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Holy Moly!

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

Well, we are finally putting our own muscle into building something permanent at BrownKawa Homestead! Our first job is digging post holes for the greenhouse. The cross-section of the greenhouse is shown at right. You can see the trench down the middle, and the ground-level raised beds along each side.

The frame over the trench is anchored with steel post frame members embedded in concrete. The state inspector will actually drive out to our remote site tomorrow to look in our 20 post holes, as the "pre-pour" foundation inspection!

We also plan to build a retaining wall below grade using a 3-rail fence with metal roofing sheets behind the rails. That will take 30 more holes. Those holes will be deeper and wider, and the earth at that level is already hard-packed, dense material. It is not called out in the engineering plan though (since builders have flexibility in building the retaining wall, and the state approved our permit without asking for more detail), so it isn't as high-stakes for the inspection. The pics below show the post-hole locations marked.

We did do our best to take the lazy way out in digging our post holes. We bought a Southland post-hole auger and figured we'd be zipping down the line. We got it, set it up, and went over to start digging holes the day after excavation was completed (Wednesday). The auger was slower going than expected. It was a little too big for me to feel comfortable with, at least until Chip had dug the first few inches down. And it just had a hard time making progress. We only need 20" deep holes. It took about 15 minutes to get a hole 12" deep, and made little progress after the first several inches of softer soil. We went back and forth with the hand post-hole digger and the auger and got 6 holes started (none of them more than about a foot) when the brand new auger just up and died.

On the phone to the company, Chip determined that the ignition module was shot. Southland will happily replace the ignition module or will happily accept the return as defective and will happily refund our money or replace the unit. They are so happy about it that you get the impression that having a brand-new unit die within two hours is just business as usual. Neither solution helps us get our holes dug now! We had been hoping to pour concrete on Saturday (the only 24-hours-above-freezing day in the forecast), so we had been hoping for an inspection by Friday (they inspect within 48 hours), so we had been hoping to call in our inspection on Wednesday after zipping in our twenty 20-inch holes with our power auger. OK, we knew it was an ambitious goal... but we did not expect the machine to just immediately die!

Chip realized that the auger motor housing forced the spark plug wire against the cylinder head causing it to melt through and ground out (great design, huh?), so he cobbled a fix that got us through a couple more holes before it crapped out again.

We called Home Depot in Gallup and scheduled to rent their heavy-duty towable post-hole digger. They verified that it has both 6" and 8" bits, that it is gassed up and ready to go, that it's a 24-hour rental, and that we can tow it on the highway as long as we keep it under 55 mph. We aren't crazy about spending over $100 on a one-day rental (which is why we had decided to spend twice that on purchasing the one-man auger), but figured it would save us so much time that it was the best solution in the moment.

So we took 2 hours to go get the thing. It turned out they had lost their 8" bit, so we just took the 6" bit, and got home ready to roll with that. Chip went over to the site to get the machine set up and start digging, and I dug through the greenhouse parts to pull out the anchor posts so we could start setting things up for the concrete pour. Chip texted that the machine was out of gas -- dead dry empty. He used our generator gas and got it started. By the time I got over there though, he had quit in disgust -- the bit was so dull that he couldn't even dig an inch -- it just burnished the dirt.

I called Home Depot rentals... "This machine was missing a bit, the gas tank was completely empty, and the bit is so dull that it won't even dig an inch -- it was supposed to save us time, but has already cost us three hours."

There was some background conversation, then the rental rep came back and said, "I don't know why you're having a problem, ma'am."


I repeated myself verbatim, and he said "Do you want your money back?" I said yes, but since that would cost us another two hours, we'd return it on our own time.

He was fine with that and so matter-of-fact that, again, it felt like this was just a normal part of their business model -- rent out machines that are so poorly maintained they are worse than worthless, and then reimburse the cost of the rental with a casual shrug.

Chip pulled the bit to see if he could sharpen it, and pulled our machine apart to see what he could do with that. After a couple hours he cobbled a new fix to get our machine more-or-less working, so we went with that. (Have I mentioned how endlessly capable Chip is?) I called Allen from Greenhouse in the Snow, and he also suggested that when we bottom out, we should pour water into the hole, wait, and then dig some more.

We rotated through with Chip augering, me cleaning out his holes with the hand post-hole digger, measuring, and pouring water into holes that needed more depth.

I also hauled some loads of dirt to shore up one area by two of the posts. With that, we got all the top holes down to 20" and called in our inspection! The inspector said he would not be able to come out on Friday, and that our inspection would be on Monday.

Friday we returned the worthless waste-of-time rental auger and picked up more materials for the retaining wall. Saturday we had a good work day and tackled the cementitious lower level. We used a hammer drill Chip already had for cracking through the hard soil, so we moved the generator to the site to power that. We followed the drill with the auger (between auger-repair breaks -- so far Chip has been able to keep it more-or-less running). We also used the post-hole digger and water for cleaning out and going deeper. It's slow going, but we got half the holes done, to a minimum depth of 24" and many of them beyond. We can see the end in sight!

Today it is raining all day. We are catching up on online work, dishes, and if we're really ambitious, *maybe* we'll even get a shower in! We will get over to the site to clean it up and look it over for the inspector's visit tomorrow.

We'll also make some calls to see about soil amendments. It would be good to dump as much in as we can before building the frame, since the grow beds are more accessible now than they ever will be again. So far the only soil amendments we've been gathering (beyond the inadequate amount of compost we've compiled since arriving in July) have been donations from the local wandering herds... here beautifully decorated by our daily morning frost!

We're guessing we're one day away from completing this task... have you heard that one before...?

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4 commentaires

Andrew Frelick
Andrew Frelick
09 déc. 2019

The amazing adventures continue. Sorry you’re having challenges along the way. Our thoughts are with you and we send positive vibes your way as you tackle the challenges head on. We do, however, really enjoy the updates as they come to our mailbox. I feel that we are getting “Building off the Grid” épisodes from the BrownKawa channel. ❤️ Love it!


Kimi BrownKawa
Kimi BrownKawa
09 déc. 2019

Yowza, Bruce! Grateful we don't have that problem. When we hit rock it's either crumbly sandstone or a bed of rock that grabs the bit, causing the machine to twist suddenly. I twisted a wrist (not badly) and Chip got whacked in the thigh. But better than having rocks flung at our legs from close range! Chiyo, I want whatever you are eating. I am feeling warm, nurtured and relaxed in a vicarious way imagining your kitchen!


Kimi you guys are amazing. I am sitting around my warm home eating while reading this to Mark and feeling exhausted in a vicarious way.


Bruce Ishikawa
Bruce Ishikawa
09 déc. 2019

When I built our deck last summer, I rented an auger like you bought from Home Depot. Then encountered some of the countless football-size rocks that lurk just beneath the otherwise soft New England soil. When we come out there in May, I'll show you the scars on my leg from the spinning post hole auger.

Earthworm castings are a great soil amendment. Actual earthworms are also good, if you have enough plant material for them to feed on and turn into rich black soil.

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