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Build That Wall!

Before taking a couple of Christmas-prep days, Chip and I had mocked up one 12' wall section of the retaining wall for our geothermal greenhouse. We felt good about our strategy of building before pouring the concrete post holes, and we liked the look of the wall. We were not thrilled that the panel was very heavy, floppy, and difficult to maneuver. It also seemed that the metal didn't have enough support. It was my "I told you so" that it was too awkward (I had wanted to attach the middle 4x4 post to the wall to help erect it). It was Chip's "I told you so" that it was too heavy (he wanted to brace it by building a frame around it).

Our compromise was to use a 2x4 temporarily as the center post during installation, and to add vertical pieces between the 4x4 posts and the metal. Both ideas helped a lot. It was still an awkward job at best, but a much more doable awkward job, and it improved the integrity of the final wall.

That decision made, we called our experiment and headed into town to pick up the additional 2x4s and turn to Christmas shopping.

12/19 When our boxes were sent and weather improved, we were back at it 12/19. We tried out our new method on the second panel. With a minor adjustment of the measurements (necessitating another trip to town for more 2x4s), we were happy with the results! We completed a third panel as well.

12/20 Now we were in production mode. Chip sawed wood to size, I laid out and built the panels, Chip excavated as necessary so the panels would sit level, we worked together to put them in place and get the top screws in from behind, Chip put in the lower screws from the front. We finished the last three panels on the floor of the south side! That was a milestone and a relief to me, since the low winter sun blasts in your eyes all day when in the pit facing south. I've been having vision problems (cataract) so I pumpkined-out at dusk, as I always do... by the time I left it was too dark for pictures. Chip continued putting in all the lower screws for at least another hour.

12/21 I declared that we'd be able to churn out the whole second side in one day, now that we had a system down. I headed over early to measure and plan out the second side, starting with setting the upper and lower line levels. After another cup of coffee, Chip arrived and started cutting the 12' boards to size. The second side was slightly off of the first -- when leveling the site, some areas were cut down and others built up. So some of the dirt is heavily compacted and some is looser. The floor of the greenhouse is not exactly level. It took me three hours to finally determine the dimension: a few inches shorter than the south side. (For better and worse, Chip is the jump-in-now type of worker, and for better and worse, I am the obsessive planner. This is an example of the latter.) So much for finishing the side in a day!

Chip cut and I assembled the first panel. Since it was slightly shorter than the south wall, the metal pieces overlapped more, and a sharp metal edge was exposed on the face. We puzzled through that together and decided to adjust the center horizontal board, which meant changing the lengths of the short vertical support pieces. Luckily Chip hadn't gotten too far in mass-producing those, so it was an easy adjustment.

We got half of the north side done that day.

12/22 In production mode again, we finished the last four full panels on the north side! Now we needed to do the odd panels... a short panel across the west end, and the angled half-panels along the entry ramp on the east end.

12/23 Chip started cutting steel for the odd panels, and I moved on to the greenhouse frame: connecting the horizontal rails that will hold the anchor posts in place for the concrete. It was a short work day, since I had to run to Gallup to pick up mail and pay our property tax bill (and do a last bit of Christmas shopping), and Chip had to run to Grants to fill all of our depleted propane tanks (and do a last bit of Christmas shopping). Chip got back before me, and did install the end panel.

12/24 Chip built and installed the first angled panel for the entrance ramp (you can see the end panel from yesterday as well). I continued working on the frame, which you can see around the top of the greenhouse trench.

12/25 We took the day off!

12/26 Chip finished the last angle panel, and I finished assembling and rough-leveling the anchor posts. Before pouring concrete, we still need to brace the panels across from each other, check measurements and do final leveling.

Anyone ready to deliver concrete between

Christmas & New Year's in a snowstorm?

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Bruce Ishikawa
Bruce Ishikawa
Dec 27, 2019

Excellent explanation of what you're doing. I love the day off photos. Thanks for sharing New Mexico for Christmas!


Andrew Frelick
Andrew Frelick
Dec 27, 2019

Merry Christmas and Happy New Years to you both. Saw a snow storm coming to New Mexico and am hoping it doesn’t affect you too much. Thoughts are with you all. Andy


Looking GOOD! And I appreciate your objectivity and diplomacy in work style description. (For better or for worse, Chip.... For better or for worse, I..... ) Love how you complement one another and find ways to leverage all strengths!

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