Building Steps in the Potager

The old field area was on an incline meaning that soil would wash downhill during heavy downpours bringing plenty of weed seed with it. This has meant we have accrued some lovely deep soil in our rhubarb patch but as a long term sustainable vegetable plot the field was on borrowed time. Having a disability that won't get better with age, I have to prioritise what can be done now for a future where I can keep on growing. There is a universal truth in gardening that most of us hate weeding but weeding with a damage back is like being Sisyphus with that bloody rock - a continuous, painful climb through spring and summer. So, the field was consigned to the history of Pig Row and last year we embraced the idea of raised beds and a potager. However, this didn't solve the problem of raised beds on a hillside. Sure, we got the beds level but to do this we had to terrace the potager and that meant steps. I don't want lots of steps, I know that sounds mad on the side of a hillside, maybe I find pushing that rock easier without the steps. Maybe I am not ready to let go of my Sisyphus complex. However, even I had to acknowledge that in the potager I needed steps and so on a warm spring day, Carol and I set off up the hill to make some steps, Carol armed with a lot of rubble that came out of our old kitchen. We have literally hung onto this rubble knowing that its better to have our own hardcore at hand rather than order it in. Likewise, the bricks we're using to make the steps come from an old wall from the kitchen. We've had the steps laid out from sometime, allowing the weight of them to compact the soil over the last few months. Again, this is a cheat for anyone with a bad back, no need to whack the soil down as the rain and bricks left there have done it for you. We dig down a few inches, creating the shape and size of the final steps and fill it in with that saved hardcore. We do dance on this, it's all about compacting it further but it also freaks out the neighbours when we do it naked in our wellies.

Hardcore, Life on Pig Row

Brick steps, garden steps, life on pig row

The bricks are laid on a thick mix of concrete, using a spirit level to keep them level. You will notice that we have left a gap between the bricks. I will brush in a dry mortar mix in a few days after the concrete has set. I use broken bricks to fill the void behind the steps which will give the second course of steps something to sit on.

Steps

Spirit level

Again, we don't scrimp on the concrete. I mix it in a bucket dry and then add water at the site I am working at. Dry concrete mix of 3 parts sand to 1 cement (3:1 ratio) is easier to carry than wet concrete which is much heavier. I mix around 15 scoops of sand to 5 of cement and often throw in two more scoops of cement for good luck. Our cement has been sat in our kitchen for four months and is a bit lumpy but it will still bond and set as concrete. Again, as I am not allowed to lift, a lot of the donkey work goes to Carol and it's a warm day. Forgive us for only doing two sets of steps and calling it a day but spinal disabilities like any disability can see energy measured in spoons.

Concrete on steps

After finishing the first step we move onto the second, filling in the void behind and setting the next steps on a thick layer of concrete and levelling.

Garden steps

I continue across the steps this way, back filling and bedding down the bricks on the concrete mix.

Steps

We use the edge of a trowel to clean up the concrete and wet brush to get off anything that may have clung to the brick face.

Steps made from bricks, life on pig row

As it is a hot day we mist all the steps with water and then cover with wet empty compost bags. This stops the concrete going off too fast and cracking. The steps are dry within 24 hours but we will leave for several days before adding the dry mortar. After the steps are complete we will be bringing in gravel to complete the potager.

Steps

We have two lots of steps to complete but the beds are now finished and we have started to plant each bed. The tyres have been pressed into service as floral beds meaning that a lot of the soil we took out when terracing the potager has not been wasted but reused in these tyres and plant pots. Just to give you an idea of how far we have come with this space, this is the old vegetable field plot back in July 2018:

Weeds, neglected

And, as of May 2019:

Potager

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1 comments:

  1. Nice work.

    My garden and allotment are also on the sides of a pennine, so I feel your pain.

    I also kept the rubble and bricks from building projects, mines made a greenhouse base, and will make a patio base.

    Did someone say something about Yorkshiremen being tight?

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