Curbed and Contained

Design and implementation issues to be solved — I won’t call them problems — revolve in the back of my brain sometimes for months. I know they exist, but it isn’t necessary to solve the issue yet and other things, more pressing, need full attention. So there they remain, revolving slowly, soaking in marinade like chickens on a rotisserie in the deli section of a supermarket.

The most recent chicken to come to the forefront of the rotisserie was the matter of what to do under the containers. I liked the idea of doing nothing, as it fits our budget perfectly. But that would create an excellent habitat for creepy-crawlies, slitherers, and all manner of weeds. Armando suggested that we could perform routine herbicide spraying, but that doesn’t fit into Cynthia’s and my idea of fun or a natural habitat. So now the ideas begin to get a bit more expensive, the goal being to limit the bleeding of money.

I like the look of small crushed stones, not that they will be seen very much once plantings are established around the house. I put them in a driveway back in the States and they served really well. The stones have good drainage, too, probably the best design option for our needs. But needing 25 yards at $30 per yard, I can’t bring myself to throw $750 under the house just to keep snakes at bay. Also, it would have to be hauled up the mountain using a significant amount of diesel.

Armando and I bounced ideas back and forth, from the absurd of pouring a concrete slab, to the popular but equally absurd Do Nothing solution. We finally settled on river run sand and gravel (cascada). This option is much less expensive at $14 per yard, easy to obtain locally, easy to move and put in place, and provides fairly good drainage. Sand actually holds much more moisture than stones because there is less space and more surface tension between the grains, allowing capillary action to happen. But it won’t be raining under the containers so the moisture will be limited. (I once read about a high rise building that had a terrible problem with water leaking through the sidewalls around the windows whenever it rained. The negative pressure inside the building was actually sucking the moisture in. A clever consultant earned a good paycheck by suggesting re-doing the flashing, increasing the space between the flashing and the building from 1/4″ to 3/4″; the capillary action problem was solved.)

We also decided that a layer of black plastic sheeting placed on the ground before the cascada was spread would be a good idea. This would keep the weeds from growing up through the cascada.

Then we thought about how we were going to keep the grass and weeds from creeping horizontally from the yard to under the house, and how to keep the cascada from migrating out into the yard. A row of concrete blocks? A row of M2 Styrofoam panels stuccoed like we did for the fence wall? Finally we settled on the simple idea of digging a ditch around the perimeter of the containers and assembling forms and pouring a concrete curb. In the future it would be easy for Armando to use the weed whacker to trim the grass right up to the curb.

So that is what we did. We stretched some strings and the guys started digging. I followed with the form work, reusing the 1″x3″ pine boards that we made the batter boards out of. When they finished the entire perimeter, they started mixing and pouring concrete. When I ran out of wood, their first sections of concrete had set up, so I could strip the forms and leap frog ahead to my next section. We (three men and I) accomplished the entire curbing project in just two days. I am having difficulty standing up, but the job is done.

When we finished, Armando and I stepped back and enjoyed seeing the progress; it was as if we had connected the dots of the columns with the lines of the curbing.

While this was happening, we had twelve yards of cascada delivered, another 12 will arrive tomorrow, and we can get going on spreading it on top of the black plastic.

In the meantime, I am off to Panama City tomorrow in search of steel plate stock for the tops of the columns. After all the rain during the rainy season, I really like how the project is moving along. Here are some photos:

Abdiel fills the forms with concrete. You can see some of the completed curbing in the background.

Armando follows, smoothing the concrete into the forms. Note the 12 yards of cascada at the left of the photo.

While he waits for more concrete from Abdiel, Armando goes back and runs the edger over the setting concrete. Like the Energizer Bunny, Manuelito mixed concrete non-stop for two days.

Next: Spread the cascada and install the septic system. Stay tuned…

2 thoughts on “Curbed and Contained

  1. I used black plastic under bark under the eves of the house it worked till dirt and water filtered down then stuff started growing. Later was told to use fiber cloth that lets water through or it would do the sam thing under the pavers I was putting in.

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