The Great Dirt-Moving Effort!

Every year it’s the same: I spend all winter being sad about the cold, and then spring and summer hit and I’m all like HOLD UP because that means I have to pick up where I left off with exterior work. The earlier I get to it the better because summers here are hot and muggy, but of course there are a finite number of hours in the day so the interior work slows way down. Which is sad, because the interior of my house is still…well, a work in progress, let’s say. A work in progress that’s occasionally frustrating to live in, that I have to force myself to de-prioritize during these warmer months because otherwise the exterior might, I dunno, get overtaken by weeds and die of neglect. Houses, man. Yards. They keep you busy. I do not recommend them if you value free time.

With so much work constantly happening both on the interior and exterior of the house, the backyard in particular has inched along veryyyy slowly. I’ve probably put more effort into the street-facing front and side gardens, primarily in the hope that a few decent-looking plants might distract from the…less charming aspects of my perpetually-being-renovated house. But the back? It’s basically a blank slate. I have a fence. I have some patchy grass. In terms of other amenities, my yard also offers a pile of chimney bricks, a steady supply of dog shit and toys laying around, a ton of irregular bluestone pieces, and a few scraggly plants I’ve stuck in the ground.

It’s not like I have acreage or anything, but I do have a really large yard for Kingston! It’s part of what I love about the house, but it’s also a lot to take care of. And a lot to figure out, because I want it to be a beautiful lush amazing (much more private!!!) paradise but I also find it kind of discouraging because of how much time and money I’ve already dumped into it.

Yes, you read that right. Those two pictures above are the products of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of hard work. CAN’T YOU TELL? DO YOU FEEL MOTIVATED YET?!?

I guess I know it could be worse, because oh boy has it been worse! Sometimes when I’m out here feeling so sad and dejected about my barren landscape, I have to remind myself of how the majority of the yard was asphalt when I bought this place! The whole yard was covered in snow the first time I saw the house, so this actually came as a surprise at the first or second walk-through, but at that point I was too in love with the house for a little blacktop to scare me off.

“We’ll just get it removed!” I proclaimed with confidence.

And it did get removed…to the tune of about $2,000, if memory serves, because I have refused to think about it since. YIKES. It took 5 full days and multiple backhoes and excavators to get it done. The thing I didn’t totally realize at the time is that under the asphalt would be a layer of large gravel (item #4, if you wanna get all technical about it), so you have to remove a lot of material to get back down to something resembling clean-ish dirt.

Like, a lot a lot. About TWENTY dump trucks worth.

At the end, they did what they could to flatten everything out and left this attractive scene, which soon started to fill in with weeds. Sure, I’ll take it!

Then it rained. And rained a few more times. And that area that had been covered with asphalt? Turned into a very large, shallow pond. Which, in the winter, turned into a sheet of ice. It’s a shame that depth gets so lost in photos because it really doesn’t portray how bad this was!

The lumpy piles of dirt behind Mekko is all the grass I excavated out of the front garden by hand and then rolled back here in a wheelbarrow. I adorably thought this would solve the problem or at least improve things, but the dent it made was…negligible.

A little while later, I transported a couple pick-up truck loads of dirt from Bluestone Cottage’s front yard, since that yard needed to be graded down and this one needed to be graded up. “This’ll fix it!” I thought to myself again.

Not remotely.

At this point, the availability of free solutions had seemed to run out, and with the new fence in placereally wanted to start getting the backyard in shape! So I stuck the plastic stakes from Lowe’s into the ground and attached a long length of neon pink nylon twine between them, pulling VERY taught. This helped me see where the lowest points were and build up as needed. I considered getting a delivery of soil, but the delivery was kind of expensive, and even with a soil calculator (like this one!), I didn’t feel confident that I had any idea how much I actually needed. I also liked the idea of bringing it into the yard in manageable chunks rather than having the landscaping place deposit a mountain-sized pile that I’d have to just chip away at, blocking my driveway until it was all gone. Hauling it myself seemed, at the time, to make a lot of practical sense.

Not that long before, I got a new car—a practical Subaru SUV. I kept saying that perhaps a pick-up truck would be a better investment at least for this period in my life when hauling large and heavy things is such a regular occurrence, but everyone in my life seemed to think this was patently ridiculous. So instead I got this utility trailer, the bed of which is slightly over 4×8 feet, meaning it’s perfect for drywall and plywood and lumber. I subsequently learned that the trailer is a complete pain in the ass, and difficult to steer in reverse, and in short order I managed to crunch both front corners of my bumper and a rearview mirror while trying to maneuver it. More recently the trailer became unhitched on a job site and smashed the trunk in, too. I hate that thing with the fire of a thousand suns. But also I need it. Because I didn’t buy the pick-up.

SO ANYWAY, now my still-new-ish car is super fucked and the trailer is not holding up annnnddddddd next time maybe I should listen less to those around me when it comes to my driving/hauling needs. It’s all very stupid. That’s not what we’re here to talk about though. We’re talking about the much more exciting topic of dirt.

I took my jacked up car with my jacked up utility trailer to a local landscaping place, where they sell fill dirt. Things like this (mulch, gravel, etc) are usually sold by the “yard,” which you can think of as a 3′ x 3′ x 3′ cube. There are different types of dirt—topsoil is higher quality and full of nutrients and shit like that, and lesser soils are cheaper and good for fill but not great for growing gardens and stuff. I decided to start with cheaper fill, and then finish off with a layer of better topsoil.

About 1 yard of fill fits in that trailer, or around 2,000 pounds, so thus commenced my new weekend tradition of getting as many loads into the yard as I could before it became either completely unbearable or the place closed. Because my trailer doesn’t have a hydraulic lift or anything fancy like that, I had to drive the trailer into the yard, climb in, unload the soil a shovel-full at a time, and then rake it out and level it.

Each time it seemed like SO MUCH DIRT and each time all that dirt barely made a dent.

So I kept having to go back to get more dirt.

Bring in the trailer, shovel it all out, spread, and go back for more. Did I mention how hot and muggy summers are here? This is the worst game I’ve ever played.

This was also getting expensive. A yard of fill from the landscaping place was about $45, so all of a sudden I’m spending literal hundreds of dollars and an obscene amount of effort to bring a bunch of crappy soil into my yard. THE JOYS OF HOMEOWNERSHIP!

After a couple weekends of this, I was bringing demolition debris of some variety to the dump, as I do. And then I saw something over yonder, in the distance.

Mounds. Mounds of dirt. JOE! TELL ME ABOUT THAT DIRT!

Joe is my friend at the dump. I like to bring him a milkshake if I go. Joe likes milkshakes.

Turns out, it’s county compost! From the county! Made at the dump! Literal garbage dirt! This is the dirt for meeeeeee!

It’s actually kind of cool—if you look closely at those mounds, on the far right there’s a pile of newly deposited branches and leaves and stuff. This is where the county’s yard waste bags end up, food scraps from the restaurant composting program, etc. There, they fester for a while, until enough of it has broken down to go into pile #2, and so on. Once it’s gone through this sequence, it goes into that red machine you see on the far left, which essentially grinds it up, breaking down any remaining branches or things that decompose slowly. Then it goes into another pile and continues to brew until somebody who might be me buys it. Cool. Gross. I like it.

Because it’s all compost, I assume this soil is actually much better than the soil I’d been getting, AND it was $35/ton (which is about a yard), so $10 cheaper than the landscaping place.

