We finally have a back yard!
After one year and nine months of waiting, the girls have finally been allowed to run around in the grass. We had no idea it would be such a project to get the yard ready, but it is so nice to have a quiet, clean, safe place for them to run around. These are the steps we went through to clean it up:
1. Chris cut down some of the brush. There was a huge overgrown shrub in the center of the yard when we moved in, as well as the metal awning, a 300 lb stone sink covered in ugly ceramic tiles, a long cement walkway, chain link fence and rat burrows (!). We soon discovered that the soil was full of broken glass, metal and trash from the last 100 years. We were naive about what it would take to get rid of the rats and trash (and hadn’t noticed them when we inspected the house). We spent many nights wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into.
2. Get rid of the rats. After many calls to 311 to deal with open trash next door (I love NYC!) and many visits by the exterminator on our side, the rats vacated. At one point Chris and I devised an insane concrete/rebar fence to barricade ourselves from the rats. Luckily, the other methods worked first. This felt like a HUGE relief and victory!
3. Chris builds a soil-sifter out of screens, wood and a wheelbarrow and begins to sift through the soil to remove glass and trash. He uncovers tons of marbles, broken mantles, flagstone, rusty metal, broken and intact bottles and a tiny Frozen Charlotte doll head.
4. In the fall we hire fence builders to clear brush, remove most of the cement path, cut down trees, remove the metal awning and replace the chain link with a white cedar fence. The change is amazing! After three days and a big trash truck full of debris removed, the back yard and fence look so much better! By removing the metal awning, so much more light came into the kitchen. The beautiful fence finally gave us a sense of privacy. The fence has two gates, so we can leave our yard through our neighbors’ yards should we need to, and the cedar smells amazing.
5. Chris continues to remove trash with the soil-sifter. He and ‘Uncle Frank’ rent a truck and bring 3 more tons (!) of trash to the transfer station. They come home with a plan to start a scrap metal business.
6. We move the few shrubs we saved to the back corner of the yard, plant bulbs and wait for spring.
7. Our spring bulbs start to come up and we plant our first family tree.
8. We make and bury our family time capsule in the back corner of the yard.
9. After much deliberation, we decide to hire a company to lay sod down in the back instead of doing it ourselves. We initially had trouble finding a company that would work with such a small yard, but finally ended up using Kings County Nursery in Brooklyn. They were right down the road from us and showed up a super-quick 30 minutes after I called for an estimate. They were very reasonable and did the job in under two hours. We opted out of using the standard pest control and root stimulators (both chemical) for the sod. Although our soil looked rich, we are trying to amend it after years of mistreatment and did not want to add any other chemicals to the yard. The pesticide that sod companies use to control grubs is usually Sevin. Sevin is known to be dangerous to both children and native insects such as honeybees. Although the nursery assured us that Sevin would only be used under the sod, we did not feel comfortable adding it to our back yard. We felt confident that the birds that make daily visits to our back yard, the earthworms in the soil and the rich brown dirt back there would make the sod happy without adding chemicals.
10. We have the heavy stone sink removed. After much deliberation about whether to try to salvage the sink, we decide to let it go. It was likely original to the house, but had been left out in the weather and had a strong adhesive on it that we could not remove without further damaging the soft soapstone.
11. We water and water and get an old-fashioned push mower to trim and the grass turns green! The tulips open, the wisteria blooms and suddenly we like our back yard. After a torturous two weeks of no foot traffic, the girls are allowed to run on the grass. Finally, instead of me warning them not to touch anything in the dirt with their hands, they can be barefoot!
*We still have a list of plans for the back yard. The wooden stands in the far back corner are for our bees which will arrive in June, (late this year due to a chilly spring in Upstate NY). We will continue to fill in our garden with flowers as we watch and learn and inevitably make lots of first-time gardening mistakes. I just got my vintage clothes line in the mail from Ebay, (post coming soon). I cannot wait to hang out our sheets and dry them in the sun. Chris wants to build a play house for the girls. We want to eventually replace the remaining concrete patio with flagstone. We want to re-side the laundry room that juts out into the yard, and turn it into a potting/bee supply shed. And then we will tackle the inside of the house….
Here are some progress photos: