As I’ve alluded to here on the front page, I’m in the midst of a project.

It started off when we moved into the house.  There was an inoperable hot tub which was centered in a big plot of the back yard.  To make room for anything else, eventually it was going to have to come out.  Here’s what it looked like, right after we moved in:

The lender wouldn’t let us buy the place unless it was either operable, or covered over.  So I ran over there a couple of days before we closed and built a plywood and 2’x4′ cover and bolted it to the concrete.  Problem worked-around.

That pergola was not permitted, and full of termites, and about to fall down.  So that was the first job, removing all of it.  I got to buy a Sawzall and a three pound sledge for that job.

Once the pergola was down, I decided to cut out the fiberglass shell of the tub, just to keep it from retaining water and spawning hell-bugs.  Coworker Joe came over with his Sawzall and we cut the thing to pieces during a couple of lunches.


And then the final version:

So now I had a sand pit in the backyard, but unfortunately it wasn’t the sort the children could play in.  I put the cover back over top of it and and let it sit.

Now since that thing was backfilled with at least a couple of cubic yards of sand, I had to figure out what to do with the sand, if I was ever going to actually remove it.  After a couple of months with no good ideas, other than “pay someone to haul it away”, it occurred to me that the back corner of the lot would be a great place for a garden.  And raised beds would be necessary, since the dirt in that plot is basically hard clay.  So I set to work clearing out the plot.  Here’s what it looked like on move-in day:

That grass all died over the course of the last year and a half, so first I had to tear up the grass.  This took a couple of days of  miserable work, rolling back the sod with a square shovel.

That’s what it looked like after the end of the second day.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t graded properly, so I had to pick and shovel and rake and tamp dirt to get it reasonably close to level.  Then I bordered it, in case I take out that concrete on the left.  Finally, put down some weed barrier and started transferring wheelbarrows full of sand from the hot tub to the plot.  Here’s that part of the project, in process:

And here’s the finished product, ready for the raised beds:

Originally, I was going to make the raised bed 14′ long, 6′ wide, and 8″ high.  Redwood was the preferred wood, as it’s cheaper than cedar and bug-resistant.  However, I was able to scrounge a couple of very large shipping pallets from the junk pile at work, after checking their stamps to make sure that they weren’t treated with anything nasty.  In fact, they’re kiln-dried, heat-treated white pine.  I nabbed two of them, they’re each 10′ long and have four 2″x8″ boards in the bed, underneath a plywood surface.  Here’s what they look like with the plywood removed:

As you can see, they’re practically assembled already.  A little trimming with the rotary saw and a few bolts and a lot of wood sealer, and I’m basically done.  They’re a tad shorter than I’d like, but I have enough wood to make them 16″ high instead of 8″, and the price is right.  I’m headed to Home Depot tonight after the kiddos are in bed to get a nice, eco-friendly wood sealer that won’t leach anything into the raised bed dirt, and I should get most of the sealing done tomorrow and Friday.  With luck, I’ll get the assembly done this weekend, and then we can plant.


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.


  1. You left out the part about the Black Widows in your Sand Pit. And how said Sand Pit is still full of sand. What are you planting?

    • The Widows are all kerplunked.

      There is still sand in the sand pit, but it’s hardly “full”. In fact, I’m below grade at this point. I could just bash in the cinderblocks and let the sand that’s still clinging to the sides fill it part of the way in.

    • As for the planting, that’s up in the air, at this point.

      I’m probably going to have to rig some sort of irrigation system, or everything will die in our “oops, I forgot to water the plants” household.

      • I would suggest some 3/4″ PVC with some holes drilled in either side sunk between 3 to 6″ running along the rows.
        Get some tees and caps for the ends, and you can tie them all together.
        You’ll spend more on fittings than the sticks of PVC.
        It’s water-efficient, if that’s a concern. More aspiration from the plants than evaporation from the ground.

        It looks like you do good work.
        I’m impressed.

        • I’ve been going back and forth on irrigation. I’ve heard gospel truth arguments about drip lines, those little black mini-hose runs, and below-grade irrigation schemes like this one.

          I might do half the bed like that, and the other half above-ground runs; we need to decide what to plant, first.

  2. So no hot tub, ever? Or is there a new one going in later?

    • No hot tub. If I’m going to spend an inordinate amount of money on pool equipment, I’ll get a heating system for the pool first.

  3. If only it wasn’t too late for tomatoes. But there’s always next year! What are you gonna plant? Go, Pat, go!

    • I live in Pasadena, it’s never too late for tomatoes.

  4. The lender wouldn’t let us buy the place unless it was either operable, or covered over.

    I don’t understand. Why would they do this?

    • First disclaimer: about a third of what mortgage companies do doesn’t make any sense.

      The logic, I think, goes along the lines of this: it’s technically “below grade”, and it is a built-in, so it represents a possible falling hazard if it’s empty, and a biohazard if it’s not operable and open (since a bit of rainwater will pool at the bottom – you should have seen the muck at the bottom of that thing, gross). The lender is typically assuming the burden of risk on a livable space, and they’re disinclined to give you a mortgage for property that needs work that isn’t going to be done in the immediate future. They’d rather give you a loan for the amount you’re asking for… plus five grand to have the thing removed, than give you the loan for the amount you’re asking for, and have you not do the work and then have your homeowner’s insurance hit with a liability suit because a drunk neighbor fell in the empty jacuzzi and canceled your insurance, and now the mortgage company needs to hassle you into getting a new policy, etc., etc.

      • This strikes me as intrusive to the point of… well, I suppose, it’s their money to lend or not.

        But still.

      • The house we rent, which was for sale, had a jacuzzi that has been concreted over. I suspect it was probably the same sort of deal: If you want to sell the house, either fix it or cover it up. So the people who bought the house (who we are now leasing from) probably didn’t have to do the dirty work you did.

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