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You know, it’s funny — this month has easily been one of the most productive I’ve had in about a year. But despite all of this change happening so quickly around the UDH, finding the energy again at night to relive all of the details of the things I’ve been doing all day is proving to be tougher than I expected. Regardless, I decided to hunker down a little today (thank you, rain!) along with the kajillion photos I took as I filled in the backyard sinkhole, and break off post number two for you. If you’ve been missing part one of the recap about my backyard makeover project — the one where I ordered a truckload of fill dirt, called the utility companies in to give me the go-ahead, and rented a freaking backhoe to do all of this DIY style — you might want to click over here to get those details before I jump in. I’ll be right here when you get back.

leveling grading sinkhole backyard part 1

Ok, done reading that long ass post? Go fill up another cup of coffee, because we’re going to do it again. Let’s get started!

At the end of two days (which wound up being a total of five, but I’ll get to that) of moving dirt into my back yard from its original location on my driveway (the power lines and the width of the gate had prevented the dirt supplier from delivering to my backyard directly), I had a random, weird thought that kept catching me by surprise: I’m standing in a part of my yard I’ve never really stood before.


The “sinkhole fill project” (what I’ve been calling it) has been on my to-do list since I moved in. This means that for YEARS, there have been parts of the yard that were craggy, filled with weeds and yard debris, and simply uninviting to walk around in (Charlie doesn’t mind, but I do). In fact, back in 2010 when I moved in, there were even more obstacles back there than there are now: five extra pine trees, boatloads of pine straw preventing any grass growth, and ivy growing everywhere. The only thing it was suited for was turning a blind eye and contemplating a controlled fire (I kid, but only a little). I’m betting if you visited me back then, you would have suggested the same.


After a year or two of focusing on the interior, I then decided to attack the ivy and get rid of it for good, since ivy is home to loads of bugs (some of which went down my bra as I yanked and slashed the ivy down) and can threaten the life of healthy trees (which thankfully stayed out of my underwear):

tree ivy

Each time I made an improvement, the yard just seemed to look sadder and sadder, even though I knew it was heading in the right direction. The ivy provided a lot of green color, but it wasn’t ideal for the trees. Once the ivy was gone though, the sheer number of trees in the yard proved to have its own issues — namely, the pine straw that just made everything more brown. Meh.

After saving up a little cash, I decided that instead of hiring a company to limb all of the branches a few years later, I might as well just spend the dough to take them out permanently:


I left one remaining tree in the center of my yard, just to keep some shade back here and provide a tie-out for Charlie when needed (despite putting in my tall fence, she jumps it if she isn’t leashed). Plus, after the other trees had been removed and the stumps ground down, there was still a large mound of dirt to address on the left side. I moved some of the awkwardly placed plants closer to the fence, but wasn’t sure what to do next.

need to move

This dirt hill almost directly mocked the sinkhole that sat next to it on the other side, and I knew that someday (whenever that may be), I’d probably need to level things out a lot more if I ever wanted to actually use this yard as anything other than empty space. With everything I’d already done, this project always seemed to be too big to tackle… yet.

backyard sinkhole and yard debris pit

It’s All About Timing

I expected I would probably have to hire labor and equipment and instruct them to essentially push the mound over, reducing the height of the mound as well as raising the depression in the back section of the yard… and maybe bring in more dirt if the yard couldn’t be filled in enough on its own supply. In all honesty, just thinking of the various steps I’d need to take sounded way too expensive to even investigate further at the time, so I put it on the back burner and worked on a few more interior projects without doing much additional research. But, that’s also why I kind of like working on several projects at once: not only does it keep the makeover train moving along, but it sometimes allows solutions to find their way to me. Earlier this spring, Compact Power Equipment Rental contacted me to ask if I had a need for renting any large equipment or would be interested in partnering with them as a sponsor. Much to my surprise, I found out that through select Home Depot locations, they were a company who allowed professionals and DIYers alike to rent out machinery like this:

Kubota tractor loader backhoe back yard makeover

Wait — you mean I can rent one of these suckers myself? And save cash on labor costs? Uh, yeah, actually, I’d love to talk to you more about that. Also, how would you like to be my new best friend? Can I cook you dinner? Er, um… order you some Chinese food? Or pizza? I make a mean “call to the pizza place”… it’s my culinary specialty.