So I got a load.

Drive it home. Deposit the dirt. Spread the dirt. Go back again.

And again.

And again.

Also, again.

All told, I repeated this procedure THIRTY TIMES. Which means I moved, out of the trailer and into the yard by hand, roughly SIXTY THOUSAND POUNDS of dirt. Just dirt. It was SO much more than I anticipated.

This has to be the least satisfying way I have ever managed to blow through more than a thousand dollars. I stopped keeping track because it was just too depressing.

BUT HARD WORK PAYS OFF! JUST LOOK AT THIS OASIS I CREATED! It just feels like such a SANCTUARY from the outside world and…oh wait, sorry wrong slide. That’s Bunny William’s garden.


Fortunately this is not a current picture, and things have improved somewhat steadily since that time. I’ve been terrible about sharing backyard progress, I think because I keep waiting for some part of it to look great. And what am I going to do, write a whole post about…moving 30 tons of dirt?

Then I decided that’s exactly what I’ll do, because progress is progress. No lie, it BLOWS that it took this much time and effort and money to get to this very barren depressing square 1, but a lot of landscaping work (hell, renovation work!) is a very long slog that only starts to feel good when all that slow progress accumulates to something that finally feels worthwhile. We have a couple of summers worth of work to catch up on, though, so in lieu of stunning After! images that are realistically probably a decade away, let’s just try to enjoy this whole process for the grueling and occasionally exciting operation that it is! I guess.

About Daniel Kanter

Hi, I'm Daniel, and I love houses! I'm a serial renovator, DIY-er, and dog-cuddler based in Kingston, New York. Follow along as I bring my 1865 Greek Revival back to life and tackle my 30s to varying degrees of success. Welcome!

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  1. 7.26.18
    Sara L. said:

    How in the world do you make reading about dirt so thrilling and funny? You have a gift, my friend. I laughed out loud multiple times. Can’t wait to read the next blog entry about watching paint dry!

    • 7.26.18
      Daniel said:


    • 7.26.18
      Alexis said:

      Dammit, you need a like button here!

    • 7.28.18
      Kim B. said:

      Ditto. Good for you for going for the dirt post, Daniel. Both hilarious and very eye-opening. There should be a prize for this sort of thing.

    • 8.16.18
      Ana said:

      I was thinking the same thing! Hou can dirt be so much fun?! :)

    • 8.16.18
      Lisa said:

      I totally second this! Also, I’m making my way through The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Bloom in short relaxing installments before bed. It’s SO good! Get it and read it if you ever need some garden inspiration to keep you going. I’m actually dreading getting to the end.

  2. 7.26.18
    Simone said:

    I would recommend buying a seedmix with plants that fertilise the soil. That way the compost stays fertile and might even be improved while you are plotting your plans. There are beautiful flowers in these mixes as well so you could pick a bunch for your house in the process. I would recommend starting your plans with the tree’s you would like and planting these asap, so they can develop some body. The rest of the plants grow relatively fast.
    Reading this, it becomes obvious why landscaping often costs a lot. But a beautiful garden is really worth it I think.

    • 7.26.18
      Lisa said:

      Oh good thought! Like, you could do 9 squares of sweet pea seeds – they are legumes, and fix nitrogen, right?

    • 7.26.18
      Daniel said:

      I actually seeded with this mix called Earth Turf, which is a lot of clover and other grasses—supposed to be self-fertilizing, dog urine resistant, drought tolerant, good for the bees, etc. To be honest I’ve been super underwhelmed with the results, but that could be user error/poor maintenance/seeding at the wrong times…anyway, I think (theoretically, at least!) it addresses that concern!

    • 8.2.18
      Chris Uebbing said:

      I planted some Dutch White Clover in my backyard to deal with the dog pee issue as well & was underwhelmed @ 1st. 3 years later, it’s well-established. Patience!!

  3. 7.26.18
    Josh said:

    Man, I can’t imagine paying for dirt. Here in Florida people can’t give fill dirt away. Sometimes they’ll even deliver it just to get rid of it. Of course, ours is more of a loamy-sand and doesn’t really grow anything well but still, I couldn’t imagine spending that much.

    • 7.26.18
      Lisa said:

      I’d spend that money but I hate to say, here in groovy Norcal our municipal compost is all you can tow for free;).

    • 7.26.18
      Daniel said:

      Isn’t it nuts? Here a lot of people want free fill, but not enough people want to get rid of it…and “clean fill” could include concrete, asphalt, bricks…I guess if you were trying to fill in a swimming pool or something! There’s also APPARENTLY a free mulch program, but I couldn’t seem to find good info on it and it didn’t really seem like what I needed, anyway. Sigh!

    • 7.26.18
      Josh said:

      We have free mulch and compost here as well, which are great. A neighbor got a bunch of free fill and ended up with an accidental peanut patch in the part of their yard they graded with it.

  4. 7.26.18
    Stephanie Zell said:

    Loved the dirt read! It may have sucked, but at least the post was amusing. I’m with you on gardens. I actually have a flat yard, hurray me, but my next door neighbor just cut down the giant pecan shading my whole yard this winter. Then I realized the only tree in my yard was basically dead… it had been hiding in the pecans canopy for years. Now my full shade yard is full sun, which means all the shade plants I painstakingly have planted are dying, the weeds are literally trying to swallow my house, and my free pecan supply is so longer. On the plus side the weeds hide the dog shit. On the negative the weeds hide the dog shit while I’m wading through it.

    I’d love to see what it looks like now. I’ve seen the brief vegtable garden posts on your insta and am curious to know more. Now that I have sun I need to plant something that will survive other than those fucking weeds.

    • 7.26.18
      Daniel said:

      Argh, so frustrating!! I hope you have a shady area to at least move the survivors! :(

      I’ll post more about the veggies and stuff soon! It doesn’t look like much now, but it’s feeding me! Making pickles later!

  5. 7.26.18
    Sharon said:

    Ditto what Sara L. said!!!…Thanks for the laughs this morning…I so needed them!

  6. 7.26.18
    AA said:

    Hilarious – thank you for this update. Completely made my day and validated my dread for dealing with my own sloping yard!

  7. 7.26.18
    Liz said:

    I spent a couple weeks (mornings before / nights after work) digging – by hand – about 5 cu yd of dirt out of my yard to make way for a patio. Then moving five tons of gravel, and a ton of sand back in. And damn if it wasn’t the most beautiful hole in the ground I’ve ever seen, and the patio is the most beautiful patio to me and I have great appreciation now for the cost of land/hardscaping. So what I’m saying is, I feel your pain and I love that you wrote about this not-so-fun stage of renovation.

    • 7.26.18
      Daniel said:

      Dang, good for you!! I’m gearing up for pea gravel now, which I think will be much more gratifying than the dirt, but still trying to psych myself up for all the hauling/dumping/spreading/lather/rinse/repeat.

    • 7.26.18
      Liz said:

      Getting the stone/sand delivered saved us a TON of money — there’s gotta be a guy with a truck in Kingston. (Literally, all our guy does is make runs to the quarry all day.) Currently: trying to get someone to take our topsoil away for free. Harder than I expected.

