Second Interlude

Now for a brief interlude whereupon I learn more about earth anchors than I ever wanted to and hurt myself the second time.

Upon ordering the shelters I asked about anchoring them since the other company mentioned it and I was sent the following image, and that was it.

I started searching for earth anchors or earth augers as they are also called and discovered an overwhelming amount of options. Luckily I found a very helpful company, Milspec Anchors, with several very helpful employees. I described the application – anchoring large 3-sided shelters; the environmental conditions – heavy clay soil and very windy; and our available equipment – none. It turns out the round helix at the end of an earth anchor isn’t just to hold them in place once they are in the ground, they also help actively pull the anchor into the ground once you get that part below the surface. They make some anchors with a double helix so the smaller one can help pull the larger one into the ground. Considering our heavy clay soil and no machinery to help us they recommended a double helix anchor and we went with this one. They also had a super helpful tip to dig out a hole about a foot deep first and water the hole before we tried to get the anchors into the ground. Moist clay is much easier to work with than dry clay (think of the soft clay you worked with in art class versus a brick). Getting the hole in the right place and the right amount of water took some fine tuning – but overall a VERY helpful tip!

Now we had to install the anchors, which was easier said than done. We quickly realized that we had no actual tool for turning the anchors and our own strength wasn’t sufficient once we got past that very top layer of wet clay. After messing around a bit with whatever I could find in the garage (not much) I went to my new favorite hardware store on the planet LeVahn Brothers. I cannot overstate how amazingly helpful they have been, not just with this project but several others. You walk in and are immediately greeted by someone who is genuinely knowledgeable and helpful and if there happens to be something they don’t know they find the person who does know to help you. I explained what we were trying to do – getting giant augers buried three feet in the ground with no machinery, oh and there is a structure right up next to where we are working – and we decided our best option was a crowbar. The crowbar helped, but being right next to the shelter made it so much harder because we couldn’t make a full circle, at best we could get a half-turn before we’d have to shift the crowbar and do another half turn. It was a maddeningly slow process, though we did improve on our methods a bit; at first we were completely pulling the crowbar out and repositioning it but we figured out a method for just sliding the crowbar back and forth. Still painfully slow and sometimes the ground just got too hard and we had to stop and water it a bit or have the other person come and push down on the anchor using a block of wood while the other one turned it because the helix just wasn’t up to the task of pulling itself down through our ridiculous soil. If you have ideas for how to do this better we’d love to hear them because at some point we’re going to have to un-anchor the shelters, move them, and re-anchor them and I would really like to have a better process for doing this. Though we do have one helpful tip of our own – put something, in our case we used cardboard, between your shelter and your crowbar so you don’t scratch it all up. You can see how beat up the cardboard got, it was also nice to mark the cardboard to see progress because there were many times when it felt like we were just spinning our wheels, or in this case anchors, and nothing was happening.

There are six anchor points for each shelter so we had twelve anchors to hand screwed into the ground, a process that involved repetitive combinations of twisting while pushing or pulling with my dominant wrist. The wrist that was diagnosed with mild carpal tunnel back in 2019. Let me tell you it doesn’t feel mild anymore. Despite night braces and exercises my wrist was pretty useless after the first two or three anchors so Nate had to do much of the work of actually screwing the anchors into the ground and I was relegated to digging and watering the holes and pushing down on the wood block when they just wouldn’t go farther. Unfortunately, my wrist still hasn’t recovered. It doesn’t help that everything I have to do – typing, writing, cooking, cleaning (something had to go) aggravates that wrist and anchoring the shelters coincided with me prepping for both of my summer classes so there was a lot of typing and writing happening at the same time. I’m still doing my hand and wrist exercises and wearing a brace at night and now also during the day but my wrist still isn’t over its proverbial meltdown which has complicated many aspects of my normal day job of teaching plus all the work we’ve been doing to get Leeloo home.