Day 1: Delivery Friday!

The planning took a little time (when you coordinate projects with a brand, there’s usually a little more work behind the scenes, establishing timelines, writing up contracts, that sort of thing), but earlier this month, this nifty piece of equipment arrived on my street:

compact power equipment rental dropoff

The best part of the whole thing was, it was all mine. Once I wiped the drool off my face and did an embarrassing seal clap in front of Chuck, the regional rep who was going to teach me how to use this thing, I got to work. And by that, I mean learning how to scoop bucketfuls of dirt (which takes a little bit more skill than you might think):

figuring out how to lift full loads of dirt

… drive (carefully) around my yard and through my fence:

full load of dirt on backhoe and fitting through fence

…and deposit all of its contents into the slowly disappearing sinkhole.

filling in the backyard sinkhole day 1 and 2

I also had to learn how to reset the seat between using it to drive the front loader and spinning it around to use the backhoe. This model had a number of safety features so that the seat locks into place. You have to use a seatbelt and make sure it has an audible click when you spin it around or the seat will be dislodged as you drive over bumps and the engine will cut off. It will also cut off if you’re just not a very heavy individual and the seat bounces your weight forward, which will also cause the seat to click out of place — adding to the comedy my neighbors probably witnessed as the engine would suddenly stall, and I would have to literally slam my butt back into the seat until it clicked, then turn the engine back on. I lost count of how many times this had to happen.

Sarah on the backhoe

The backhoe also had pins that secured the arm to keep it from extending while the front loader drove; unless they line up perfectly, the pins won’t come loose, but once they do, the full features of the backhoe can be used.

learning how to use a Kubota tractor loader backhoe

I really did feel pretty awesome riding around on this thing. I mean, I live in a small subdivision where houses are relatively close to each other. My neighbors were naturally curious, but the best part of any outdoor makeover project is that exterior improvement projects are contagious. I knew that if I did this thing right, I’d have a gorgeous backyard that everyone would want to come check out. Plus, I’m kind of that neighbor who is always clearly working on something, so I’m pretty sure they just shrug and think, there she goes again.

yard work getting started backyard makeover

Speaking of the fence, figuring out how to lift and move the gate was kind of a comical event as well. It came off in one panel (phew), but I’m also about a fourth of this thing’s size, so moving it around was less graceful and more like a cartoon (I honestly wish I could think of the clip that I have faint memories of, but I can’t seem to find it online… if I do, I’ll link it).

lifting up gate panel

By the end of the first day, I had about half of the dirt from the driveway redistributed into the yard. I was exhausted, but it became clear that I’d probably need more dirt than I initially estimated, and a load of topsoil to help establish grass would be a good option for the last load. In my defense, though, I really did think I had plenty at first. Wouldn’t you?

giant pile of fill dirt 81 recycling

I shot a quick live video on Facebook about the whole first day, and hopefully this embeds for  you below. If not, just click on over here.

Day 2: Dad’s Help and Backhoe Party!

Okay, so it was really more of a casual thing than a big party, but I invited a handful of my friends over on Saturday to see me in action, help me take video (I’m hoping to have a Youtube recap video to accompany the final post), and maybe even get a little free labor off of my friends who think playing around on a backhoe is a fun way to spend a late Saturday afternoon. And for the record, the brews were shared after we called it quits (no drinking and backhoeing)!

backhoes and brews

When the first few arrived, my role went from student to teacher and I gave everyone the lowdown on how to operate things, where levers were to stabilize the backhoe, etc.

going through instructions on the backhoe

teaching friends how to use a small backhoe

Honestly, I didn’t expect so many folks to show up, but a good number of them were willing to hop on for a few minutes and give it a whirl. Some were intimidated (when you grip onto a root and it doesn’t want to give, it can lift or move the machine in a way that makes you feel off balance), while others took to using the backhoe like total champs, ripping out a bunch more roots while I just stood around making “dirty hoe” puns. It also made me realize that I need to really work on having people over to this house a LOT more often, because DIY is considerably more fun when there’s an audience who is willing to get their hands dirty. It’s just not worth all of this work if I’m not opening it up to people, right?

friends helping with roots on the backhoe

Before they came over though, Dad set aside yet another Saturday in his lifetime to help me work on this house. I’m sorry folks, but my dad is probably way more awesome than your dad (I’m sure he’s nice and all, but mine helped level out the yard, so…).

dad on the backhoe

At the end of day 2, I took another live video to reveal how much progress can really happen in a single day. Again, if you aren’t seeing the video embedded below, just click on over to my Facebook page to view.