  8. 7.26.18
    Sarah said:

    I feel you. You know how when you’re renovating an old house you can develop very strong feelings about its prior custodians? Well, I have never been more irritated with the prior owner of my home than when I paid to have the horrible concrete parking pad he had just installed (because he thought it would help sell the house I guess) removed. We had a huge amount of dirt delivered and then leveled it ourselves. But, OMG it was backbreaking. All that work just to get it back to ground. Yeesh.

    • 7.26.18
      Sid said:

      THIS. I swear that at least half of the work I’ve done on my two 50-year old homes has been un-doing the crappy work that the previous tenants/owners did TO A PERFECTLY GOOD ORIGINAL HOUSE (e.g., why would you tear out a solid, lovely plywood 1950s kitchen and replace it with a terrible 1970s laminate crapboard kitchen custom built around an apartment-sized stove/oven; why would you pour a concrete patio and then later cover it with gravel/dirt and patio stones!?!). Thankfully I find the rage I feel towards these people to be very motivating in the deconstruction phase at least.

    • 7.26.18
      Daniel said:

      Haha! I GET IT TRUST ME! I also totally know SOMEDAY, someone will likely be cursing me as they rip my work out. There’s something oddly comforting about that…some things never change.

    • 7.26.18
      Rachel said:

      oh man, that is the truth.

      my husband and i are lucky with our 118 year old house: the previous owners took on the job of restoring it from a duplex to the single family home it was meant to be. but because doing that kind of thing is hard and expensive, it means that they did some of it themselves and didn’t do an awesome job.

      for a while we thought were were going to move to another city (a more expensive city) and everything in our price range was what you described. it was like a laminate, soffit, and weird carpet bonanza. i was very sad.

      but now, we are looking to move to a different house in our city in the next few years (our house is great, but it’s not the easiest house to live in), and it’s not much better here. 80s and 90s renovations, especially, are the bane of so many houses.

  9. 7.26.18
    Chrissy said:

    THANK YOU for the laugh. I’m still here in terrific pain from WEEDING my mess of a yard (does one every actually make progress weeding?).

    Plus, you have now convinced me NOT to pave the back lot of the house we’re going to sell so that if someone wants a parking spot, they can put it in themselves!

    • 7.26.18
      Daniel said:

      fuckkkk weeedinggggggg. That’s the other part of this, right? All I want to do is make PROGRESS but half the time goes toward just weeding and trying and trying and trying to maintain what I HAVE done! And what actually looks pretty good! Except for when the weeds take over! Which they do! So quickly! If ever I have a little extra income to spend on it, I’d so gladly hire somebody to come in every couple of weeks just to keep things tidy.

    • 7.26.18
      Southern Gal (@sogalitno) said:

      landscape cloth and mulch are your friends… surround your plants and you wont have weeds (or as many)

    • 7.26.18
      Rachel said:

      i also give up and use the weedwhacker where i can.

      i’ve got a cheap battery one from lowe’s, so it’s light. yes, it does not solve the problem of preventing weeds, and it’s challenging with weeds that are coming out of mulch. i do have the mower that uses the same battery, so i have three batteries (two came with the mower) so i always have one fully charged so i don’t have to stop and wait for a charge.

      it is soooo much easier and faster, and it’s my attempt to not make the perfect be the enemy of the good. because i would put off weeding and then try to do it all in a day and i’d get burned, hurt my back, and get overwhelmed by the [untrue] thought that this is what has to be done all the time.

  10. 7.26.18
    Abbie said:

    Gahhh Daniel you had me laughing out loud this morning. We recently had 3 cubic yards of top soil delivered to fill GIANT planter beds around our deck. We had to mix the top soil with compost and perlite to make it light enough to be potting mix. It was seriously backbreaking work and it took like 2 weekends of nonstop work and my husband and I were so exhausted and depleted when it was done. And we didn’t even have to drive to go get the stuff, they just dumped it in our driveway. You’re seriously a hero! If anyone needed a pickup truck it is you–next time poll your Insta viewers :)

    • 7.26.18
      Elaine said:

      Agreed! If you ever start thinking about that truck again and need some bolstering, I’m sure you’ll get it here. Perhaps you could keep the practical SUV and also get an old used Toyota? More money, of course. More things. But those things are amazing and I’m sure it would come in handy on various build sites. Plus you would look great in a truck. Could the truck be a business vehicle? Just thinking in writing here. (I am so not a truck person, but I recently got to know a little old Toyota and I’m just amazed at how hardy they are.) As for the yard, I am confident that eventually it will become the lush paradise of your dreams.

    • 7.26.18
      Daniel said:

      I think that’s basically the idea, Elaine! I just can’t swing it…so many house-related expenses, not enough money! It’s amazing how trucks maintain value! Sometimes I check Craigslist and even like 25 year old trucks are still a few thousand! Plus insurance, maintenance, gas…even as a business expense it’s kinda a lot…and it’s not NECESSARY, just would make life easier and less of a hassle. Argh.

  11. 7.26.18
    Miranda said:

    It’s posts like these that I wish more people would read! Getting to square one can be TOUGH. And it’s all the unsightly stuff that you never actually see that makes up for a good foundation to work on, and that goes for all types of reno work: dirt, electricity, plumbing, primer before you paint…it’s so important.

    You’ve got yourself a nice dirt patch! We’re going to be in this position next summer once we start tackling parts of our yard in the thick of Nebraskan heat and humidity. I get it. :)

    • 7.26.18
      Daniel said:

      Godspeed, Miranda! Drink lots of water!!

  12. 7.26.18
    GJ said:

    I wish you posted every day (but I know you are too busy with your soil)! You are so funny!

  13. 7.26.18
    Joan said:

    Hah! Bunny Williams finally made me laugh out loud.

  14. 7.26.18
    Sarah S said:

    You are the literal best – who else could write a post about actual dirt and make it so entertaining? It will make a nice little chapter in the book I’m still waiting on. xo

  15. 7.26.18
    Lisa said:

    I’m happy when you write a progress post about close to nothing because, more space for your voice! More opportunities for you to make me laugh out loud! Me being one who reads you for the writing more than the measurements of boards and sawing thereof:). The garden will come. I actually think from here, depending on your resources and appetite for hardscaping, it could take less time than you are anticipating. I mean, trees are big, and boxwood lined beds look good even when empty;).

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      True! Although trees and boxwoods (especially box, since you need so many!) get expensiveeee!

  16. 7.26.18
    Amanda Taylor said:

    Oh my gosh. I don’t think I could have done all of that! But all good things start with a proper foundation. Right? That’s what I tell myself anyway :)

  17. 7.26.18
    Devyn said:

    Thanks for a very entertaining post Daniel, I love your commitment. As I was reading it, I was reminded of a 1990s parody of Martha Stewart on “How to make dirt”, which I cannot seem to locate a link to on the Internets. Come to think of it, it may have been before the internet was common. God I am old.

    Our 276 sq ft back yard is 100% concrete surrounded by an ugly concrete block wall. I sometimes look at it and wonder how I will ever make a lush garden space, but with time, it will be.

