Sunday, August 31, 2008

Snakes And Other Critters

Living in the Ellijay area for almost five months I can't say any wildlife has me concerned. I still haven't seen the bears or coyotes the gal at the 911 emergency office talked about. I was in there to get what they needed for a post office box. Things that crawl and fly...yes I've seen some of them.

A large snapping turtle was spotted back in May laying eggs. Two species of snakes so far; both non poisonous. However a neighbor down the hill has claimed all the poisonous ones are around. I suppose it's just a matter of time. Here are a few cute guys...

Model #1 I believe a banded water snake, but there are a number of water snakes in this region.

Banded water snake. Ellijay #2 is a neat looking guy. This I know for sure is a Southern Ringneck snake...

SouthernRingneck snake Our next candidate is a nasty European Hornet. They are also termed Japanese Hornets for some reason. These guys started showing up in July and have been around since. Only a few spotted so far. I had an exterminator out a few days ago largely to take care of mice who got into the HVAC wiring in the crawlspace.

European HornetHere's a big surprise from this morning. A freaking bat! Yessir this critter was flying all over the place this morning after I turned the lights on. How it got in and for how long is unknown. Hard to really make him out because the back is turned to the camera.

Other wildlife spotted thus far.

  • Scorpion in the bathtub (about 2" in length)

  • Lot's of birds. Separate page coming soon.

  • Squirrels, but not too many. They haven't even been into the bird feeder.

  • Rabbits.

  • Wasps, carpenter bees, yellow jackets

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Lawn In The Woods and Mountains?

Okay, I didn't listen to anybody including the experts on the Internet. Summer is NOT the time to plant grass. But, I was so tired of looking at an ugly back yard. Had I waited until the proper time to plant I feared it would become a jungle much like my return in October of 2007 (photo below). Prior to the tree cutters in June, the area was shaded with no weed growth.

Weed growth after tree cutting in the woods Tall Fescue is the grass suggested for this region. It apparently does well in shaded and sunny areas. Considering the area will only get a half day of sun it sounds ideal. Once the morning mountain haze burns off we generally start seeing sunshine around 10AM in the summer months. It will reach the planted area from that time until 4PM when the southern tree cover (across creek) brings in the cooler shade.

Everything went well for ten days after the planting. With the drought concerns watering was done via the creek with a small 3/4 horsepower sump pump I picked up at Ace hardware. That little bugger works well but there's not enough pressure to put a nozzle on the end of the hose, nor a sprinkler. All watering had to be done by hand. Darker matted area in the background is the layout for a flagstone walkway and patio next to the creek. Covered, so no seed grows in the area.

Seeded lawn A cistern is probably the best method for pumping from any water source. Tom the handyman assured me all I needed was a flat rock, away from any muddy or silted water. A cistern allows for cleaner grit free water to be pumped, otherwise it can clog or ruin the pump. However my creek offers very clear mud free water except during heavy downpours. Photo is not a good illustration. It was taken for example purposes only.

Sump pump placed in creek

An extension cord was run from the new storage area for powering the pump. The pump itself was ready to go... attach an ordinary garden hose and plug it in. It did need an adapter fitting as it was manufactured for a larger diameter hose. I used two extension cords. One from the storage and the other attached to the pump in the creek. Once the pump was stationary in the creek the two cords were connected on dry land. I personally thought vibration from pumping would not keep it stable on the rock, but no problems occurred.

So much for all the time I spent grading when the first considerable rain hit. I suppose I had a few low areas that became places for excess rain water to travel...along with some seed!! A good portion was coming from the roof that have no rain spouts.

Rainfall creates channels on seeded lawnLawn after 10 days...
Ten days after seeding

Coming soon...the lawn needs a doctor

Grading In Preparation For A Lawn

I never believed a few who suggested the mushy area in front of the cabin was caused by buried decaying construction debris. Adjacent to the area on the east side(wooded) was also quite soft. It became an area for rainwater runoff to sit. I had enough of this ugly area now that the drainage problem was solved. However it was the wrong time of the year to plant grass (early July).

Removing soil from bank
I again called in handyman Tom Powers who had the equipment to do the grading. I was considering renting a machine, but with no experience I can just imagine screwing something up. Where would the fill dirt come from? Instead dishing out more dough I decided to pull it from the hill (photo above) on the north side of the cabin that will eventually serve as another part of the driveway. Parts of an old logging road are already there. The soil wasn't the greatest for a lawn area, but I see this kind of stuff growing grass along highways all over Georgia.