And if you aren’t into video, here is a pretty decent glimpse of the progress thus far:

fill dirt going into the back yard

I honestly took SO many photos during this whole thing that there are way too many for this post, which means I need at least one more to cover the rest. There will be a giveaway for you guys too in part 3! I have some other progress to share with you soon as well, so stay tuned. But first: what have you been up to this week?

Update: wanna skip ahead to the end? Click the image below!


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  1. Looks like a awesome “party”. LOL We’ve owned our house for just over a month now. My dad came over the first weekend with a mini chainsaw and helped me cut down a 15 foot pine tree. It was awesome. I made my mom take pictures. :) We also cut the large trunks of some ivy that was wrapped around a few trees, so that can start dying off and hopefully be able to pull it down. We also have no so level backyard but we’d need a lot more dirt to level it than you used. Ours slopes down a good 10 feet or so before it levels off again and it is all trees and bushes. I’m hoping to cut it back this fall/winter and maybe build some tiered garden beds and steps.

  2. I am so glad you’re posting this! My husband and I will be tackling a similar project in our backyard (albeit on a much smaller scale) and it’s comforting to know people can do it without professional help. Are you going to try to seed the yard when you’re finished? That’s the part I’m worried about… having a nice, level yard and no grass!!

  3. Oh my stars Sarah!!! I am so excited for you and thrilled to hear your sweet, smiling voice. I’m glad peeps were able to help and play with the heavy equipment.
    I’m not a fan of southern pines except on someone else’s property. lol Go you for taking most of them out. :)
    Are you getting one load of fill and how much top soil are you going to have to get?
    The videos are fun and I am thrilled with and for you!
    Rock on with your big Tonka Toy using self. :)

    1. Such a sweet comment! ;) I ultimately got one load of fill and one load of topsoil. So glad you like the videos!

  4. Awesome rear terrain changes Sarah! to turn an unusable back yard to more living space you can and will enjoy, Yes, if one is to be a heavy equipment operator making the earth move at one’s new learned skills, I would deffinately want to share and witnesses, who like beer and already trained on shovels and maybe to help hook the chain up to the mini-back-hoe to pull it out of the sink hole….lol Sometimes I like to get real close to my work. Your low area does’nt look to severe or wet to lose equipment in though. Realizing the safety that needs to be practiced at all times running a piece of equipment like that is the key thing but the best operators usually are ones that have gamed alot and have good eye – hand cordination. People that have previous hoe-handling experiance will adapt to your hoe rather quikly I’m sure. ” Once I wiped the drool off my face and did an embarrassing seal clap in front of Chuck, the regional rep who was going to teach me how to use this thing, I got to work. And by that, I mean learning how to scoop bucketfuls of dirt (which takes a little bit more skill than you might think) ” That line pretty much summed up the project. You did’nt realize it would be so much fun When you do have to back-hoe Sarah use OSHA guidelines all PPE, and please hoe responsibly c/o MADHO inc. Mothers Against Drunk Hoe Operators

  5. Oooo, it’s coming along so nicely!! I know it kinda always looks worse before it looks better, but I’m sure you’ll get it looking all purty’n’stuff in no time.

    The Backhoe party was a great idea! It’s so nice to have a tribe of friends to laugh and get down and dirty with . . . Ahem.

    We’re doing a bit of yardwork, too. Chopping up old logs and mounds of burnt dirt. We’ll eventually need to hire a Dingo and get the whole area levelled so we can put some privacy trees in. Reckon a Dingo and Drinks party moght be in order – not to steal your idea or anything. ;)

    Can’t wait for Part Three, and then to see what you do with your nice, flat area!

  6. That’s a lot of work! But it looks amazing. We are about to start a similar project and can’t wait. Great job!