    • 7.26.18
      Daniel said:

      Raised beds and pea gravel it is! :)

  18. 7.26.18
    Liz said:

    I’m half way through reading this post and its the best one every! “Joe tell me about that dirt!” :D

  19. 7.26.18
    Laura said:

    I have never commented on a blogger’s post before, but today I just have to! Last summer, when I was in the middle of a project to construct an outbuilding/studio in our back yard, I hit a slump of despondency wondering, “When will this ever be done?” A friend of mine, who is a fellow procrastinator when tough jobs are at hand, told me about your blog. I ended up binge-reading your posts, neglecting my own work for almost a week! At first I felt guilty for the time I spent avoiding the tasks at hand, but as I followed along your journey I found myself relating to your feelings and thoughts as you tackled project after project. I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed at times! I am not alone in being paralyzed by perfection and learning to let that go in order to move forward! I can trust my gut as I make design decisions! Bottom line: by the time I had read through all of Kingston House, my motivation had returned. Time well spent, more effective than therapy!! Today especially I laughed multiple times as you described the tedium of dirt-moving with such humor. Thank you Daniel for sharing and for inspiring.

    • 7.26.18
      Daniel said:

      WELL that is one super nice comment, Laura! Thank you!! And good luck with it all! :) <3 <3

  20. 7.26.18
    Liz said:

    Okay I finished reading now. :) Seriously a lot of soil!!! BUT you probably have the best, richest soil using that compost. All of the plants you put in (when you put them in) are going to be so happy and lush.

  21. 7.26.18
    Sarah said:

    I am exhausted just reading this post. I don’t know how you mustered up the energy to move So. MUCH. DIRT! I can’t wait to see more progress!!

  22. 7.26.18
    Southern Gal (@sogalitno) said:

    OH my dear… yes. Hardscaping is the back bone and back breaking part of landscaping. but its the foundation and if done correctly (that COMPOST is exactly what you need!) you will NEVER regret this money and time.
    So excited for you in this blank slate. My previous garden started with a blank slate but overgrown, so i had to cut down trees and rent a rototiller and make beds etc and then spent 11 years nurturing it to be my dream secret garden (albeit shadier than i would have liked) and then the landlord decided to take the apt for his retirement pied a terre (he moved to michigan) and i guess they thought i would leave the garden.. .. well i didnt i took everything except the rocks that i had hauled wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow from a neighbors yard 10 years earlier – and i really wanted to take them but the guys would have charged too much – hmm well thats another long story)…

    anyway you wont have this issue. all the work you are doing is not for naught. and SO EXCITING to have a blank slate to plan.

    Read read read read all the garden design mags you can find and get a ton of books – i read for years in my little nyc apartments dreaming of a garden and so was ready when it happened.

    Suggestions from my experience
    1 plan first – design – sketch it. TAKE YOUR TIME with this step. walk the yard – this is the MOST critical point of your garden planning. get to know your yard and what the conditions are re light and drainage etc. i imagine you get full sun – but you should track the sun every hour of the day one day .. you will be surprised at what areas get what light. this will be critical in your planning stage
    think of the space as rooms … create areas in the garden and flow between them ( i remember that you have an area behind the ‘garage’ already set up … right? )
    plan for all four seasons so that you have plants / trees that will provide interest in Jan and Feb (evergreens) not just things that only grow and bloom in the spring and summer. Use native plants – a good way to see what plants will survive your area’s climate is to go visit REALLY good nurseries all year long – see what they are selling each season – they will have perennials trees and shrubs that will survive your area. (I bought all my big landscape plants at one of the top nurseries in the area – not HD and it was worth it .. they delivered too )
    2 test your soil where you think you will be planting. critical to know what you have and will need to amend to make a good base for your plants to grow.
    3 take a hose or something like that and lay out your bed designs. it makes a big difference to be able to SEE the layout … very critical in taking idea to action leave it in place for a few days/weeks to see how it works
    4 plan your WATERING scheme NOW. if you want to lay irrigation THIS is the time to do it… and it is well worth the expense/time to set this up when you are setting up your design. That is a big space and this will be a time and money saver for you. irrigation saves water by getting to the roots not wasting water spraying from a sprinkler.
    5 Once you have your overall design. plant trees and shrubs before ANYTHING else … its tempting to just buy a lot of plants to get something in there… but stick to your design or be guided by it as you add over the years.
    6 it will be expensive BUT if you put in your landscape plants (trees and shrubs) first you can fill in with annuals and you can buy perennials and more shrubs over the next 3-5 years…as you know perennials will mature and you can divide them to create more.. .etc. The trees and shrubs are the skeleton for the garden and hold up the design.

    of course you could buy all mature trees shrubs and perennials and have an instant garden like the garden shows (there was a great british one that would redo a yard in a weekend ) but that is REALLY expensive and takes the fun out of real gardening – planting and trying and moving things and having things die and trying more things and etc etc which is what gardening is all about for real gardeners

    so envious and excited for you.
    looking forward to the updates!

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Thank you (as always!), friend! Do you have any magazine/book recommendations you really love? All the other advice—on it! I should do more reading about irrigation systems…that one I’ve kinda figured I’d just do without, but maybe it’s easier than I realize. I’ll try to make ya proud! :)

    • 7.27.18
      SLG said:

      Ditto to this question! A large garden is in my future, and other than raiding the library to read all their 80s books on gardening, I don’t know where to begin.

  23. 7.26.18

    I want to call you a dirty boy! Thanks for making me laugh (again) about getting an empty space ready for something or other. We moved here 16 years ago and it was all grass and ivy. Some of the 1930s paths had been covered over with dirt and then grassed. Other places no paths. I like holidays as much as I love my garden, so could not do it all in one hit. But eventually, I got to the end of the garden. Now we have paths, steps up, steps down, a paved area for parking, 3 birch trees for dappled shade and lots of “stuff”. So you see, it can be done. Suggestion…… choose one of the corners, put in an L shaped raised bed that is not too high. Add even more of that lovely compost, and plan to plant with some over 1.5 feet high perrenials. That will give you something lovely to look at next year at eye level. A little jewel in the corner. Take a chair out. A chilled, long drink. A book. A dog. Put your feet up on the raised bed, sip the drink, pet the dog and B R E A T H E !

  24. 7.26.18
    Terrie said:

    Everyone else has talked about dirt – I am going to talk about trucks. For years and years I had a Jeep with almost 200,000 miles on it. It was a solid serviceable vehicle but hauling 4 X 8 sheets of anything was impossible. In 2008 when the bottom fell out of everything, car dealerships were begging people to just visit let alone buy. I finally broke down and bought a used 2005 Nissan Frontier with 60,000 miles on it. I was a 56 year old widow and my friends and relatives thought I needed a more “sedate” vehicle. I LOVED my truck. First thing I did was go to Lowe’s and buy 40 bags of mulch. I had room to spare. Because it was a crew cab it had plenty of room for passengers, groceries etc. In 2016 I decided to buy a new vehicle so I could have it paid off before I retire (the 12th of never probably). Did my research and honestly at one point I considered an SUV.and a trailer but ended up with another Frontier. Considering I am constantly working on my house and garden and live by myself, a truck is the only way to go. I don’t have to have wood cut at Home Depot or Lowe’s just so I can get it home. Instead I have learned the joys of ratcheting tie downs. I LOVE my truck.

    • 7.26.18
      Southern Gal (@sogalitno) said:

      you are my heroine… i want a truck too.

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Also mine! YOU MADE THE RIGHT CALL! This makes me want to run out and get a truck THIS INSTANT. Frontiers are one of the ones I keep an eye out for!

    • 7.27.18
      SLG said:

      Now you’re tempting me to buy a truck too!

