One of our favorite activities: Depaving

Taking out concrete with a sledgehammer may not be everyone’s idea of a great time, but believe me, Erik is having a great time in this picture. Any opportunity to get rid of a few feet of ugly concrete or asphalt,  and replace it with soil and plants, is not an opportunity to be missed. Depaving increases growing room for green things and it also gives more points of access for rain to enter the ground and renew the water tables–rather than being lost down into the sewers. Think about your home–do you have sidewalks that can be replaced with mulched paths? Can you reduce the size of your driveway? How much of your backyard is paved?

What Erik is doing here is pretty simple. He’s taking out a chunk of our back patio, ripping it down to soil. The next step is to build a big planter box above the hole. This way, our planter box becomes a raised bed rather than a simple container. While it’s possible to garden in containers, it’s always better, if at all possible, to open the bottom to soil.

We’re pretty fearless about messing with our back patio because it’s ugly, cracked and worn out.  Any yuppie worth their salt would have replaced it out years ago, but we’ve had more pressing repairs to do. You can see we built a sort of deck/arbor thing there behind Erik, but the larger area of the patio has long been a sort of unattractive work-zone/no-man’s land. A non-space.  Reclaiming it is part of our backyard renovation, and building a raised bed at the edge of the patio is part of that plan. This new bed will give us 200 square feet of new growing space, pulled from an area that did nothing before but collect junk.

The cement work on the patio is so poor that it’s easy for us to take out with simple tools. In this case Erik first defined the area of removal by slot cutting the concrete with a hand-held circular saw fitted with a blade called a “Masonry Cut-Off Wheel.”  (If our patio were made of better concrete, we’d have to rent a gas powered, water cooled saw with a diamond studded blade . These are available at equipment rental joints.)  The cool thing is that once you make that neat cut, you can bash around inside the lines with a sledgehammer and (hopefully) the cement will not crack outside the lines.

Here you can see the slot cut lines at the bottom and right. Erik has pounded this area with the sledge hammer, and is prying up thin layers of cement with a crowbar. Our patio was covered with archaeological layers of skim coats–so in our case, the work is a matter of taking out thin layer after thin layer. A more solid patio would be taken out in big chunks. At any rate, Erik kept hammering away–while I helpfully “documented”–until he hit the sad and sorry soil that’s been trapped beneath the concrete for perhaps 90 years. That soil will revive. That’s the amazing things. Soon enough moisture and worms will move in and it will live once more.

We would have liked to have recycled the broken chunks of concrete to use elsewhere, but its poor quality meant that it fractured into tiny chunks too small to use as “urbanite.”

Stay tuned to see the new raised bed.

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  1. I wish I could justify sending this to a friend of mine with a concrete island of a front porch (including bathroom tile on top). They have it still in because of the “hassle of getting it out” (they didn’t put it in). But oh! To get that thing out. Sigh.

  2. I have found Dexpan to very useful for concrete demolition. It is an expanding mortar like powder that you mix with water and pour into holes you drill in the concrete. This expansion results in the concrete cracking, making it easier (not easy, just easier) to remove the concrete.

    I came across it at Kevin Kelly’s ‘Cool Tools’ blog:

  3. I would dearly love to do something like this to remove most of my driveway here. But my back is not up for sledgehammering and hauling concrete, and the cost of hiring it out is not at all in my budget. (Most of my friends are as old and broken down and broke as I am, so asking them for help is not much help) But I can dream anyway…

  4. I enjoy your blog and applaud the removal of the concrete.

    In water-challenged Southern California, you would especially benefit from making the raised bed a “sub-irrigated planter” (SIP), a simple growing method that is eloquently evangelized by plant expert Bob Hyland on his blog,

    If you’ve seen the Earthbox or Tomato Success Kit, you’ve seen these portable growing containers that reduce water use by up to 90% and boost yields by 50% or more compared to in-ground gardens.

    It’s fair to say that it’s a more responsible approach to urban gardening, something near to my heart and a reason Homegrown Evolution is one of my fave bookmarked sites. Good luck!

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