Last I wrote, my brick and mortar wall was winding its wobbly way to completion. I finished that and proceeded to backfill it with topsoil. Now the only one who can see its flaws are my neighbor. That’s the irony of landscape work: most of the work you do lies buried, the good and the bad. The topsoil here is heavy reddish to yellowish clay with a bit of grit and almost no organic material. The rich dark crumbly topsoil of home just doesn’t seem to exist here. I considered putting a layer of subsoil down first, since I’m filling to almost a meter deep, but I just was too suspicious and unfamiliar with the soils here to take any chances. Some of the stuff sold for fill dirt is such highly acidic washed-out clay that almost nothing can grow in it. If I put it down as a base layer, it would probably be OK, but if it got mixed together with the good stuff in process, it would be a disaster. So I shelled out for a 10-ton lorry of the good stuff, about 7 cubic yards. I managed to cart it all over the course of a weekend. Not bad, thought I, for one guy. But when I looked out over the yard, I realized it would take 15 more lorries at a minimum to fill in the yard as planned. 15 lorries, one every other weekend, would mean seven months of weekends. And then there’s the stone wall. It was time to get help.


Wobbly wall
The wobbly wall in finished form.

I was fortunate to find a very nice handyman who was willing to do it in between his other jobs. He was very fast, finishing a lorry a day with minimal assistance from me. But after three lorry-loads, which barely filled in the brick wall, my wife and I grew impatient. She was starting to see how nice it was going to look when it was done and the slow pace was just too frustrating. A lorry can’t pass on the sides of my house, but a little bobcat could just squeeze in. Hiring a bobcat would take care of the spreading and compacting work too. I tracked down a bobcat operator. Lord have mercy, the guy was like the chinese double of the equipment operators I had to deal with back in Michigan, complete with beer gut, red nose, harsh language, and as stubborn as the day is long. He was an older guy, so I started off addressing him as encik, mister. Siapa nama encik? He had no idea who I was talking to. Huh? Siapa? Aku? Ok, awak it is then.

It's gonna be a fun weekend
It’s gonna be a fun weekend

There’s an empty field a half a block from my house. I had the lorry driver dump twelve loads. The poor bobcat had to haul each bucket load from half a block away, but that was the only way to have a continuous flow of work. He managed to finish it in three days. I had staked out the wall separating the two terraces, and he followed my line reasonably well. On the down side, I had decided to buy two grades of topsoil, just to save a bit of money, the second quality stuff to go on the bottom. Sure enough, the stuff was totally mixed up. Good thing I followed my first mind and not bought fill dirt for the bottom. Also, now that the bobcat is gone and the soil has settled, I figure I still need another three or four loads. For the record, that would make about 150 cubic yards of soil total.

Before the bobcat started  Work in progress

[sorry for the dirty pictures – I usually try to keep this a family blog.  CLICK TO ENLARGE -ed.]

I visited a local quarry and lined up some block stone. All that was available was a pretty dull grey granite. I would have preferred something with more color or texture, but what to do. I also would have preferred something squareish, but the closest thing they had was “angular”. I estimated I’d need about 10 cubic yards of stone. Unfortunately the quarry would only deliver full 10-ton lorries, which hold about 7 cubic. So I have laying in my back yard 19.8 tons of 9×12 granite block stone. I could have hired my same friend to help with the wall, but funds had become pretty low by that time. Even “dirt cheap” becomes real money when you’re dealing with soil in these quantities. And it is said that a dry stone wall is the cheapest wall to build yourself, but the most expensive to hire out. Besides, the wall is the fun part. I wanted to do it on my own. Well my friends, the wall is about half done. I was going great guns until Ramadan, during which I got nothing done, and I never really got back on track after that, especially now that the rains have come. You can see from the pictures how it is coming. It has a slightly rougher look than I would have liked, due to the irregular stone, but I can live with it. The wall has gotten deeper and thicker as I go, as the reality of how much extra stone I have sinks in. Anyone with good ideas for several ton of rock kindly let me know.


The wall taking shape
The wall taking shape


Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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  1. Sorry but I can’t really make out what you guys making. Is it a wall (or are you taking it down) or are you elevating your land area?

    Have you also thought about termite control.

  2. NSDS3: that’s the maid.

    Israd, I’m elevating the yard. It was about a meter too low in the back there. Instead of filling the whole thing flat level with the house, I decided to make two levels. I’m building the wall to retain the upper level.

    Do termites like to live under rocks?

  3. That’s coming along very nicely. I appreciate your explanation to Israd, because I also couldn’t figure out what you were doing. Now it all makes sense. That soil is SO red! Have you begun a backyard compost area?

  4. Thanks for the info. My friend is in the process of renovating his house and he mentioned that when you prepare land for constructing a house, you should put termite chemical (I dont know what they call it) into the soil. But this method is not eco-friendly. Alternatively, I’ve also heard of a termite bait that causes the worker termite not able to shed it’s skin. In the end, the whole community dies. By the way, my house has a very serious termite problem. I’ve had a Quran stored in an almari with all the pages eaten out, except for the outermost layer. The amazing this is, you would not know that it was gone unless you actually opened it. What was left was what looked like veins,, but the termites were gone.

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