      For what it’s worth, Daniel, we have discovered that a lame ol’ minivan carries almost as much as a truck and is a fraction of the price. There is a Chrysler model where all the seats fold down INTO THE FLOOR of the van, and said floor of van is exactly 4×8 feet. I can fit 6 sheets of half-inch drywall comfortably and 12 sheets uncomfortably (pulling the driver’s seat so far forward that the steering wheel is in my lap). That plus many bags of mulch / soil / trash, a dresser, a couch, a queen mattress, you name it. It’s totally worth the embarrassment of driving a minivan.

    • 7.28.18
      Lori said:

      Oh man, I wish we could post pictures in the comments. I took one last spring when I was at the soil/rock yard and saw some dude in a van literally shoveling river rock into the side of his van. He must have fit at least a yard in there. It took him a while to do it by hand & I’m not sure his suspension ever recovered, but he got the job done!

  25. 7.26.18
    Noelle said:

    I laughed out loud multiple times throughout this post. And now I am just incredibly exhausted for you :)…. what a TON of work. I LOVE your blog. You make things that I didn’t think I’d ever have much interest in incredibly interesting and hilarious! I love how in the weeds (haha, no pun intended) you get with some of your descriptions – details I’d usually skim over in other blogs. With yours I find myself hanging on your every word!

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Well thanks, Noelle! <3

  26. 7.26.18
    Laurel said:

    Well done! You should seriously consider selling the Subaru and getting a pick up if you can. It will improve your life so much.

  27. 7.26.18
    Jakob said:

    Oh my God, utility trailers. I feel your pain. There is nothing quite like backing one up at the dump into an impossibly small gap between two trucks in full view of the dozen or so people on line to drop off their trash. And bonus points if your tow rig is full of stuff, too. At first I thought my old Volvo wagon would be enough, but Gay Gardens came fully furnished (and by that I mean hoarder mess at least knee deep in every room) so it took dozens of dump runs to empty the place. One does not do dumpsters in a college town – they have a magical way of filling up in the night – and we can’t get the kind with lids, in what I believe is a West Coast mob conspiracy to charge us more for the heavier weight of our rain-soaked refuse. I was at a breaking point with the trailer, and when when the boyfriendo and I started taking on more projects, a pickup came into our lives and made things immeasurably better. Our 1972 Jeep truck (Large Marge, and bonus points to anyone who can guess the reference) has been wonderful. And since she’s vintage and in good repair, we’ll be able to sell her for a little more or less than what we paid should we decide we’re ever done with all our projects. Your Large Marge is out there. Run to her. Embrace her. She’ll change your life.

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Large Marge!! She sounds beautiful. I need a Large Marge in my life.

  28. 7.26.18
    Alison said:

    You keep it so real. Landscaping stuff like this is a PAIN. But there will be light at the end of the tunnel! …and it will look SO good :)

  29. 7.26.18

    You are going to be so buff from all that spade work.
    I was going to get a cubic meter of compost from the dump here (about the same as a yard), but I had no idea that it would weigh a TON. My husband doubled over laughing at the idea. I thought it would take me a few trips of shoveling it into those giant reusable lawn/rubble bags, which I would put into my car (a Toyota Aygo). Guess I need to call on a friend with a truck.
    I am trying to get rid of our grass (weeds). I want our back yard to look like Bunny’s. Full of drought-resistant plants that have lots of flowers for the bees and butterflies. A few gravel paths in between. No mowing and no watering.
    I would love to know what you plan to do with your yard. Your ideas are so useful to copy. You do the thinking and experimenting for all of us. Merci!

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Workin’ on it! I’m trying to kind of take it one area at a time, so as not to get completely overwhelmed!

  30. 7.26.18
    nichole said:

    The whole situation sucks but your writing is SO. DAMN. FUNNY! Thank you for the riotous laughter you prompted!

  31. 7.26.18

    Popping in to say this post is great and perfectly captures what home ownership is like. Sheesh. All the best, sir!

  32. 7.26.18
    Elizabeth said:

    OH MY GOD this was insane. You are a waaaaaaaaay more patient person than me because I would have moved 2 loads of dirt, realized it was going to take a lot more, and given up entirely. How ripped did you get from shoveling 60,000 pounds by hand? You must look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club right now. ;)

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      LOL! I think at 28 I might have to give up on the idea that someday this body is going to up and get big and strong!

  33. 7.26.18
    Barbara H. said:

    Oh gosh, I feel your pain! This is why taking Before pictures is such an important step and unfortunately such an easy one to forget. Even though you have a long way to go, it’s so much better than it was!!! Southern Gal has lots of good information in her comment. Getting trees and bushes in early is so important and since they will have time to grow you can start with smaller ones. Keep them watered so they get a good start and you will be surprised. A garden saying that I often have to remind myself of is that first year the plant sleeps, second year it creeps and third year it leaps. That leaping mean you need to make sure you leave plenty of room for future growth.

  34. 7.26.18
    koryanshea said:

    damn, daniel! you must be ripped after all that shoveling! and consider how much you saved on not going to the gym! :D

  35. 7.26.18
    Alexis said:

    Geez, and I thought spreading a few bags of lawn dressing was back breaking work!

    I had a good laugh at this post though, and another little chuckle at all the ads for mining equipment coming up on the side, Google must have seen the pics of the backhoe.

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Hahaha. A+ job, automated ad thingy.

  36. 7.26.18
    Jill said:

    My niece recently had a birthday, and she asked for a Sam El Bombero cake. I’m the resident cake maker in the family but not a decorator, so I agreed to make this cake and my sister (mother of the birthday girl) said she would buy a plastic figurine of Sam to stick in the top.

    Instead, I go over to the make the cake, and my sister has purchased one of those edible images (like this:×600/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/c/a/cartoons-characters-edible-cake-lebanon-215_1.jpg) that are meant to be put on top of a perfectly flat, rectangular sheet cake. Ordinarily, this is not that complicated. You bake a cake in a sheet pan. You turn out the cake onto a flat base (a rectangular cardboard cake base or a platter or whatever), cover the cake with frosting, and then run a big blade of some kind that is larger than the short end of the cake across the top of the cake to flatten the frosting out so it is properly prepped for the image.

    I had the sheet pan, but I did not have ANY flat base whatsoever to turn the cake out onto. So the cake had to stay in the pan where the sides come up higher than the cake. This makes it impossible to trim the top of the cake flat and also makes one easy sweep of a large blade across the frosting on top impossible. Moreover, I didn’t have a large blade. I had a curvy butter knife.

    Cue an unbelievably long evening backfilling, scraping, glopping, and swearing in an effort to get the $!@%# frosting some passable approximation of flat.

    What you went through with your dirt sounds like the devil watched me make that cake and decided he could take it up a notch.

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Haha! Count me as someone with a new appreciation for a well-executed sheet cake!!

  37. 7.26.18
    Jennifer I said:

    Why does dirt cost so much? I had a landslide this past year, and it is more economical to build a huge frickin wall than bring in all the dirt we would need to grade it properly. I completely get what you are saying, it is so discouraging to spend all that money and not feel like you are getting anything out of it. (Yeah, at the end of all my spending I have….a hill.)

  38. 7.26.18
    Sayonada Thomas said:

    Reading this was made me both laugh and want to cry out of exhaustion for you!

