To say our backyard was full of rocks is like saying the Grand Canyon is “kinda deep”

And saying that “my hands are a little sore” today is like saying “our backyard is full of rocks”

I rented a tiller late Friday night and cranked ‘er up in the backyard early Saturday morning. I think I may have used one years ago, but I had no memory of the fact that it’s every bit as abusive to your hands and arms and back as a jackhammer. Brutal. I could barely make a fist by the end of Saturday. Maybe last time I was using it on already fairly loose soil, but this time, it was compacted, hard, 100% settled dirt, much of which was hard clay.

In 2-3 hours of jaawwwww-shaaaaakkkkking-vibbbbbbraaaaations, I had both sections of the yard on either side of the paver walk tilled up and turned over.

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That turned out to be the easy part of the job.

The second half of Saturday was spent fishing rocks out of the soil turned up by the tiller. And then fishing out more rocks. And then finding more rocks. (Most of which came from breaking up the old driveway, of course.)

After too long spent climbing on my hands and knees grabbing big rocks and throwing them in buckets, I finally realized I should create a more efficient way to get the rocks out, so I built a little screening box out of old 2x4s and window screening so I could toss in handfuls/shovelfuls of soil and then shake out the dirt and put the rocks in a bin.

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I used a rake to sweep up rocks on the top of the soil into piles (along with tons of soil, of course), and then shoveled those big piles into the box. After about (no joke) 100 times of filling the box, shaking it out, and pouring the rocks out, I had three large totes, several buckets and empty plant pots full of rocks.

And hurts in parts where I didn’t know I had parts.

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With most of the rocks out — I could keep picking them out for weeks and still not get them all — I mixed in some peat moss and topsoil into both areas and leveled everything out. I also finished the drainage pipe from last weekend with the last joint I needed to connect the flexible pipe that goes to the alley with the end of the PVC pipe. With that done, I could finally bury the last of the pipe.

Of course, after watering the ground on Saturday evening, more rocks had come to the surface Sunday, so I went out and did yet a few more passes over the yard to get up the worst of them.

At the end of the day Sunday, the yard was completely ready for grass — which is coming on Tuesday!

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(How it looked before the paver walk went in, before the weeds came up this spring.)

Backyard aerial after fence

There’s something pretty about the freshly tilled and leveled yard full of dirt, eh? I kept looking out the window and admiring it all weekend.

And in perfect timing, it’s raining almost all day here in DC, which will fill up the empty rain barrel and saturate the soil probably far more than I’d even need to properly prep the soil. Perfect.

For the grass, we’ve decided to go with Meyer Zoysia, which we got very familiar with living in Arkansas where it seemed almost every new home there had Zoysia. It’s a super hardy grass that obliterates weeds, spreads fast, needs little mowing, requires less water than others, can sustain partial shade, and goes completely dormant in the winter when it turns evenly brown. We most want our grass to be green and soft in the spring, summer and fall when we’re most likely to be using it, and are fine with it going brown all winter long.

Meyer Zoysia

On the recommendation of our RiverSmart contractor, I found a turf farm out in Poolesville in the lowlands by the Potomac that sells Zoysia in sod (as opposed to plugs which can take a season or two to propagate.)

Summit Hall Turf Farm has been excellent and I’d recommend them to any of you looking for sod or plugs in the DC area. We were going to rent a Ziptruck and go out to pick up the turf, but I discovered they could deliver it for less than the price of the rental. It’s coming on Tuesday and hopefully I’ll be able to get it installed Tuesday evening after work. (After ordering, they sent me a nice packet of info on installation and care and feeding of Zoysia for the first few years. Great service.)

Come Wednesday, we’ll have grass in this yard. Can’t wait.

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