One other thing that is still complicating the anchoring of the shelters are the giant pieces of wood bracing along the bottom front of the second shelter – we still haven’t been able to get them all off. They used these huge screws and a star shaped bit that we didn’t have. Back to LeVahn Brothers! We took pictures of what we were dealing with and they got us the proper bit but our very old hand-me-down drill from my father was just not up to the task. We wound up getting a new drill and an impact driver. Which worked – for most of them. We got one of the boards off completely and were able to put in the second to last anchor, but there are still three bolts that are stripped and the bit just spins in them. Another trip to LeVahn brothers got us a long metal blade for our reciprocating saw, but unfortunately we still haven’t been able to get through that last bolt. And of course the blade is designed for metal so it didn’t work great on the wood itself when in a fit of frustration we decided to just cut the wood off – we had to abort that effort midway because we had to meet someone to go get some hay. So technically there is still one more anchor that needs to get screwed in, but eleven are in and need to get attached to the shelters themselves. Back to LeVahn Brothers (we should consider buying stock at this point). After contemplating a lot of options, we decided to go with chain links that loop through both the anchor and the bolt in the shelter and then are bolted together with a bolt, washer, and nut. This would allow us to adjust for the different distances (getting the anchors to line up just right with the bolts in the shelter was tricky), remove them, and then reuse them once the shelters get moved.

The anchoring itself wound up being a much bigger expense than I ever expected and took far more time and energy than I had expected. Now that I know the anchoring costs and can factor them in it turns out that the West Wind shelters per square foot prices were comprable to the RFC Portable prices. Add in the time involved, and had we not needed to maximize square footage the West Wind Shelters may have been the better choice.  

There is one anchor issue though yet to be resolved – how do I keep my accident prone horse from injuring herself on these:

I have not been able to think of an idea that won’t in and of itself be an accident waiting to happen or be too easy for the horses to remove. Suggestions?

First Interlude

Now for a brief interlude whereupon I hurt myself (the first time) and contemplate murder (of rodent kind)

Looking at overhead shots of land is all well and good, but I needed to actually get out and walk the yard to visualize the swirling thoughts in my head and decide if this was really possible. I walked and stood around a lot by myself thinking – which from the outside looks like you’re just staring off into space for long periods of time – I’m sure the neighbors thought I had lost my mind. Then I took Nate out and walked him around while I explained what I was thinking.

During said walks the ridiculous bumpy, lumpy, holey nature of our “yard” fully came into focus for me. A little side note about our so-called yard. The house was built in the middle of a corn field. At the time the farmer hadn’t left quite as much bare space as we had asked for so before we could build we had to physically knock down quite a few almost mature corn stalks so the surveyors could properly site the house. However, our contract only stipulated grading directly around the house and septic system, not the rest of the giant front yard, and we didn’t have any provisions for grass or sod. That meant when we moved in April 2019 we had a giant front space full of rutted up dirt and last year’s corn stalks and nothing else. We frantically planted grass but had to leave much of it because the septic system hadn’t been put in yet and we didn’t know exactly where it was going to go which meant the weeds took over VERY quickly. That lead to goats and all sorts of fun (see the Facebook Group LanternFarm page to learn more about the goats), but we did eventually get a “yard” of sorts that is green and mowable. Is it grass? No. Can the people driving by at 60 mph tell that? Also no. The following summer all those mostly mature corn cobs that got buried just under the surface of the yard suddenly become the most enticing thing in the world to the racoons who live in the area and they proceed to dig them up leaving giant holes scattered everywhere to go with the tractor tire ruts. Then the following summer a family of chipmunks UPDATE – turns out they are thirteen-lined ground squirrels decided the loosely packed dirt along the buried powerline is super easy to dig out and so they have a turnkey home just waiting for them to move into. Now we have ground squirrel holes to go with the racoon made holes to go with the tractor tire ruts – PGA quality it is not. Nate and I don’t do anything outside other than yardwork so we haven’t cared and haven’t dealt with it. But now I’m bringing my accident-prone horse home and am about to let her loose in my pot-hole filled yard. This is a vet bill waiting to happen.  How do I flatten my terrible yard and get the ground squirrels to leave?