  39. 7.26.18
    Amy said:

    Was thinking halfway through, “I wonder if he’s thought of municipal compost, which in central Illinois goes for pretty cheap” when LO AND BEHOLD! Always enjoy your blog, especially how you manage to make such mundane things like back-breaking work seem so fascinating. Keep it up!

    On a separate note, have you though about 1) produce garden 2) fruit trees 3) at-home composting 4) AQUAPONICS? Personally most interested in #3 though currently living in NYC so that might have to remain a pinterest-only idea for now. The at-home compost though, would give you an easy way to get rid of yard and kitchen waste (aka, less smelly garbage) and black gold at the end (aka beautiful blooms)!

    Always the highlight of my day to see a new post. Excited to see how the backyard progresses! Keep up the work!

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Ha! Why didn’t you tell me about the municipal compost??? :)

      1. Yes! I’ve since created some space to grow veggies and herbs! This summer I have tomatoes, broccoli, bell pepper, eggplants, basil, parsley, tarragon, lavender, collard greens, romaine, cucumbers, and chard! So much fun and way more satisfying than moving dirt! Strawberries have been a fail, unfortunately.
      2. Not really, mostly because I have visions of a bunch of rotted fruit all over the ground. Oddly, there was a type of peach actually discovered (bred? created?) in MY YARD back around the turn of the century (named for the then-owners of the house!), so if those trees still exist I’d absolutely plant one!
      3. Yes! I have a tumbling composter where food waste goes (I think it’s this one!, sometimes leaves and stuff but it’s not very big so I still put most yard waste out on the curb. I think the veggies I’ve grown have benefited a lot from it!
      4. Omg sounds hard and complicated, haha!

  40. 7.26.18

    This made me laugh and I found myself nodding in agreement while I was reading. My mum has this saying – “sand is misleading”. I didn’t really understand until I bought my first home but wow do I totally get it now. I look at a dip in the earth and think “that’ll probably take about 10 buckets of sand to fill”. 100 buckets later … sand is misleading. xx

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Ha! Stealing that! Thanks, Kate’s mom!

  41. 7.26.18
    Jenni said:

    I’ve never taken the time to comment before, but I want to give you some motivation in the form of feel-good feedback from an internet stranger. I’ve been reading your blog since you very first started it, back in your little NY apartment. Your blog is my favorite of all the blogs. I will gladly read an entire post about moving dirt as long as it’s written in your wickedly talented writing style. The money and effort (holy shit, the effort!) you’ve put into this yard so far may be insane, but I have no doubt the final after will be unbelievably impressive. At the very least, you can have a good story and a very very enormous level of pride. Keep up the awesome work.

    p.s. My heartfelt condolences on the loss of your little Linus. You wrote him a beautiful tribute. He was lucky to have found himself as good a human as you.

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Aw, thank you so much Jenni. *hearts*

  42. 7.26.18
    Brandi said:

    I love your blog. It represents the true reality of diy on a budget. My husband and I have been working on our house for 11 years while working full time and raising two kids. We still aren’t finished but it’s a house and location we enjoy. We are almost finished with the interior but still have work on the exterior. We had to level our one acre lot, with three dump truck loads of free dirt dropped next to our driveway. I’m sure our neighbors thought we were crazy for doing all that work with a wheelbarrow, shovel, and rake. One day, hopefully before the move into the nursing home , we will be finished. Keep up the hard work. Your house looks great!

  43. 7.26.18
    Moira said:

    Long-time lurker popping in to say I really feel your pain. Having spent the past two summers digging out a foot of stone the previous owners had laid down around the entire house over a 40-year period…. a pox on the ‘inventor’ of stone mulch I say and power to the restorers of nature!

    • 7.29.18
      Nancy said:

      Moira, could they have put in a French Drain ( You might want to investigate, as taking it out may lead to water problems along your foundation.
      Best wishes!
      Daniel, thank you for posting! Seeing something new on your blog always makes me smile in anticipation :o) Pace yourself and always schedule in some down time to relax and refresh, okay?

  44. 7.26.18
    greta said:

    “I hate that thing with the fire of a thousand suns.” This is hilarious. But, I absolutely love your black fence and really bare dirt doesn’t’ look all that bad next to it! I am not kidding. Consider a big play area. A volleyball pit, a mini golf course. Or one of those desert type set ups. A huge garden is always a huge effort. And you have lovely plants in the front and side yards.

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      It’s funny, having a dirt yard really taught me the value of GRASS! The weeds here can get super crazy without anything planted, and dog paws are amazing at tracking in dirt and sand if there’s no grass planted! Who knew! I’ll be maintaining a fair amount of the backyard for just grassy areas for the dog(s), and anything else will have to be hearty enough to get squished by rambunctious dog paws. They don’t have a lot of respect for a delicate flower bed!

  45. 7.26.18
    Ali said:

    I feel your pain (a little). When I bought my house seven years ago the backyard was covered in random leanto sheds, giant trees and gross bricks that had been used as pavers. Spent over 5000 removing trees, many weekend pulling down sheds and smashing up the concrete flooring of the sheds and removing tons of bricks and just as things get to the fun stage of actually planting some stuff, I’ve decided to sell and move closer to the city. No doubt I’ll end up buying something equally hellish because i will see its potential.

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Are we the same?! Haha! I’m sure the next person will appreciate the massive head start you gave them!!

  46. 7.26.18
    Kelly said:

    I mean, at least you didn’t have to go to the gym that summer, LOL! Great job! The yard will be gorgeous one day and worth the effort!! Hilarious, as usual!

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Haha, I’m pretty sure I canceled my membership during this project!

  47. 7.27.18
    Linda said:

    Where did that saying “dirt cheap” come from anyway? As it said on the t-shirt of a man delivering a huge truck of dirt to our place: “Dirt Ain’t Cheap”.

  48. 7.27.18
    Lottie said:

    Loved this! Just wonderful! I’ll think about this when I’m digging in the dirt next time!

  49. 7.27.18
    Linda said:

    So now that you have put in the time and backbreaking work, how much money did you save vs having it delivered? And could they have used one of those long chutes to get it into your back yard rather than leave a gigantic mound in your driveway? Hopefully this fall you can get a couple of trees planted. Good luck

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Oh god, I don’t even know how to answer that! The municipal compost doesn’t have a delivery option, so I guess I saved a good amount if you compare what I spent to the price per yard of the higher quality topsoil from a landscape supply place, plus the number of deliveries they would have had to make to bring in as much soil as I ended up hauling. I’ve never seen soil/mulch delivered with a chute (like for concrete?), so I don’t know. I think it’s probably best we don’t think about it too hard, hahaha!

  50. 7.27.18
    Pam Reed said:

    I love hearing all about everything you do – when a post from you appears in my Reader I take a breath, pour a cup of coffee and sit down for a proper read. I’ll happily read whatever you write about!

  51. 7.27.18
    nella said:

    What a huge accomplishment, truly!

  52. 7.27.18
    Janis said:

    You are such an amazing writing. The wit had me grinning like a Cheshire Cat. And indeed gardens are …. a lot of work and never done!

  53. 7.27.18
    Niki LaRock said:

    We’re in the same boat! Being in Connecticut, I am with you all the way with the muggy and hot summer days and trying to do everything in the morning/evening times. Unfortunately, both days we worked on our landscaping were the most muggiest and hot days we’ve had. We have just under an acre. Our backyard is flat and boring and the side of the house had this overgrown jungle of landscaping. We had one advantage that you don’t, but I highly recommend. My husband is a contractor/furniture maker/can do anything home-related and he bartered with a family member of ours who is a landscaper! He’s putting new windows in his house and he’s helping us with the jungle.

