I was hoping to be able to show you the finished product by now. But the construction of our tall raised bed has been slowed down by consecutive bouts of bad weather. First there was the rain of Winter, now there are Spring showers. But never weather dry enough for an amateur brickie to feel confident about.
It’s quite a mighty construction. We want to make the final product about as high as a kitchen counter, so that we can lose quite a lot of soil in there. Soil that will come from digging out the beds up against the house where we want external wall insulation and a clear gravel path.
To keep all that soil from pushing out the walls of the raised bed, they need to be quite sturdy. The foundations are made of concrete, with a double course of breeze blocks on top. The next layer is a single course of breeze block on the inside and bricks on the outside where the wall shows above ground.
They are reclaimed bricks that we’ve inherited with the house. They were stacked in the back of the garden for many years, until Alex moved them into the garage to dry out. Because sodden bricks do not make strong walls.
The superstructure will be made out of sturdy 4×6 planks, 6 layers tall at the highest point, and 3 layers tall at the lower level. They will be fixed to the bricks and to each other with steel rods cemented into place. And for extra strength, a few of the old floor joists from indoors will help to hold the longest, tallest wall in place.
Hopefully, with all that, we’ll be able to contain all that soil and have a smart, sturdy raised vegetable bed by the sunny wall of the house.
In the last six months or so, Westacre has produced rather a lot of wood. As we will be partially warming our house from a wood burning stove before long, we need to keep hold of it. So we’ve had to be creative about finding places to store it.
It all started when the old wooden windows were taken out in November. There’s nothing much you can do with used window frames, except chop it into wood burner sized pieces. So that’s what Alex did. He stacked it all in the wood store behind the garage, along with the split bits of oak that we inherited from his dad.
In the stormy weather of February, part of the huge leylandii in the back of the garden came down and landed on the roof of the shed. As we couldn’t leave the three sizeable branches up there, we had to do some rope and pulley work to both get them off and make sure they didn’t fall in an uncontrolled manner. We certainly didn’t want them landing on our heads.
Once they were safely down and detached from the tree, Alex th
en started processing the branches into usable firewood. He had to make a new saw horse, a sturdy one that he could use with the circle saw without sawing through it. A few happy days were spent cutting and splitting the resinous wood.
But then where to put it? It’s green wood, so it really needs seasoning in an airy space. The wood shed was already quite crowded. We considered structures and places in the garden to put this new wood store, but didn’t really come to a conclusion.
The next job in the renovation project was to take up the suspended wooden floors downstairs in the old part of the house. There isn’t much you can do with old floor boards either. So we had another marathon process of sawing them into wood burner sized pieces. Most of those are now stacked in our living room, right next to the fire place, with room for more.
We also had an old dog house by the back door. It was taking up a lot of space, and we don’t own a dog. Alex had the luminous idea of using its roof and its floor to make an outdoor wood store.
In about half a day, he produced a tall contraption, with floor joists at the corners and floor boards as the open walls. He and his dad manhandled it into one of the flower beds close to the house, and Hilde stacked it with the logs from the fallen Leylandii.
We’re quite proud. It looks smart, and it keeps the rain out. The wood should be able to season quite effectively in there. And it’ll smell lovely on a fire.
We’ve pretty much done it. We have manhandled a 125kg steel I-beam from the front lawn into the big bedroom upstairs. There were no more than three people working at any one time. And I am relieved to report no injuries.
This was a job we didn’t expect to have to do. All we wanted was to move a partition to make space for a bathroom under the eaves. Thankfully, we found out in time that the partition was actually holding that part of the roof up. So we needed to replace it with something substantial.
That is where the steel I-beam comes in. But this presented us with a number of questions. For starters, our drive has a tight bend in it, and comes off a narrow country lane. No lorry of any size can drive onto our property. Neither could we get any major lifting equipment onto the back lawn. And what happens once you’ve got the I-beam in the room but not up at ceiling level, supporting the rafters?
We would have to do this by hand, with only minimal equipment. In the end we used
- a home-made dolly on wheels
- a scaffolding tower
- blue rope
- lifting eyes and pulleys
- bits of wood
- bottle jacks
- sheer muscle
The first hurdle was the delivery of the I-beam. Alex wondered how he would even get the thing off the delivery lorry. But the driver soon put him straight: just throw it off. It made a big clanging noise, but nothing was damaged. The dolly, with the two of us pushing, took it the rest of the way up the drive.
That little exercise made it obvious that Alex could relatively easily lift one end of the beam on his own, as long as the other end was supported. While he was preparing the room upstairs to receive the beam, he cooked up an elaborate plan.
He put in place additional wedges and pieces of wood so the roof could be supported with acrow props. He also built the scaffolding tower underneath the balcony window (where a balcony is yet to be built) which would be the entry point for the beam. He also made holes in the walls, ready to receive the ends of the beam. We mocked up the entire process with a 2×4 of equal length to make sure there was enough room to manoeuvre the beam into place. All looked well.
The first task was to simply get the I-beam from ground floor level into the room on the first floor. It was a stressful day, as it was all too easy to drop this heavy thing quite a long way. We made sure that the beam was always attached or supported in at least two places, so that we wouldn’t lose control in the event of anything failing.
We started by attaching a pulling eye to one end of the beam. With a simple rope and pulley, we managed to get it quite a long way up. We also needed to do some pushing at the other end, which was resting on the dolly. Our friend Tim helped us with this.
When the beam’s nose was resting on the edge of the scaffolding platform, we needed to lift it higher. Alex added another element to the scaffolding tower so the pulley could be attached higher up. With some more pulling and pushing, we got it even higher.
By then, we needed to start lifting the other end. We did so very carefully, resting the beam on trestles that got progressively taller.
At one point, we had a little incident where the trestles gave way and the end of the beam clonked to the floor. Thankfully we had been careful to not go and stand in the way of it, so no harm was done.
Eventually, we got the end of the beam as high as we could, and as far into the room as we could. Alex’s dad Roger came over to help us with that bit. Now, we could put pressure on the end in the room to level it out and just pull it inside, sliding across the scaffolding platform. Getting it inside the room was easy after all that, and we called it a day.
On the second day, Alex’s friend Andy came to help us out. Now that the beam was in the room, we needed to get it resting on the walls on either side. It was a slow process, where we slowly and carefully lifted the beam, always making sure it was attached to something solid. Even if one end dropped, it could never go very far. That day, we managed to get it resting on the wall on one side, higher than it should be. The other end was nearly up to the other wall, dangling from a rope.
The third day, we did the same again, carefully inching the beam further up, securing it every time. Eventually, the beam was resting on the wall on both sides, raised on some bricks. It was more or less at the level that we needed it, but not quite in the right place. This was when we took the partition stud work out, making sure the roof was supported with acrow props either side.
On day four, we slowly inched the beam sideways, until it was resting under the wooden wall plate where we need it to be. The next puzzle was how we were going to crank it up so far that it was pushing up the wall plate and effectively lifting the roof. Alex decided the way to do this was to use bottle jacks to push the ends of the beam up, while supporting them with acrow props further towards the middle. With every pump of the bottle jack, the acrow props were tightened too.
Today, one concrete pad was cemented into place under the end of the I-beam. It took some working out how to cement it in while it is tightly in place under the beam. Alex cleverly lifted it on some wooden pegs, and pressed the mortar in with a thin plank.
Tomorrow, the second pad will go in, and when all the cement has gone off, we can take away the acrow props. I’ll let you know if the roof stays up after that.