Monday, July 8, 2013


Before we could even begin to think about making our yard pretty, there was TONS (yes, literally tons) of base work that had to be accomplished. These projects are not fun or glamorous, and there are no pretty pictures to show, but they are all vitally important to our yard renovation, so it was time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

The first step was creating irrigation. Last winter, we had heavy rains in December that basically turned our backyard into a lake, so we knew irrigation would be a big piece of this project. We needed French drains to run the distance yard, collecting water from the soil when it rains and depositing the water into a sump pit with a pump that would push it out to the street and into the gutter. We also needed a sprinkler system to water our future lawn and surrounding garden areas.

We started by measuring the yard, and I created a to scale map of it in Illustrator using a scale of 1/4 inch = 1 foot. I then printed a bunch of copies and taped them together so we could plan out, to scale, what we wanted the yard to look like when finished.

After lots of discussion, we settled on the yard layout below. It's a pretty terrible photo, but you can tell that we made the decision to keep the existing redwood deck, add a large stone patio spanning the length of the house, and put in a good size lawn where McKinney and any future kiddos could play rimmed by planting beds around the perimeter. Ryan was also keen on an outdoor kitchen area with a drop in bbq and sink (you know, while we're at it).

Armed with my map and a ruler, I headed to Wyatt, a local irrigation supply shop for help. I spent 2+ hours with the manager there working out a plan for irrigation and left with $1100 in irrigation supplies, including pipe, fittings, sprinkler components, and glue (turns out this stuff's not cheap).

The next step (as it always seems to be for us) was finding the right tool to do the job. Ryan borrowed my dad's one ton truck and rented up a Ditch Witch walk behind tractor from Cal West. It cost $275 for the weekend to rent the tractor and three bits: the trencher (for digging trenches), the auger (for making big holes), and the bucket (for moving dirt around).

It took a bit of maneuvering to get everything off the trailer and into the backyard, but the next morning we were ready to go! We marked out the trench lines with paint and Ryan got to work.

The trencher is one impressive tool! I watched as the giant four foot chainsaw-like blade cut through our dirt easily and cleanly.

What would have been hours (maybe days) of work digging by hand was accomplished in one morning with this bad boy. It ate right through years of root growth with no problem, and we were left with a number of nice, clean four inch trenches.

It looks like a lot of big holes in our yard, doesn't it? To help explain, I created a color coded map below showing the number of trenches we had to dig using the same to scale map.

Orange = French Drain Lines and Sump Pit
In order to keep our yard from turning into a lake again we created 3" French drain trenches running from each downspout to a 4" drain running the length of the yard. That drain connects to a sump pit that will store the collected water and pump it out to the street. I'll explain more later, but we used perforated pipe in a drain rock bed for this.

Red = Sprinkler Irrigation
At Wyatt we designed a sprinkler system that would help keep our future lawn nice and green. The plan included three zones of sprinkler line and about 16 sprinklers of different sizes. The trenches didn't have to be as deep for these lines, but my drunk-with-power husband used the trencher for them anyway.

Blue = Miscellaneous Wire Trenches
This map over-simplifies the tricky task of creating trenches to run power cords etc. to different areas in the yard. The actual process will require an entire post (and isn't fully finished as of today) but we created trenches to the sump pit and to the future barbecue site for the wiring we knew we would have to run.

We also used the Ditch Witch for a couple things that didn't get caught on camera. The auger bit came in handy to dig some post holes for future projects and create the sump pit hole, which ended up being about four feet deep. And while we had it on hand, we used the bucket for some pretty serious excavation for the site of the future patio that wasn't originally on the plan for the weekend but saved us so much time in the long run.

The next step in our process: Laying some pipe!


  1. Wow, with one of those trenchers, this job looks pretty easy. My husband and I are in the process of building a new home. We weren't planning on putting in irrigation trenches in the backyard before. After seeing this, I'm starting to think that it will be worth it.

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