solarization. It uses transparent plastic directly on the ground to bake the soil and will kill seeds. It’s possible to cook the soil 6 inches deep and at 125 degrees ore more. The University of Arizona has a good article on the process for use in Tucson (also see Wayne Schmidt’s Solarization Page) and should adapt to New Mexico.

The timing for installing the plastic is good right now, it has just rained giving the ground a good soaking and the spring winds died off long enough to install the plastic. My first try was using 108 square feet of 1 mil painters drip cloth. The thinner the plastic the better the sun penetrates but 1 mill is too thin for this application. Even though I had cut down the weeds even a little bit of plant materials was able to puncture the plastic. Smaller sections of plastic are harder to manage than larger sheets.

I was able to find 500 square feet 4 mil plastic sheets at the local WalMart (as much as it pained me to have to enter the place). It wasn’t cheap at a cost of $20 per roll. I could have probably put a ad on craigslist and found some plastic sheeting for free but I have a limited window to install it.

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The installation of the plastic went well. I used bricks to hold the plastic down while I laid it out. I then dug a trench around the perimeter and used the dirt to seal the edges. I used two sheets and overlapped them about 6 inches using bricks and landscape staples. It’s important that air cannot get under the plastic sheeting so the moisture and heat stays under the plastic.

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I’m not planning on growing grass in the entire area where grass originally grew, only about 1000 square feet so two sheets should be sufficient. Since I will be out of town for most of the summer the ground should be well cooked by time I get back. I will try to make regular soil temperature readings during the summer.

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Master Bedroom And Bathroom Remodel Progress

I know what I said, that the sprinkler system is going to be my priority. Give me a break thought, the back yard is sitll pretty muddy and now full of weeds. I’m now sure that the sprinkler project will have to wait till next year.

IMG_7627.JPGIt’s on to indoor projects, the first of which is the master bedroom and bathroom. I had a demolition party scheduled for the end of August, where I invited some of my friends over to demolish the house. Surprisingly, most of them didn’t show up. Enough did to get most of the work done.

For the bedroom the goal was to take the closet from the neighboring bedroom to create a bigger overall closet. This was accomplished.For the bathroom the goal was to remove the framed in shower. Both of these were accomplished. After the demo was completed, with drywall and crap all over the place, is when I questioned what I have done. After two trips to the dump and probably 6 hours of clean up I’m not sure I did make the right decision.

The framed in shower was not usable. It had been leaking pretty badly for quite a while. The lower framing was rotted, the water had leaked into the bedroom and there was even plant roots growing about a foot up the interiors of the wall. One doesn’t expect mold in a dry state such as New Mexico, but there was plenty of mold in the walls.

Picture 15The next step is to plan for the rebuild. Since it’s a small room, 7 foot by 8 foot, I’d like to put in a corner whirlpool tub with a shower. I think I can get a 54 inch by 54 inch corner tub to fit. I also plan to put in a electric radiant floor heating. The plan here shown is from Warmly Yours.

Can anyone loan me a few thousand dollars?

Ditch Digging

Spring appears to be here, with summer just around the corner. Time to get the backyard ready and get grass growing. Thankfully the previous owners had grass growing and working sprinklers. What I need is a modular and scalable sprinkler system, since I plan have more than one source of water and many more things to water. I will need to dig up the current system and redo the primary control system.

IMG_7443.JPGThe problem with New Mexico soil is it’s a layer of sand on a layer of clay. When thats been covered up with rock and plastic for many years, with no water to soften it up, you end up trying to dig through cement. The best method for digging is to dig a small hole, fill it with water, let it soak, then dig a little more out. Plus the previous owners surrounded the control valves with cement, making it even harder to get in there.

IMG_7444.JPGToday I managed to dig about 30 inches where the control valves are. Why they hell they are that deep I have no idea. In New Mexico you only need about 18 inches deep for the valves. It’s just insane and I’m going to have to remove some of the concrete to get to to the valves. Something I was hoping to avoid.

IMG_7445.JPGI also forgot to mention the other valve. Once valve controls the sprinklers and the other controls… something else. I have no idea. It goes out to the yard but there’s no other obvious sprinkler heads. All I know is it’s busted and was making a nice little spring in the yard. I managed to dig that pipe up to find a huge crack. Once I replace it I should be able to tell where it ends up.

Unexpected Benefits

This house was listed with the clause that the seller would “clean up debris and weeds”. There was quite a bit of weeds and some “debris” but it wasn’t so bad. When I made my offer I said I would would clean up the weeds and crap left behind. They accepted my offer and the rest is history.

On the final contract, they put back in that the Seller would clean up the weeds and debris. WTF? According to the seller’s agent, it was “already scheduled”. OK, whatever. Last week the people they contracted to clean up the place, and oh boy did they do a terrific job. Some of the debris had value to me, but the clean up costs vs the costs of the items more than likely even out. Check out these before and after pics.

Front of the house, not a lot of weeds here, but it was nice to have it cleaned up. Makes a difference in the look of the place from the road.

Front of houseFront of house

The partially finished storage shed. I think there was some interesting things in here I would have liked to have had. There was also a big wood pile next to it which was taken.

Other weird out buildingOther weird out building

This is the back yard, showing the back 1/4 acre that hasn’t been devleoped. I didn’t expect them to clean up these weeds.

Rest of back yardRest of back yard after weeds removed

The vegetable garden. Again, will be a lot easier to get stuff growing here too.

Vegetable gardenVegetable garden after weeds removed

The once grassy area in the back yard (sprinkler system is present). It will be a lot easier to get grass in now.

Back yard (partitioned)Back yard (partitioned) after weeds