Belle of Dirt

Missouri Ozarks mom, mover of earth, photographer, plant enthusiast

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Baby it’s COLD outside  

BRRRR! I got spoiled with our mild October weather. Today really FEELS like winter is on its way. It feels like it for my garden too. Everything that wasn’t covered last night is wilted and frost-nipped today, but the REAL cold hasn’t even truly hit us… yet. It’s supposed to get down in the 20’s this weekend, followed by several nights of at or below freezing temps. The garden is taking a true dirt-nap, any annuals that have struggled along are now down for the count. 010
I have a few things around the yard that are perennial, but they need a bit of help surviving a Missouri winter. Mostly I buy plants that will be suitable for zone five or below, even though the Lake area is in a tiny hot spot of zone 6b. Sometimes though, even plants that are properly zoned can use a little extra help for a year or two until they get deep root systems established. Also, I don’t like digging up my elephant ears every fall, (it’s a pain to pot and store all of them) so I’m going to try caging them year and see if the bulb can survive in the ground till spring.

It doesn’t take too much work or cash to see a tender plant through the winter. I’ve caged a very small rose bush, two little crepe myrtles (a new type, supposed to be cold hearty to zone 4, but until they’re bigger, I’m 009not risking it!), my Japanese Maple that Tom and E bought me (it’s the graft site on this that concerns me) and the elephant ear. I save my cages from year to year and use them as compost towers in the garden during the spring/summer/fall. They made some great compost this year to toss on top of the garden mounds and served as an convenient place to toss organic waste while I worked in the garden.

These cages are nothing more than a bit of that plastic coated garden fence (3 to 4ft), formed into a cylinder and held in place with yard stakes. I use the leftovers I have lying around from where we fenced the yard years ago, but they do sell it in smallish rolls at the garden center if you don’t have any scrap handy. My cages are only about a foot or so across, so a 3 foot long section will make a single cage. For the elephant ear, I made a new one that was about 3 feet across. This took a section of fence about 5 feet long. I snipped off one end with wire snips, leaving the long horizontals, these can be used to wrap around the fence after you roll it into a cylinder- no extra wire needed.

I carefully place the towers over the plants I want to protect. The bigger the plant, the bigger your cage is going to have to be. I used cardboard this year to line the cages before stuffing them with leaves. Last year I lost almost 50% of my leaves to breakdown and wind before spring. By the time it started warming up; the tips of my plants were showing through the top. The crepe myrtle and rose are no more than a foot tall. The graft on the maple is about 2 feet up and the elephant ear, I’m really only protecting what’s in the ground. I use about 3 garden stakes per tower, kind of weaving them through the fence a couple times before shoving them in the ground. You want to do this BEFORE the ground freezes!

Towers in place, I raked the sidewalk. This filled about a tower and a half, so I had to mow the back yard and use that to finish off the rest. Mowing has the added benefit of chopping up the leaves and adding other coarse yard material. Leaves are excellent insulators. Just ask any kid that has climbed into a giant pile of leaves, raked up in the fall. They are nice and warm under all those little layers of air. The cardboard adds another layer. I stuff the towers from the bottom up, packing them firmly, but not ramming the leaves down so hard that it snaps branches or crushes the plant. You want to protect it from freezing, not ram it into the earth.

Mowing the yard to get leaves gave the added benefit of my not having to rake massive piles and then figure out what to do with them after. Burning leaves sets off my asthma in a big way, so I hate having to burn those huge piles every fall. I spent all of 20 minutes raking this year and we have a BIG yard. The only intensive raking necessary with the mulching mower is to get the leaves away from the fence so they can be chopped up. (Mulching mower isn’t some highly specialized machine BTW- it’s simply a push mower with a grass bag attached)
I did rake the yard lightly after mowing, to get up any remaining leaf bits, thatch (common with Zoysia grasses) and little rocks that have surfaced. 20 minutes of raking and my yard looks like this.
After I’d filled up my leaf towers, I used the rest to put mulch rings around our trees.