The internet has many suggestions, most of them impractical (we will not be digging up the entire yard, regrading it, and replanting all the grass – we have neither the time nor the money for such an endeavor). One suggestion did seem doable even if I wasn’t confident it would work. A lawn roller.  The internet has mixed reviews of this option, and my overall sense was that it depended on the type of soil you have and when you try to roll it. If the ground isn’t soft enough, it won’t do anything at all; if it is too soft, you’re just going to get stuck – and some people insist it won’t ever work no matter what. Not wanting to invest money into something that might not work I decided to rent one from Menards first and test it out. This was a great idea in theory, but the timing was tricky. I needed to find a window of time when the ground was soft, but not too soft, and I had time to go to Menards, pick this thing up, drive it around my yard, clean it off, and then return it. Finding such a perfect convergence took longer than I wanted and even then the day I did it wasn’t ideal because Nate had a thing scheduled so I absolutely had to be done by a certain time so he could help me get it back in the car.

Let’s talk a little more about what a lawn roller is for those of you not familiar. It is a large steel cylinder that you fill with water to make super heavy and then drag it around your yard like a giant rolling pin. I had finished up as much as I was going to be able to do and needed to drain the water, clean it off, so we could load it into my car and the clock was ticking. I park the lawnmower and see that the drain plug is too low to get out. I go back and move the lawnmower up a bit only to overcorrect and now its hiding behind the frame; but it’s only off by a few inches and I don’t want to unhook it because I’ll need the lawnmower to roll it back to the bottom. I decided I can just move this myself. This giant, water-filled, steel lawn roller that is attached to my lawnmower. I got this! I did not, in fact, have it. I did manage to move it the few inches I needed, but at the expense of my back. It did not help that I proceeded to do a bunch of other physical things including wrestling the roller back into my car and then back out of my car. This led to two weeks of being laid up in the house in constant pain while the weather outside was gloriously perfect. I was not happy. I’ll post more about my ongoing back issues and how they have mostly (except in the case of my own sheer stupidity) gotten better.

During my time of enforced inaction, I spent a lot of time staring out the window being annoyed and saw that f***ing ground squirrels and his family digging horse killing holes all over the yard (second update, also turns out that the really big holes aren’t the ground squirrels but the snakes that hunt them – super fun!). *Shakes fist angrily* Get off my lawn! I started researching how to get rid of chipmunks. The internet was again full of lots of ideas, most of which seemed like crap. I tried a variety of non-lethal options first, including scents to scare them away like used kitty litter. I didn’t however wind up purchasing any commercial products. They either listed only a few active ingredients (2%) and everything else was just “other” (98%) and now that all our water is well water I am waaaaaay more cautious about what I put on the lawn (what goes on the lawn winds up in my water and I’m not drinking a bunch of unknown ingredients); or they were things that would be bad for Leeloo too. Unfortunately the used kitty litter and the like did not work. This meant we had to go into lethal options. I considered live-trapping, but where exactly was I going to take these critters and in what vehicle? By this time I was pretty frustrated so rodent murder it was. One of the options I had found online seemed kind of ridiculous but had the benefit of being cheap and best of all involved no poison of any kind (see previous statement about well water, putting poison all over the yard seems like a bad time). The plan – get a large bucket, fill it half-full with water, sprinkle sunflower seeds on top, and create a ramp up to it; the chipmunks see the sunflower seeds, think they found some sort of jackpot, jump in, and drown. Yes, I felt really, really, bad about this and it took me several days before I actually tried it. But every time I looked at those holes I thought, if my horse steps in one and breaks her leg she’s dead. Either my horse dies, or the chipmunks (ground squirrels) die, one of them has got to go. So, I put out my bucket and waited. It took a few days, but all total I managed to take out three ground squirrels! Which by the way are much bigger than you’d think (because they weren’t chipmunks they were ground squirrels!). I did feel bad, but Leeloo is more important and there are ground squirrels everywhere. Including possibly back in our yard because something has just started re-digging out some of the holes!