Three Month Update On The Back Yard Solarization Project

Solarization progress

In Mid April I started a Solarization experiment where I use solar heating to kill off everything in the soil of my back yard. So far the results have been mixed.

The weather in Rio Rancho has cycled between days of heat and days of cool with rain. The cool days help to create a greenhouse effect under the plastic that cause plants to grow and the days of heat have killed them off. This is good since it’s easier to kill plants than seeds. Hopefully everything that can sprout has sprouted and died.

Since we haven’t had enough days of heat in a row, I don’t think the ground has really baked deep into the soil. It doesn’t appear it has baked the surface enough to decompose organic matter there.

The cycle of rain and heat appear to be over and we are now we are just getting heat. Parts of dead vegetation with sharp edges along with the prolonged time in the heat has caused some of the plastic to break down and break apart. Of the two sheets I put down one has almost completely broken down. The other sheet of plastic is partly shaded and has held together, it is currently experiencing a greenhouse effect with some plants growing underneath.

All the early summer rain has caused a large amount of goat heads plants (Tribulus terrestris) to sprout outside of the solarization area. I did my best to pick the plants but I had to violate my rule of not using chemicals and apply Roundup to a most of the back yard. My concern with using Roundup is the potential of creating weeds that are resistant to Roundup. Also, Roundup is turning out to be toxic.

This will be one of the few times I used chemicals to control weeds. Depending on how much time I have for the rest of this summer, I will try to apply more plastic to the backyard to take advantage of the late summer heat.

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Rainy Weather Means Time To Write Blog Posts

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It’s been rainy in Rio Rancho the last few days and it looks like there could still be a few more days of rain. I’ve been too busy to sit down and write blog posts but that should change soon.

I haven’t kept up with replacing the roof shingles that blew off in the spring winds and managed to get a hole in the roof. Yesterday I noticed dripping from the garage ceiling and I found that the tar paper under one missing shingle had given out causing the leak. I was not pleased with having to get on a wet roof to make the repairs.

Before the rain started I have been doing quite a bit of work outside including some landscaping and laying pavers, I hope to have a blog post written about that later.

Thanks to the high humidity, available resources and delay of my travel plans I was able to get the self leveling concrete installed in the master bathroom. Although it didn’t come out perfect it’s good enough and moves the project along to some things I an do by myself.

Some of the weeds in the backyard were cleared and burned (rain makes for good burn days in the City of Rio Rancho). I have a new visitor to the house and found about 8 months worth of missing blog posts I had to manually post to the site. It’s now too muddy and wet to do further outdoor work so I hope to have some blog posts about these events up in the next week.

Google Mowing With Goats

Google is mowing their large areas of vegetation with goats. This is a great idea, something I may investigate when I get the grass growing in the back yard.

At our Mountain View headquarters, we have some fields that we need to mow occasionally to clear weeds and brush to reduce fire hazard. This spring we decided to take a low-carbon approach: Instead of using noisy mowers that run on gasoline and pollute the air, we’ve rented some goats from California Grazing to do the job for us (we’re not “kidding”). A herder brings about 200 goats and they spend roughly a week with us at Google, eating the grass and fertilizing at the same time. The goats are herded with the help of Jen, a border collie. It costs us about the same as mowing, and goats are a lot cuter to watch than lawn mowers.

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.

Lawnmower Zen

I need a lawnmower. Despite the fact that I haven’t been able to actually water the lawn, nature has conspired to provide me with weeds. No no. It couldn’t sprout grass, it had to sprout all manners of plants that are not grass. Although my Black & Decker CST2000 12 Volt 12″ Cordless GRASSHOG Trimmer / Edger does a good job, it’s not up to the task of mowing my lawn.

I have no desire to deal with the tomfoolery of a gas powered device. I’m a modern man, and I’m willing to accept the limitations of a electric powered lawnmower and allow the power plant to do the polluting far away rather than generate the pollution in my back yard. Lets then, stick to what I know, Black & Decker.

At first I looked at the Black & Decker MM875 19″ Electric Mulching Mower. I gotta have a mulcher to fill my compost bins, otherwise don’t waste my time. The reviews seem positive, and it seems to meet my needs. Although it may test the limits of my needs, I’ve already said I know going into this that there will be limitations and at about $200 I can handle it. This, however is a corded mower. I can’t bee seen mowing my backyard with a cord hanging off my mower. What am I, some kind of jerk?

Moving on to cordless models I find the Black & Decker CMM1000 24 Volt 19″ Cordless Rechargeable Mulching Mower. Yes yes, I know i read the reviews. I can handle the limitations of a electric mower already. I’m willing to go over the lawn over and over again to get it all cut. One thing I failed to initially notice was the price, at $400 – $500. That’s in US dollars.

I guess I won’t look like some sort of jerk pushing around a corded mower, for that matter any kind of mower. At least for now. By the way, looks like iRobot is going to come out with a Robotic Lawnmower. Oh sure, it will be just as cheap. I will buy two.

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?

Be Careful What You Wish For

A Little Rain

This morning my backyard looked liked it belonged in a swampland instead of a desert mesa. The rain has been insane and it’s been pretty much like this every night, I believe the ground is pretty much saturated. Yesterday one of my neighbors backyard was out in the street, there was so much mud that the city had to come out and dig it out.

This is precisely why none of my outdoor projects are getting done. As soon as the rain lets up I’m going to have a mess of weeds to clean up.