If I remember this summer, I’ll try to re-post here about whether or not the leaf tower worked for the elephant ears. They are zoned for 8-10, but I’ve had them survive winters in the past by keeping them right up next to the foundation of our house. This one is on the foundation, but it’s on the North side not the South- which means it doesn’t benefit from the warmth of the sun- EVER. One more note on the towers… I can imagine some people find these cardboard and leaf towers standing in the yard to be an eyesore. Wrap them in burlap or black weed barrier fabric if you like. It will add an extra layer of protection and hide the ugly. I put Christmas lights on mine last year. :)


My daughter put in Frozen for us to watch today, built a tiny 3 inch snowman from last night’s flurries in our yard and made snow cones out of collected snow and Gatorade. The radio is playing Christmas songs, every other commercial on TV is about holiday shopping. I have to concede that my growing season is over and the chill is here.

Stay warm folks.



Quick raised bed

004My daughter threw a few zinnia seeds at the end of our driveway this spring, which resulted in a slightly haphazard patch of gorgeousness by midsummer. I mulched her spontaneous flower garden in August to help protect them from drying out too quickly in the horrible dirt they’d been planted in. When we cut away the last remaining stragglers last week, (zinnias bloom forever!) I promised her a much nicer medium for next year’s seeds.
This is my basic recipe for any raised bed I do in our yard now. It’s part hugelkulture mound, part lasagna gardening. Both are just fancy terms meaning I layer a bunch of organic material and then plop some plants in at some point and watch them grow.
I was breaking down a previous very large bed I built nearly 12 years ago, so I pulled rock and small boulders from that to use as a border. Some of my beds are made with scrap lumber, some with purchased landscape blocks. Most of them are rocks from various places on our property- because they are a) free and b) look organic instead of overly formal and contrived.
Build your border out of whatever you like. Just remember you’ll want it high enough to accommodate several layers of material, unless you mound the bed (tall center, near ground-level edges.)
First layer, if you are concerned with underground lovelies, such as moles, should be hardware cloth. Our “soil” here is clay and rock, rock and more rock. I seldom bother with hardware cloth. If you are lucky enough to have wonderful, silty soil, you probably have critters to go with it. Put down hardware cloth, save yourself grief later. (Hardware cloth is not actually cloth. It is a metal grid with holes small enough to put your finger through, but not small enough for rodents to climb through. I’m not sure why they call it “cloth” at all.)
FernWalk 006
MY first layer is cardboard and/or newspaper. I receive a ridiculous number of catalogs and papers stuffed with ads from every grocery and hardware store within a 30 mile radius… And the occasional phone book. I use them for weed barrier. Worms like this stuff, MUCH better than they like that black weed barrier on a roll crap you get at the garden center. Put a nice thick layer on the bottom of your new beds in the fall, water well, you’ll have 99% fewer weeds to deal with later. I’ve also used cardboard boxes ripped up like in the photo with the ferns at right. Cardboard lasts longer, but it’s harder to place around delicate plants.
107To the newspaper, I add a course layer of twigs, leftover mulch, chopped leaves yard clippings, whatever I have around for drainage. I avoid grass cuttings though, because we have a lot of crabgrass that sprouts everywhere and that stuff is vicious if it gets a foothold.
Over the roughage, I’ll add the actual soil or planting medium. How amended this is depends a lot on what I’m planting. For annual flowers like zinnias or marigolds, native clay with a bit of last year’s compost is usually fine. If I’m planting veggies, I use a lot more nutrient dense mix. I may add blood meal, peat moss, mushroom compost.