With new transit level at hand I spent a few hours surveying the areas to be graded. The creek bank became a barrier for water runoff measuring 18 inches higher than the lowest spot. There was an existing slope in the foreground of the image below to the other but it was pitted with high and low areas that need some conformity. All areas were marked for a slope grade of 1/4" in one foot towards the creek and west side.

Areas surveyed and staked for grading
Survey grading stake Tom had a tractor gizmo attachment that would rake larger rocks after the final grading but it did not eliminate the step of hand raking. This in itself probably took eight hours but little rocks still emerge day after day.

I was hoping for a summer thunderstorm or two to see how well I had this thing graded. My wishes were granted. A huge difference comparing the two photos below. Before drainage corrections, grading and after with a few minor areas to be addressed. In both cases more than two inches fell.

Water runoff after grading
Water runoff before grading

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Drainage Ditches - Eliminates Flooding Problems

Pretty boring topic eh? Oh well. I'm proud of how I eliminated the flooding problem in what will soon as the backyard with grass in future pics. The pic below is a trench I dug out by hand a few months ago. Extremely hard clay that probably took six hours with a regular shovel and patience to carve. The depth is about eight inches. I'm wondering how long it will last before it possibly caves in one side of the driveway. The trench was smaller when completed.

It has eliminated a huge amount of water run off that used to flow over the driveway and down the railroad tie steps and into the backyard. Now it allows the water to run into the woods on the north side of the cabin.

Rock driveway with drainageMost of the drainage problems were caused by the water running off the steep hill left of the ditch (which is all wooded running uphill about 50 yards). Another major cause was running directly down the driveway. This area was rutted with deep rain erosion damage before the driveway was excavated. By creating a small rock bern (red arrow) or knoll mound created with excess rock, the water now goes right or left off the driveway.

Another idea was the creation of some runoff areas up and down the driveway. These rocks won't be going anywhere as they're embedded about 10 inches into the ground and holding firm.

Homemade drainage ditches with rocks

Only one problem area remains, but is minor for the time being. The flatter part of the driveway still collects rainfall that has to go somewhere. The earlier grading has it sloped to one corner which will eventually have a real drainage system and grate along a retaining wall. The wall will be constructed of concrete block over footings and covered with the same rock used on the cabin foundation wall.

Future drainage system at edge of rock driveway

Using Railroad Ties For Landscaping. Flower Bed

Passing by Builders Choice on Industrial Blvd a few months ago I couldn't resist a stack of used RR ties. For $8.00 something a pop I decided to have the yard guys load a dozen into my truck. What a mistake that was! The ride home caused damage to the tailgate of my '08 Ford Lariat when climbing the hills on my dirt road. No more of that, I'll pay for the delivery charges...or buy a beat up pickup truck.

Did I say how heavy these suckers were? Good lord! Anyway, the ties were planned for a bordered garden around the front of the cabin near the rocked foundation. Cutting them was another chore; bring out the new chainsaw. I managed to cut through the first one fairly easily but it didn't take long for the blade to dull. My handyman helper Tom informs me they're almost useless after cutting the ties. It's no wonder a recent sharpening attempt didn't do any good for some tree cutting I was doing. A trip to Lowes and another $25.00.

Fortunately my flower girl (mom) was around to choose what to put into the area. Considering I don't know beans about flowers or weeds I would have probably chosen the wrong plants. Placed in the areas were Geraniums, Petunias, Hostas, Babies Breath, and Impatience. Over the hotter summer months the flowered areas on the north side (right side of pictures) of the cabin did extremely well. It did get quite a bit of shade and benefited from from dew that falls off the roof in the mornings. The soil had always remained soft. On the east side the other plantings did not fare well because of the hot sun and lack of water while I was back in Florida for three weeks.

I may consider rain spouts on the north side and a cool looking rain barrel I saw at Home Depot in Blue Ridge. Attach a few soaker hoses and the watering problem is almost a non issue. I wonder if they have timers for those thingies?

Before pics...

After pics... Late May '08

Railroad tie flower bed

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reliable Handyman Builds New Storage Area

Considering I was planning on living here full time, the amount of storage space was at a premium. A few areas in the loft, and bedroom closet under the staircase accounts for about 50 square feet. Where would all the tools go that I was going to drag up from Florida? Or what about the collection I've already picked up from Lowes and Ace hardware in town?

