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What do you do for a living?  Scott asked. “I’m a software developer over at XG Micro.  My wife, Sheila, you’ve probably seen her out and about — she stays at home with our two children.” Scott nodded and smiled.  “You do well then.” “I do all right.  But not as well as you.”  Bud waved a hand at the Greenlawn’s yard. “It looks as if you’ve spent a fortune on lawn care. 

How much does it cost to have a lawn like that installed and maintained every month?” Laughing, Scott said, “I’m a tire salesman down at Dalton Tire.  And my wife teaches third grade.  We’re not wealthy, not by any means. We couldn’t afford to pay someone to install a lawn for us, so we did it ourselves, and we maintain it ourselves.”  The look of astonishment on Bud’s face prompted Scott to add, “And that agreement you don’t remember signing?  It was a promise to keep up your yard to a minimum standard.” With a friendly smile, he added, “You see, Bud, the condition of your yard affects my property value, your other neighbour’s property value, the people across the street’s property value…everyone’s.  And even if no one's planning to sell anytime soon, having a nice lawn can give you a lot more pride in your home. 

In fact, every time my friends come by to pick me up for bowling, they compliment our yard, and I like that." Bud gave Scott a questioning look. “So…you think Sheila and I could… we could fix this lawn ourselves?” “I think you could." “But where would we start?” After taking a closer look at the Brownmuds’ yard, Scott replied, with as much diplomacy as he could muster, “Well, in the shape it’s in, we’d probably need to start over.” “We?” Hope bloomed on Bud’s face. “Yeah, we. I’ll help you. 

It’s not that hard, once you know what to do.” Bud shook his head doubtfully. “I wouldn’t know where to start.” Removing his arm, Scott bent down and scooped up a handful of bare dirt from Scott’s yard.  “The first thing to do, usually, is to figure out what kind of soil you’re dealing with. Fortunately for you, that problem’s already been solved.” “You tested your soil?” “I didn’t have to. Since we’re in a neighbourhood, I was fairly sure that lots of other people had already done that. So I took a trip down the street to Great Hills Nursery and asked them about the soil in this area.”

“That’s good.” “Actually, that’s good news about bad soil,” Scott said.  “Here in Austin, Texas, we straddle two distinctly different geographic regions with two totally different types of soil.” Bud laughed.  “Yes, your yard, and then mine, right?” With a grin, Scott replied, ‘Not quite.  Do you know about the Balcones fault line that runs under Interstate 35?” “Oh, yes.  Sheila and I took the children down into that cave in Georgetown to see it.” “Well, that old fault line—where the earth moved about 20,000 years ago—is the dividing line between rich, black, gumbo-like soil and chalky, alkaline pale soil.” “Which one do we have?” “Here on the west side of I-35, we have the second one.  It’s poor soil, really; best suited for ranch land, since the main things that want to grow in it are native weeds and cedar. 

Now, east of I-35 is the same geographic region as Houston and the gulf coast—to grow tomatoes, all you have to do is throw some seeds out in front of you and step on them to push them into the soil.  You can come back in a month and you'll have tomatoes.  But that isn’t where we live.  Where we live, if you want a backyard garden, like the one Mrs. Leverett down the street has, you have to put in a bunch of organic compost* and other things and fertilize it.” Shaking his head, Bud remarked, “That sounds like a lot of work.”
“It can be, at first.  But once you get it set up, all you have to do is maintain it. 

And that can be a fun family activity that gets everybody outdoors, out in the sunshine and all that.” Bud thought about his own family life: his two girls usually parked in front of the TV, Sheila online e-mailing gossip to her friends…they could use a family activity.  “OK, so we’ve got poor alkaline soil around here.  How do we fix that?  And how much is all this going to cost me?” “Well, first, we probably should make some sort of plan for what we’re going to do,” Scott suggested. 

He tilted his head towards his open garage door.  “Come on into my workshop and let’s write down a few ideas so we can get a rough estimate on costs.” The two men went in and sat down at Scott’s workbench.  On a white notepad, Scott started making notes.  “All right, since we know the soil type, the next thing we have to do is pull out big weeds by hand, and get your yard tilled up.” “I tried pulling weeds,” Bud explained, “but they just broke right off.  I couldn’t get the root. Am I going to have to use a shovel?” “You can, or you can wait until it rains, or water your yard thoroughly.  When the ground’s saturated, you can pull those weeds up, root and all, with no trouble.” “Tilling* sounds expensive.” Next,,,