  54. 7.27.18
    April said:

    What a great post! My husband and I are on a similar journey–moved from NYC to the Hudson Valley (Poughkeepsie) and are renovating our house. This is our “back yard” year too, and I can totally relate. For us, instead of removing a concrete paving area, we are dealing with Japanese Knotweed, one of the most invasive species. We’ve made SOME inroads, but the constant rain over the past couple of weeks have brought back our nemesis with a vengeance. Anyway, we are currently in the middle of the “dirt delivery and hand spreading” phase, although we did pay for someone to drop a dump truck full, then we carted it to the back yard by hand in our small wheelbarrow. Seeing your level playing field gives me hope that one day soon, our yard will be level too! Just a few more hundred hours of ripping out nasty knotweed, shoveling, and raking. I was wondering–how many pink lines did you put up to make sure everything was level? I keep thinking the spots I worked on are level until it rains and shows low points with puddles. Ugh!

    • 7.27.18
      Daniel said:

      Ugh I know, the weeds have been crazy!! I think I did the twine about every 8 feet or so, but they were only really helpful to a point…seeing where water collected after heavy rains probably helped more! I also recall drilling holes in the ends of a 4×4 post, tying sash cord to each end, and dragging it behind me around the yard toward the end of this. But it definitely is a process…rain is helpful for compacting and seeing where you still need to build up (and ALSO discouraging, ha!), and I still have low points as things have settled down, but smaller and so I just try to deposit any extra soil in those areas when I’m planting other stuff. It makes for a really patchy lawn right now, but hopefully a nicer one long term!

  55. 7.27.18
    sweetfe said:

    Wow! That is a lot of dirt! You need some plants. Hydrangea grow pretty quickly. I saw a blog post somewhere about splitting the ones you get at Lowes to double your money and plant goodness. You might want to look for someone in your neighborhood with lush plants and ask them what is native and grows fast? Even if you managed to plant a few things along your fence I think your yard would look much better. Also…bulbs this fall. They propagate. They bloom beautifully! There are places that sell hundreds of them for under 50 bucks. Good luck!

  56. 7.28.18
    Kim said:

    Although I understand the desire to not deal with grass, I will NEVER understand why someone thought asphalting over the entire back yard was a good idea. I can do nothing but applaud you for getting rid of that eyesore, even if the alternative is the mud patch, LOL. I can’t believe you moved that much dirt a trailer-ful at a time and that you also make it so fun to read about!

  57. 7.28.18
    NestFan said:

    In the total of how much you are spending on your house, a few thousand for replacing the asphalt with dirt will seem well worth it when you finally have a fully planted backyard and beautiful garden. Maybe it already does – your vegetable garden sounds lovely. I so much enjoy eating primarily from the city farmers markets in the summer, but to have a garden with vegetables would be amazing to this city dweller with no yard.

    And really, if you removed asphalt and 20 trucks of gravel, well surely somewhere in your mind a part of you may have known you would have to replace it with just as much, or more, dirt. Denial is a healthy thing for the DIY mind, though – otherwise one would never get started with DIY projects.

    Now, if you had asked your readers about your vehicle choice in advance, you’d have a pickup truck. Not only on the advice from the other home and yard restorers who comment – even those of us who aren’t engaged in such projects see you clearly as the guy who hauls stuff around for your house – the SUV and trailer sound like someone’s idea of an wealthy, middle-aged, city professional doing a few DIY projects on their country house, needing the SUV for status in the city – and that’s not you. I second the idea to get rid of them both and get a pickup truck! More decades ago than I care to state, a friend of mine bought an old classic Toyota pickup, and I loved driving that truck on road trips!

    The mention of Bluestone! – finished and rented or sold? still in progress? sold off while still only partially finished? (The last wouldn’t be your style, as you are clearly a glutton for renovation hell.) Your readership waits to be enlightened on Bluestone’s status.

  58. 7.28.18
    Lori said:

    Hahahahaahaha….omg. Oh, Daniel.

    I love this post for so many reasons. First, as a landscape professional, my god, I wish we were neighbors. I swear to god that there’s a specific subset of Murphy’s Law that involves fill dirt. I am not kidding. Whenever I have excess soil– good gardening soil– nobody wants it! Whenever I need cheap fill that’s not full of crap, nobody has it! And I cannot tell you how many neighbors I have gifted with excellent fill, to the point where we are, in my neighborhood– pardon the pun– filled to the brim.

    Knowing what I know now, in your situation, I would have immediately developed an obsession with koi ponds & their attendant depths and installed one, which would have solved your fill problems quite nicely (and dovetailed conveniently with that Bunny Williams inspo pic). In retrospect, just picture me laughing til I cry, as I remember all the dumb shit I did in my own yard as I maxed out the carrying capacity of a 2000 Camry & realized that bulk delivery was my friend.

    Also, with the wisdom of years & experience & if it’s helpful to people reading this: If you don’t want a mountain of loose soil dumped in your backyard, you can often get bulk delivery in this thing called “supersacks,” which come on pallets & each sack holds one cubic yard of material. This keeps your materials separate to be used at your leisure (say you need 3 yards of soil and 1 of pea gravel and 2 of compost), & maximizes the space where all this stuff will land bc each yard is delivered on a pallet, so you can shove a bunch of different stuff right next to each other (and it also cuts down on delivery costs to get a bunch of stuff delivered together– you can get up to 11 yards of supersacks delivered on one flatbed). Supersacks are usually twenty bucks a pop, but most places will give you a refund or a significant percentage back when you return the supersack to be reused. Yay, recycling!

    P.S. Daniel, if you’re seriously considering pea gravel, plz hit me up for install tips, bc badly installed pea gravel is the WORST THING EVER and one of my all time pet peeves.

    P.P.S. The next person who says “weed barrier” in a positive manner can fight me. Someone hold my earrings.

  59. 7.28.18
    Nicolette said:

    Ugh”¦backyards are sort of the worse! I also have an unusually large yard for my area (most my neighbors have second units) and it is all dirt! Nothing but dirt! Lucky for me my step dad has a tractor and graded it for me when I bough the place. But three years later”¦ still dirt. I’m planning a big remodel so I never wanted to do anything back there because it will all get undone during the remodel. This summer I got so annoyed with having an unusable back yard, I bought some super shitty fake grass, plastic rug things from world market and turned it into a “white trash summer wonderland” complete with an above ground pool from amazon. I could not be happier! As far as long term plans”¦ still at a total loss

  60. 7.28.18
    Stacey said:

    Daniel, I just love to read about all the effort you make restoring your home along with the beautiful results. Thank you for sharing. When I’m feeling uninspired and probably somewhat hopeless, I read your posts and am encouraged to keep on.
    Creating a lush beautiful landscape, especially in a large yard is a huge, expensive and time intensive undertaking. I would encourage you to start a nursery bed as simple as dumping a bag of compost over an area, mounding up a few simple raised beds then planting seeds and cuttings of plants you desire to have in the big picture. People love to share plants when they have to prune and control their own overgrowth. Aside from the individual plant’s requirements, you don’t have to over think it. Plants can be moved all over the place and most perennials actually take a few years to even reach a desirable size. So, start with a small patch and get your plantings started. When they outgrow the space, create another bed for them and so on. You will begin seeing tangible results very quickly. I truly admire what you do. Great job!!