By now you’ve probably built things up enough it’s time for the second course of border (if you used rocks). Some people mortar these together or use landscape adhesive. I used it when building the pond and can vouch that it holds pretty well. I just use clay to hold together most of my rock borders. Since our native soil is 70% clay and 30% rock or clay that has turned to rock, it makes great glue when it’s wet. Start the base of your border with newspaper or cardboard to keep weeds from growing up between. Add the first course of rock. Fill your raised bed to the tops of the first level of rock, covering the tops with a bit of earth. The lay the top course over the bottom. If you’re doing this with landscaping blocks, bricks or concrete that you purchased, you’ll need to level each course and use sand/mortar to secure them in place. Rocks are a bit more forgiving. Kids can even sit/climb on the big boulders without damaging the bed.

On top of leftover straw, I added a couple wheelbarrows of burned  up trash from our burn pile. Over this I added 3 wheelbarrows full of native soil. This spring, I’ll add the plants, maybe a little blood meal to give it a nitrogen boost and mulch on top of that. Water each layer well to settle the bed and prevent air pockets.

In seriously weed prone areas, I sometimes newspaper between the plants again, on top of the soil, to keep weeds from taking over between my plants.

The mulch I start as a light layer, then build to about 3-4 inches deep as my plants mature. The idea is to retain moisture and soil nutrient content without smothering your plants. If your mulching material is fine (like shredded leaves) you may need to add to it a couple times a season as it breaks down.
117That’s it. Follow that recipe for your raised planting beds and they will be low maintenance and grow very healthy plants for several seasons. As the organic materials break down, you may need to re-layer every 4-5 years or so. On this bed, I’ll eventually have to replace that big stump with rock as it rots… but it looks kind of cool for now. :)
Raised garden beds are MUCH easier than raking, tilling and hoeing all season. Healthier for the micro-organisms in your soil and for your plants too!

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We let our 6 year old stay up last night and watch part of the eclipse. I was afraid it was going to be too cloudy to see it here and we’d miss it, but we lucked out and the clouds cleared out a bit after dark. It really was one of the best lunar eclipses I’ve ever seen. The moon turned blood red and because it was a super moon, it was bigger and brighter than usual.



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A Shady Problem

FrontWalk2003When we moved to this property over 15 years ago, the previous owner had lost it to repossession. I guess he decided he wasn’t letting the bank have anything that wasn’t in the original deal, so he tore the back porch down that he’d built, ripped the gutters off the house, etc. The yard was pretty much a blank slate of clay and rock, barren of even weeds in most places.

The front walkway has evolved over the years with the yard, but I’ve never really found quite the right solution for it. The first couple years, we just threw down straw to keep from tracking mud in the house. Then I let the weeds grow and just trimmed them short so that you could tell where you were supposed to walk of you came in the front door. I had built a concrete walk for the back, which we used and the front walk remained ugly and ignored for years. My first attempt at building a raised bed from rocks was under this window. I planted it full of elephant ears, which was really pretty, but then they got so big after a bit that they were hanging over the walk. Then we had an especially cold winter and the elephant ears were no more.

I finally got around to leveling at some point and building a  walkway. At first, the sides were only filled with gravel I’d robbed from the driveway. I sprayed the weeds that popped through with Roundup once a season. I was mostly content with that for a couple of years, but every time it rained or snowed, rocks from the edges of the walkway wound up scattered all over the place. I finally got sick of raking them back into place and put landscaping bricks around the edges to separate the walkway from the surrounding area. I took the gravel out when the brick went in, thinking I would plant some sort of perennial garden in the two strips along the walk and it would look fabulous in a couple year’s time.

FernWalk 005So I bought dirt, mulch and about $60 worth of seeds, planted everything and then it started to rain. And rain. And rain. And… it rained for a freaking month straight. Most of my dirt packed down and stayed in the beds, but nothing else did. The seeds washed away or drowned. The mulch wound up in the driveway and eventually down in the woods. I was left with barren dirt beds that the house was now digging a trench in each time it rained, because we’ve never put gutters back on the house.

