Thursday, April 15, 2010

Soil at the New House

Our new house will be the unit on the right

The history of this lot is that it was never built on. It was farm land for a while but mostly in recent years it has been fallow at the end of a private way. It was weird to have a lot that wasn't built on in Arlington, but this lot didn't have the proper access so getting a permit was hard. It took the builder six years to get all the permits for it. I'm not too surprised. The private way is more like an alley way than a real street. It isn't long. There are only seven other houses on the street. Two on one side and five on our side. The road snakes in back there. So the area is weirdly private, but only about a block in from the major road in town. Since the private way curves and the buildings are tall and close together, the noise from the busy street is largely unheard.

Our closest neighbor is a little old lady that has lived in that house for 70 years. She is very sweet and I suspect she will be the recipient of some fresh produce from the garden at times. But we couldn't help her out with what she was really hoping for. She wanted kids playing in the street for her to watch. Since we are two couples that are empty nesters it isn't going to happen. She will have to talk to her son that lives downstairs, but I suspect he has heard it all before.

Our house is a two unit town house. One side will be occupied by my husband and myself and the other by our good friends. Much of the area is multifamily homes. The neighbor's lot is much smaller than ours and all paved over. I guess it makes for easy maintenance, but I want green in my lot.

Even before the purchase and sales agreement was signed I was out with my shovel at the new house. I needed soil samples to send into the UMass Extension service. I was hoping that the original soil was there. A fallow lot that was garden much of the time might be good (or it might have gotten dumped in, but less likely since I bet no one but the abutting neighbors even knew it was there). But the original soil is not what I found. It seemed like fill to me with no topsoil on it yet. And the results agreed with me.

How can I tell it was fill and not original? Well our soil here in the North East is very acidic naturally. Blueberries grow wild in the woods. We have natural pHs of about 4.5-5.5. The soil tested in at 8.5. It really makes me wonder where the heck that soil has been. No natural soil from here could ever have that high of a pH. It is also half rocks. I had trouble getting enough soil out. I should have brought a pick axe. Needless to say it won't grow anything as is and I don't want those rocks in my garden. I suppose at least the lead levels are low. I might just have someone remove it from the area where the veggies are going and replace with top soil and compost. I have to bring in top soil anyway to cover the remainder of the yard.

The front yard had the same fill put in. Then they covered it with top soil. The top soil there has a medium lead level so I'll probably remove it from where the herbs are being put, but the rest will be ornamental and fruit trees so no worries there. The pH again is high but not nearly as bad. It was 7.5.

The whole yard is a blank slate since we told him not to landscape it. I'll give you the layout soon. And our next chore is to find a landscape designer that is good with hardscaping, grass paving and cars. We have real car issues on this lot which will probably affect where the fruit trees can go.


  1. I love seeing this and learning more about your new home. Can't wait to see it in person:)

  2. I am keeping my fingers crossed for you! Around here, it's a given that after builders move through, nothing will grow for years, what the heck do they do to make it so inhospitable?! It seems that responsible builders are a rarity anymore. In the event that they ruined it, you will have no problem with the raised beds at least. I am sure the soil and lot are glad to see you arrive to save them!!

  3. The downside of new construction is that fill. I wish a builder who knew soil would at least scrape & save the good topsoil it sounds as though you had -- do you think it's buried or excavated?
    It's fun to think of a whole new yard from scratch, but a bit daunting.
    Maybe someday you and your friends' grandchildren would play there? Some day.

  4. Karen, well I'll probably only put garden related things on the blog, but it is something.

    Erin, well a pH of 8.5 is just about right to keep things from growing for years. It can be fixed however, but something that high might take a couple of years to get back down.

    Stefaneener, I have no clue. Many builders scrape off the top soil first and sell it. I wish it would have been scraped off and put to the side, but I don't think any builder does that unless of course if it is your land and you put it in the contract. It is daunting to do the whole yard. We are going to get a landscape designer and probably add things over time.

  5. Beautiful new house, Daphne. I don't envy your having to start anew with the soil, though. I've only lived in one house that had bad garden soil (clay), all the others have had excellent sandy loam. Or at least sand, which is great with added compost. I never had to purchase soil or compost until I built these raised beds, and I think this was my last year to have to do that. Unless I get crazy and enlarge the garden ;-)

  6. Great idea on the soil samples. An 8.5 is unheard of! Like your area, ours is acidic too, mainly because of the rainfall. I'm sure you'll get that garden area shaped up in no time!

  7. Daphne, what fun you are going to have with your new "blank slate" I suppose you all a dither trying to plan out your gardens, hardly being able to wait to get to them.

  8. Lovely house Daphne ! Bummer about the soil, though. If it's any consolation, my yard's been filled with the most awful clay imaginable. Wanna trade ?

  9. It's too bad about the soil. I hope you are able to amend it and get some things growing soon after moving in.

  10. Your new home looks excellent! It will be a fun project to do all the landscaping on your own. Can't wait to see it all done. Are you putting in solar panels, I think I recall you blogging about a rebate for them?

  11. That's properly exciting, a blank canvas. I wish I could go back to when I bought my house. I turned down on around the corner because the garden was HUGE. Now I want it back!

    My problem is that Mrs IG loves the village we live in, so unless I can find something as picturesque, I'm stuck here!

  12. This will be so much fun to follow along with Daphne, you seem to have a great plan in place already.

  13. Love the house! Not good about the soil though, but I suppose replacement will definitely be the answer.

  14. Annie's Granny, My last house had sand. The house I'm in now has heavy clay. I'm pretty sure this is getting ripped out and having good loam put in. At least I can start with something good for a change.

    EG, I think they must have got it from a lime quarry ;>

    keewee, I want everything to go in right away. I'm so impatient.

    miss m, lol no I don't want heavy clay anymore. I've had that for the last 19 years. I want soil that doesn't crack when it starts to dry out - and easier to dig.

    Corner Gardener Sue, I hope so too.

    Dan, well it won't be on our own. We are hiring a designer/landscaper. We are in the process of interviewing. And yes I really hope we will get to solar panels at some point. It would be nice to get them in maybe in the fall (so we have time to move and settle first). I think all the rebates will still be in effect but I'll have to check it all out.

    The Idiot Gardener, lol I really wanted another house when I bought the current one I'm in (and have lived in for 19 years). It was a beautiful sunny flat yard. I could have had so many things there. I just couldn't bear to cut the trees down here or I could have had more garden. Good luck finding your perfect home.

    Kelly, well I'm really stumped by the front yard. I'm used to the traditional foundation plantings. My friends want a fountain in the front yard. We will see what our designers come up with. I'll do all the vegetable and fruit planning though. I'm not used to laying out hardscape though and really need help with that.

    Jan, I think so too. The first landscaper/designer thought so too. She is going to look into it to see if it is possible to bring down the pH fast, but at 8.5 and the lawn having to go in during May, I'm thinking pulling out what is there is best.

  15. Hi Daphne!
    Boy am I out of the loop! I've been out of blogger land for way too long!

    Congratulations on your new home... and how wonderful that your neighbors will be good friends!

    Arlington is nice! I used to buy my pillow stuffing from a family biz off of Mass Av. That was probably over 10 years ago... though!

    You sure have a lot of work ahead of you!!! : )

    We're now finishing the inside of our new home.. can't wait to be done!