Last spring we tore down a HUGE slightly rotting, slightly green, very ugly deck from the side of our house. We put in a patio by the back kitchen door, but since we weren’t planning on entertaining 50 people at once, we didn’t patio the whole area. The dirt underneath was unimproved, but we planted flowers and extra plants there anyways. They did fine, but could’ve done better with a healthier diet.
This is one of the main spots that’s getting black dirt from our big pile of black dirt. The problem we faced though was how to define it — we weren’t too keen on the amoeba that it was. I decided to build a brick retaining wall / raised garden bed using the bricks that I was going to use to replace the borders in the front yard.
Getting Bricks From Craigslist
I got these bricks for free from someone on Craigslist who was tearing down a fireplace. The bricks had previously been used in a wall years and years before that. Most of them were in decent shape still, with just enough wear to give them character.
If you’re interested in bricks keep your eye on Craigslist, they pop up every couple of weeks. Some things you’ll want to consider…
- Craigslist people sometimes say “Brick” when they mean “cement block”, which is probably not what you’re looking for
- Craigslist people will say “Tons of bricks!” and mean 10 or 20 (this wall used more than 200).
- You might be able to fit 600 bricks in your car, but your shocks might give out. At about 400 bricks Chevy Trailblazer was starting to sag, so that’s all we took.
- Crumbling bricks are worthless for anything except fill
- Mortar is easy to remove from bricks, but you’ll have to find a way to dispose of it!
- There are several standard brick sizes, some with holes and some without.
Get a picture before you go, and don’t end up with a pile of useless bricks in your garage!
How to Build a Mortar-free Brick Wall
I have used mortar before. It’s not difficult to use effectively, but it can be tricky to make it look nice. I decided to not use mortar to increase the odds of it looking good, and so we could remove it easily if we didn’t like the shape.
The first tool I used was a string and two stakes. I ran the string between the stakes to make a straight line
The next step was to use a hoe and level the area the bricks were going to lay on. There was a slight slope, so I dug down in the slope to make a nice bed for the bricks. Using a level at this stage will make leveling the top of the wall easier later.
With the brick bed dug and the line up, I started carting wheelbarrows full of bricks to the back yard. As I was loading the wheelbarrow I knocked off any remaining mortar from the bricks. The best way to remove mortar is with sheer (sideways) force. If it’s thick enough you can strike the mortar directly, and it’ll slide right off the brick. If it’s too thin, you’ll need to use glancing blows. Directly hitting the mortar will eventually break it free but you’ll end up with a lot of dust floating around and possibly break your brick before you get it off!
Since I wanted the appearance of a Flemish Bond on a brick wall one brick thick, I needed to cut or break 1/3 of the the bricks in half. I don’t have a masonry saw, so I went for breaking. I started with a chisel, but found that the bricks were too soft for it. The chisel just made a hole rather than a fracture. Then I figured out that I could lay the chisel across the brick, hit it once with a nice strong blow, and it’d break right in half.
The only place I didn’t use the Flemish Bond was around the window well. There I just put the bricks pointing straight up.
Finally I dumped dirt, dirt and more dirt into the new bed and went inside to take a break.
We’re already growing a nice air conditioner, of course, but we’ll get this planted soon. The bad dirt that is outside the newly raised bed will eventually get sodded if I find some free sod near by, or I’ll add a little bit of this black dirt and plant some grass seed.