Tom Powers, Ellijay GaI asked Jim Stover for a man that could do the job and he offered Tom Powers (above) who is the handyman extraordinaire. Tom is the most reliable contractor to date. And he likes to call in the morning if he's running late. Otherwise I hear his truck coming down the driveway between 8:00 and 8:30 AM. What a relief. No guessing if somebody will show! Or more important, will first thing in the AM be early or late? Some guys think first thing in 10-11AM.

The new storage area would be under the back porch. Since day one I wanted to do something with the area because it became an eyesore. Downright fugly if you ask me. It was the ideal solution instead of building some shed on the property with no power. Tom handled the grading, framing, and electrical. Another source was called in for the concrete pad work, but no sense mentioning that name. He rated better than POOR, being mostly unreliable and having me play the waiting game. Overall workmanship was fair.

Realistically I could have handled the grading and framing, but I was still back and forth to Florida and needed it done quickly. It was also slated to be a temporary storage area for furniture that was coming up from Florida during the early August move.


Grading under back porch After...
Way back when...

Rain, Drainage Problems - Tropical Storm Fay

My driveway was a continual mess after I bought the place. It appears the former owners fixed things up a tad that didn't show the extent of the drainage problems around the property. The tree removal service and fellas that did some minor grading in May of 2008 both got stuck in the soft areas between the back porch and the creek. One thought it was buried construction debris that created a spongy area that would never go away.

Remember that gentle rolling creek? Not so gentle today after four inches of rain. In fact I kidded to mom who is making a visit..."looks like great tubing water!" The creek itself starts as a spring about one mile east through the valley and across state road 52. It gets quite a bit of rainwater runoff from adjacent properties with steep hills. Once a good rain hits it's just a matter of time before water gushing is heard from inside the cabin.

Let's see if I can upload this video from today. Being on a DSL connection I've had problems in the past. The clip is 12 seconds but does show the creek's potential. Looking up and down the creek banks I don't think the water rarely gets above this level. With 24 hour rain fall totals about five inches the water level reached about 20 inches from the height of the new flagstone patio yet to be completed. Steps from patio to creek may now be out of the question, but I've had my eye on a neat concrete mixing machine at Lowes. Video is taken from the porch with a SONY DSH-H9 camera.

Gravel Driveway Repairs - Scott Brothers Construction

Anybody that has a long steep driveway probably knows the situation. The driveway to the log cabin is 3/10 of one mile mostly downhill with a small flat section. The area near the bottom at the cabin had serious erosion problems. Being a novice to all of this, I just assumed calling in a grader and throwing some rock down would take care of the problem.


North area of driveway...

Opposite direction looking down the hill into the valley...

What made matters worse was the area between the back porch and creek. It became a retaining area for all the rain water that fell off the driveway and steep hill that surrounds the area on the north side of the cabin.

A call went in to Jeff Scott, a local grader that handles driveways, land clearing and the like. I liked Jeff from the beginning, but his sense of being on time or at least calling or remembering when he was supposed to make an appearance would have been nice. We came to an agreement to grade about half of the driveway (upper areas had no drainage problems) and put down some gravel. Jeff must not have had his thinking cap on because he quoted a price that was pretty good.

Bulldozing gravel drivewayHe was also kind enough to remove a stump that was on the edge of the new driveway. The tree cutters had cut it too close to the ground, but after about ten minutes it came out. Thanks Jeff.

Using a bulldozer to remove stumps What a change! After about six hours work and some 600 feet of driveway with new gravel I finally had something that was not pocked with ruts from the rain water runoff. It was also pitched or sloped much better so the water could run off the sides.

I thought I had matters solved until the first big cloudburst. In one 40 minute period in late May of this year we had three inches of rain. The new yard area had become a twelve inch mud bath. I suppose with all that new soil exposed it's gotta get settled...and settled into the low area between porch and creek.

More on that subject and recipes for better drainage another day...

Work performed by: Scott Brothers Construction, Ellijay. They also handle septic tanks, basements, pond construction, culverts and whatever you may have for them. I would have to give them a very good grade on actual work performed, but other aspects of customer service at the low end of the scale.

Phone 706-636-3244

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cabin Painting Service - Five Stars

For any folks that may have some property in the Ellijay, Jasper and Blue Ridge areas and you're looking for a painter, look no further. I can't locate his business card but if you stop in Sherwin Williams on Industrial Blvd (Ellijay) across from the post office and ask for Jason Avery they'll set you in the right direction. Oh here it is. Mobile 706-889-4985.