I didn’t want to fill it back in with gravel, but that flower bed has been a real pain in the ass before, even when there was no real sidewalk. I’m limited as to what will grow in this strip along the house. Until 10 am, it gets no sun. Then from 11am-12 noon it’s full sun. Around 1pm, it’s back in full shade until the next morning. Right around the corner of the house, FULL SUN. Elephant ears was one of the few plants that tolerated those conditions well. Hostas did ok… sometimes they would get sun scorched though during those couple hours around noon.

This past summer we spent a lot of time down in our woods, riding the four-wheeler, looking for rocks for the fire-FernWalk 002pit, planning a camp-site. I already knew there were thousands upon thousands of ferns in our woods, I’d just overlooked them as a usable resource. I made trips to the woods with buckets, brought up a few ferns and stuck them around the back edges of the sidewalk with some flowering clover. They have been very happy there all summer and are filling in nicely. I decided today that I’d do the same with this ugly, washed out, shady problem spot. Except instead of just ferns and mulch, I also added larger river rocks to stop the rush of water off the house from flooding this bed and sending everything down the walk into the driveway when it rains.

FernWalk 004There are two different kinds of ferns in our woods- a tall, delicate kind that grows on thin stalks (I think this is a Bracken Fern?) and a broader leaf kind that sends up curly fronds that flatten out as they mature (Christmas Fern). I’ve seen both reach a foot in height and spread. It took 4 buckets full to give me enough plants for this bed, probably about 25-30 ferns in all. If I’d had to pay for these, this would have been a MUCH more expensive project.

Same with the rock, I made 4-5 trips to the dry creek beds in our woods for rock. Not that I don’t have rock near the house, I have plenty. But the ones in the creek bed have that riverbed, old, worn, fossil look that I wanted with the ferns. I mostly took ferns in the path that were in danger of being run over by the ATV anyway. As you can see from the picture, I left PLENTY of them in the woods. I also brought back some rotted tree and leaf compost.

I dug holes in the bed and planted the ferns, mixing up the two kinds. Mostly I kept the broad leaf ones near the back. This is the part of the flower bed that takes the most abuse from falling water and since the other kind were more delicate, I placed them in front near the sidewalk.FernWalk 006

I had some cardboard boxes saved that I hadn’t burned and used this between the planted ferns as a weed barrier. Cardboard is one of the best free weed barriers you can put in your garden/flower beds. It breaks down over time, but doesn’t shred like that black plastic yuck you get from the garden centers. Worms love it and it holds moisture at the root level of your plants.

Placing the river rocks was sort of like a jigsaw puzzle. I just fitted them in where they looked best to me. Again, I kept the bigger rocks right under the roof-line, since they’ll be taking the worst beating from falling roof water.

FernWalk 008

I saved the compost and what little mulch was left in the bed to toss on top of everything. It falls down between the rocks and hides the cardboard where it might show through between rocks and plants.

Anytime I’m building a new bed like this and especially with transplants, I give it a REALLY good drink right after planting and water it well for several days after. This helps get air pockets out of the soil that can dry out plant roots, helps the soil settle back in so it doesn’t get washed out by heavy rain and encourages the plants to establish to their new space quickly. FernWalk 009


Once they’re settled, these ferns will need next to no maintenance (The ones I planted in spring are doing wonderful without any intervention on my part all summer). When I dug them up from the woods today, they were growing out of rocky, dry soil that didn’t look like it had much nutrient value. Most of the websites I’ve visited for fern care recommend well drained, humus rich (humus is compost- hence the rotted tree I brought back with them) soil. I dump chopped up dead leaves on mine whenever I get a FernWalk 011chance. I figured that was the closest mulch to what they are adapted to in nature.


Now that I’ve finally established a working plant bed for the shady side of the sidewalk, I’ll have to come up with a plan to fill in the other side. Phlox would be the lazy fix. Maybe I’ll do some research…



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I’ve been quite busy all summer- just not doing much that I considered especially blog-worthy.