  61. 7.28.18
    Stacey said:

    Also, meant to add this link, please check this out…

  62. 7.29.18
    Satu said:

    My looming dirt moving operation of 500 kilos now appears like a walk in the park Also, one would think a text about dirt would not make a very interesting read (though I am gaga about gardening), but this was so entertaining :D You have a true gift of word!

  63. 7.29.18
    emily jane said:

    I am laugh-crying!!!! and feeling each equally…You deserve an award (is there a Nobel Prize for home owners/DIY renovators..? There should be -so they can give it to YOU!).

  64. 7.29.18
    Kelly said:

    30 tons… you have serious dedication. I felt pretty good about moving a ton and a half of river rock from my front (where it had been dumped) to my back yard, and I had the benefit of a cold, rainy day. I think I would have left the muddy hole . I cannot wait to see how it turns out!

  65. 7.29.18
    Elizabeth Thorson said:

    NO NO NO to landscaping cloth. Wind blows dirt on it, weeds grow in the dirt and around the edges, and it will never go away. Instead, use newspaper under the mulch. 8-10 pages thick will block weeds for a long time, but eventually it will decompose and/or you can till it under. You have a lot of ground to cover but you really don’t want to have to try to remove landscaping cloth. Been there. It sucked.

  66. 7.30.18
    jenna said:

    See now, I would’ve been that one person totally cheering for the pickup truck. I love a small, sturdy pickup and think the old school Toyota Tacomas are the best thing ever. Next to the Chevy El Camino, of course. It is my dream to have a Camino with fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview.

  67. 7.30.18
    Joe said:

    Personally I don’t need pretty pictures every single time. A story like this is really interesting, and a good read. Glad you made the post.

  68. 7.30.18
    Celia said:

    Bless you. This is one of your funniest posts. Thanks and I will have so much more respect for dirt in the future.

  69. 7.30.18
    Rebecca A said:

    I just want to say that I have adored reading your blog for years and really love these progress stories. You don’t need shiny after photos – if anything, the internet feels littered with that crap now. I will continue to laugh at your wonderful prose for as long as you feel like sharing it! And as a psychologist, I was really touched by your post in which you discussed depression and perfectionism. I wish more internet role models would be like you.

  70. 7.31.18
    Laura C said:

    Pickup trucks are the best. My wife thought I was crazy when I insisted that we should get an old pickup to leave at our weekend house. She kept saying it was throwing money away on something we didn’t need. We use it all the time. Yard sales, dump runs, mulch, top soil, paddle boards, you name it – it has gone in the pickup. She now readily admits it was a good purchase. Squirrel some money away and buy a cheap used pickup. You’ll never regret it. Bonus – if it’s more than 25 years old, the insurance costs nothing.

  71. 8.1.18
    Bean said:

    I am so envious of your nice, (relatively) smooth, (relatively) even surface. You do not know how envious I am.

    DH decided to retire recently. Since we are living in a smallish house with no workshop other than the garage, I knew that we would soon be at one another’s throats. I suddenly thought: “what a good idea it would be to buy a house–the ugliest house in the nicest neighborhood–for DH to fix up for us to spend retirement in.” In part, I blame you–for making the process seem engaging.

    Oh, and when I say it is the ugliest house in the nicest neighborhood–please put emphasis on “ugliest”–because it is (the neighborhood is, however, very nice).

    Among many other amusing things, the previous tenants (the owner was renting to family) turned a perfectly lovely 1/2 acre pond into a dump. With tree, and stumps, and Panasonic TVs, and a whole mess of really thick wire (spools and spools) which we do not know what it was used for–all of it tangled up together. It is so bad that the guy with the bulldozer couldn’t pick it up and get it into the dump trucks. They did remove some of the mess–but we have spools and spools of thick wire to remove ourselves (they gave up–yes, it is that bad).

    We have to take a sample in to see if it is toxic in some way–perhaps if it is not, the metal recycle place will take our ton(s) of thick wire which we will have to remove by hand, cutting it into pieces we can handle, and hauling it off in the pickup truck (admittedly, we do have a pickup truck, and I am sorry you do not). If it is toxic, then maybe the state will help us track down the people who created an illegal dump. I am not sure which I prefer–the weeks of labor or the months of legal wrangling.

    But, yes–very, very, very envious of having asphalt and gravel to remove and tons of dirt to shift. It is beautiful now. Ah, well, in the end we will have the pond back–and maybe stock it to give DH a place to go fishing.

  72. 8.3.18
    Ann said:

    If I ever win the lottery I plan to buy an old truck. The kind that’s tattered and beaten and that you would never feel guilty about tossing bricks directly into the bed, or hauling manure, or loading it with all sorts of junk for a dump run. The kind of truck you can lend to your friends and the dent they make is just one more of the many already there. A truck with Character. It would definitely have a name. My neighbor sold an old truck a while back and says it was a terrible decision, that she misses the truck daily.

  73. 8.3.18
    Annette said:

    hoping that you’ll enjoy reading about dirt just as much as writing about it

  74. 8.4.18
    Orson said:

    Now go and listen to the song “16 Tons” and appreciate it more than ever before.

  75. 8.15.18
    991sqft said:

    Ooof! Our dirt saga is about to start soon. Currently getting quotes for a load(s) of topsoil dropped off in our driveway, then the 278+ wheelbarrow trips back and forth will begin. We can’t wait… :-/

  76. 8.15.18
    Christine said:

    You are a trooper. DON’T GIVE UP!!

  77. 8.16.18
    Michelle said:

    Thank you for making a post about moving dirt so entertaining! But hang in there! It’ll be worth it in the end when you have a garden like Bunny William’s. :)

  78. 8.20.18
    AM said:

    I’ve read this post multiple times and I’ve LOLed EVERY TIME! I often feel like an insane person for buying a fixer-upper property and spending my spare time doing physical labor in order to very, very, very slowly make it marginally better. Or maybe not “better” but “neutral,” as in it won’t give passers-by a tic looking at it and if I, heaven-forbid, have visitors who come inside, their eyes won’t immediately start bleeding upon entering the front door. Thank you for making me feel like I’m in good company. :)

  79. 8.21.18
    Alice said:

    Hilarious ! But strange. In France you can get dirt for free on Le Bon Coin, the equivalent of american Craigslist.

  80. 8.24.18
    eliza d said:

    This is such a potent metaphor for anything in life. You have to get that dirt shoveled. It’s hard, thankless, and will cost maybe a shit-ton of money and certainly several shit-tons of effort, but each shovel is a step towards better things. Damn. I think it’s definitely my low point in life talking but this post hit my emotions a lot harder than any blog post about shoveling dirt should have.

  81. 8.29.18
    Nicole said:

    When I was a kid, my dad spent a summer excavating 29 trailer loads of clay-rich soil from our backyard, by shovel. He was young and strong and didn’t know when he started just how much work there was ahead of him. I told him about your efforts and he was very impressed. He reckons, “It’s still the stupidest thing I’ve ever done and been proud of.” I’m certain that 30 years from now, you’ll probably feel the same way. What an accomplisment.