This dovetail log cabin needed a serious makeover with new staining and chinking. I opted for painting the trim an Evergreens SW #6447 color and the log portion a Dark Walnut. Jason also offered to throw in the removal of all the screening and trim that held it in place on the back porch. Also included was painting of the exhaust vent for the wood burning heating system that is used on ocassion.

Before painting...

After painting...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tree Removal Service Ellijay Ga

June of '07 I contracted two separate local contractors to handle tree removal and painting. At the time I still had business interests in Florida that needed attention so I would not be present during the work. Yea, being away from any work is never a good idea because one knows chances are good it won't get done properly.

This property was chilly due to the tree cover. With the creek so close to the cabin it also created alot of dampness. With June afternoon temperatures in the mid seventies and nothing but shade I was shivering much of the time. Something had to be done.

Before pictures...
photo taken from the edge of the creek
trees marked for removal

I called in a tree removal company named Brian's Tree Service out of Ellijay At least the guy was timely when I first met him. He had the talk and wanted to be your best friend to the point "you have to be careful with guys up here..." or "I can watch the place when you're gone..." This after I gave him a check upfront for the full amount to remove something like 25 trees. Yea, I wasn't thinking. I did have some serious issues at work so my mind wasn't on top of things.

I should have thought twice when he asked about throwing a line in the creek. Seems fishing was on his mind over work. In any event I said I would be back some 4-5 weeks later so he had plenty of time to get the work done. One week before returning I asked Jim Stover my real estate guy if he could look in on the work being done. I even offered Jim some kind of general contractor status where he would be paid for looking in on things while I was gone.

Jim is the kind of guy that will almost do anything for you; a real sense of integrity and commitment. He knows what this kind of attention can do for him down the road with referrals and such. To this day I try to help him out considering how bad the real estate market is.

Jim informs me some work was done, but the place was a mess. Something about truck problems and or wife/huntin' dog in the hospital. I can't remember which. I heard it many times before. Perhaps there was a problem, but come on dude call me and keep me posted. Afterall you have the cash already.

Could be these mountain guys only know one way of doing business (when we get around to it) and not much else is of any importance. This area was dirt poor until the mid eighties when the four lane highway 515 came though. Industries like chicken farming and logging were the only forms of survival as Ellijay was isolated from metro Atlanta and all other points. Moon shining was also a popular form of income prior to 1980. I have remnants of two small abandoned stills around my property to prove it.

After pictures. Including a new paint and stain job.

plenty of room for landscaping...

Overall I was not pleased with the tree work. Some trees had been removed that I did not want. Others were cut too close to the ground which has created some major headaches removing for landscaping purposes. I actually began marking each tree with orange surveyors tape before Brian's arrival but he assured me he would remember. What a mistake that was!! The mulch pile was put in the wrong place as was the small log pile. Overall rating POOR.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mother Nature Stone - Installing Rock On Foundation

Natural stone has always impressed me. I had to do something with this awful looking block foundation so I took a trip up 515 near Blue Ridge to a place called Mother Nature Stone. I was taken back by the selections with not only color but style of stone. Choosing what type to use was no problem. Finding someone to handle the job was another, so I inquired about hiring help. The office gal pulled out a list of 20 installers then I said, "let's skip to the chase, who is the best?"




Stone Type: Mountain Laurel. Local.

Enter Rock On Dude

I can't recall his actual first name because everyone called him hippie including the folks at Mother Nature. Rock On is the name of his company. Appearances can be deceiving eh? What became more amaizing was his foot wear. I guess hippy never heard of OSHA because he wore sandals! I can't imagine going through life as a stone mason wearing those! But he claimed he never had any accidents...LOL.

Hippy had an impressive portfolio of job photos from all over Gilmer and Fanin County. I can't say enough about the actual quality work he handled but he did fail to seal the stone after it was done. Failing to follow through on work discussed in this area is commonplace. I just look at it this way..."you won't get any referrals from me...nor any more work, I'll do it"

The sealing was supposed to be done after I went back to Florida in June '07. His prices were a bit high too, but I figured I may as well learn from the best because I wasn't about to keep paying these locals the kind of money they wanted for work if they can't finish what was agreed on. A lot more work is in the plans including a retaining wall around the parking area, flagstone walkway to the creek, patio, outdoor fireplace and who knows what else when I get bored.

Next. Fix that gawd awful faded stain job that had been neglected for years. Time to brighten the place up after the tree guy is called in. The painting contractor to this date is one I have been the most satisfied with. He will get referrals and calls later. Name: Jason Avery of Ellijay.