I’ve done a few bits and pieces of things about the garden, picked cucumbers, picked tomatoes (which are slow to produce this year for some reason?), picked more blackberries than I had freezer space for and anxiously watched as my pumpkin vines put out nothing but female flowers so therefore did not produce any pumpkins.

WHEW. For nothing to write about, that was a hell of a run on sentence.


011We started the tree house project almost a month ago, but didn’t finish until recently because the weather was just MISERABLE for working on stuff like this outside. The part of August where you’re soaked in sweat before you can make it to the end of your walkway is not conducive to ambitious outdoor plans of any sort.

I made a couple trips to the woods to move a few ferns, decided to hell with that and spent the next two weeks playing in the creek with my kid. It was a wonderful way to spend the end of summer- exploring creek beds and feeding Cheez-Its to crawdads.

The one in the picture rode his about 20 feet down the creek before it took on enough water to fall apart and sink.


Right- tree house.
So we picked up all of these pallets from the hardware store down the road because they were there. And because they were free. And because I have a zillion posts on Pinterest for projects you can do with pallets. It wasn’t until a couple weekends ago that we finally purchased a Saws-All and decided to break some of them apart and make some stuff out of them. Between the pallets and the tires stacked up, our front fence was beginning to look like something that should have had dueling banjos as a soundtrack. Not wanting to become a Midwest/Southern cliché, we decided to delve into the Pinterest list and make a spice rack. It turned out fairly well and went together with minimal effort. We still had TONS of pallets though, so we decided to use them to build the tree house as well.

tree house (1)The base of the tree house is 4×4 posts, anchored in concrete about 3ft deep. The platform was built of mostly scrap lumber from our dwindling pile, primarily of 2×4’s and maybe a 2×6 thrown in there somewhere. It’s anchored to the top of the posts with big lag bolts through the frame into each post.

The walls are all pallet wood. We used the thicker inside boards for the top and bottom and attached long pallet decking boards vertically to build a wall frame. Shorter pallet boards were added horizontally to the outside of the wall, but to keep the weight down, I didn’t entirely close in the wall with the horizontal boards. The window in the back of the tree house serves as more than just decorative; the V-Shaped bracing gave the entire thing a lot of stability. We used a 2×4 on each end at the top to add strength and help tie it all together. We’ve had 350+ lbs of people up there and there were no creaks or groans.
I will say that our daughter is fairly mellow though when she’s up there. She doesn’t do a lot of rough-housintree house (7)g or bouncing off those walls. If you’re building this for kids that are not of a fairly calm demeanor, I would consider reinforcing those walls with some serious bracing  or at least wrapping the entire thing in light wire mesh. If you’re really concerned about the wall strength, drop the decking down several feet so that it’s sitting down inside the support posts instead of on top of them.

I’ve heard horror stories from my husband about the things he and his brothers did as kids. If I were building this for them- I probably would have framed the walls with 2×4 construction like I was framing a house, used 6×6 or 8×8 support posts and rented an auger to get the posts as deep as possible.

tree house (5)

Tree house Ladder anchor

We tried a rope ladder for access at first, but it didn’t work out very well. It was hard to climb, I was worried the knots wouldn’t hold, it kept twisting with her on it, even though it was anchored. We left the anchor- a 3 ft section of 4×4 with holes drilled on either end and 3 foot long, 1/2 inch rebar pounded into the ground. Tom cut two smaller pieces of 4×4 and drilled into them part way to cap the rebar stakes. They can have sharp edges and they WILL rust after they’ve been outside for a while, so they have to be covered with something. A couple of screws toe-nailed into the caps keep them in place. The ladder was built of 2×4 lumber and attached to the back of the anchor. I’m MUCH happier with this ladder than the rope version; it added strength and stability to the entire structure, it’s easy for our kiddo to climb and we can use it ourselves- which eliminates dragging the tree house (2)stepladder out every time we need to get up there for something.

There is a big truck tire in the bottom of the frame, it’s lag bolted to each post and I’m going to fill it with dirt, rock and mulch to add weight to the bottom of the structure. The tree house decking is almost 8 feet off the ground, so I wanted to make sure it was very bottom heavy. The smaller tires are off my car and fit perfectly between the posts for climbing. I’m thinking I may add more stuff to the bottom later. We’re planning on adding a swing bar off of the post nearest the ladder. I found you can purchase all the swing components- brackets, seats, rubber coated chains, etc. online and they are fairly reasonable in price.

tree house (6)Our daughter decorated the inside of the walls with glittery sidewalk chalk. We added a couple of hooks with paracord and a galvanized metal bucket so that she can haul things up and down without carrying them up the ladder. She was putting random things in the bucket JUST to pull them up and down. :)


Side note- Anything we added that might hold water, such as the bucket and the tires, we drilled holes in. You don’t want to CREATE mosquito habitat if you can avoid it.

I’ll update after the swing bar and perhaps again when I get to landscaping underneath.



Signs, Signs Everywhere are Signs…

25 Group1We’ve been working on a path from our house to the back portion of our property since last fall and finally made it all the way up to where we want to build a campsite in the woods. We’ve developed our own little landmarks along the path- such as “Couch” for a huge fallen tree we sometimes stop to sit on, “the twins” for the oak that starts as one tree at the bottom and splits about chest height into two huge, separate trees. Jabberwocky for the tree that looks like it has a knobby, twisted face.
I had originally planned some sort of an Alice in Wonderland theme to mark the path along the way, but then decided I wanted a bit more variation. So instead of one piece of literature, I went with many.
With the help of my 6 y/o daughter, we’ve came up with a list of places from various books that we could put on the signs. I then did some browsing on various font sites online to find original fonts for each design. Each one has hand painted details and is sealed for outdoor use.

01 Pallet1.I had wanted some boards to make signs, but hadn’t come across anything that suited me- until Tom brought home a pallet from work. He said, “I thought you might want to make something out of this.” I clicked around Pinterest for a while, looking at stuff to make from pallets, when it hit me… this slightly ratty, split wood that breaks unevenly on the edges it PERFECT for the signs I wanted to make. So I pried apart the pallet, Tom cut the boards in half with a chainsaw and I had the perfect wood for my signs.

2. To make the signs look like they’d been there a long time, I needed boards with split or uneven edges, but they were also very dirty. I had to do a bit of cleanup before I could use them. I scrubbed each one with a wire grill brush and dish soap, then let them dry overnight before I started painting on them.

3. Before doing any lettering on boards themselves, I did mock-up designs in Microsoft Word to see how the fonts were going to look. I made little notations to myself under each font, like this:

01 Mock UpBy using digital fonts, you don’t even have to be especially artistic to do this, just good at cutting things out with scissors. I didn’t label the font itself in my notes, since it shows in Word what font you are using when you click on the word itself. The Camelot font is one I downloaded called, “Old London.” I noted basic colors and the size of the board so I could size the letters properly in Photoshop.
4. We painted the backgrounds of each board according to the notations in my list. For example, I used a black to red ombre background with silver-metal effect lettering for Westeros. Let your kids help! I didn’t want the paint to completely cover the wood, because the idea was to have these look a bit weathered. My daughter had a blast painting the backgrounds for the signs. :)

We let everything dry overnight before starting to add letters. Some of the backgrounds, like Gillikin Country and Pixie Hollow I added colored glitters to the backgrounds. We wrote the name of each sign on the back of the boards, along with the board dimensions.

5. In Photoshop, I opened a file the exact same dimensions as my board. This way, I didn’t have to wonder if they would fit when I printed them out. I also used Photoshop to add color to the fonts, shadows, metal effects, etc. Some I had to split up if they wouldn’t fit on an 8×11.5 sheet of paper. To some designs, I also added pictures- like the pointing hand for Diagon Alley, or the Rainbow in Gillikin Country.
05 Photoshop6. I printed my designs out and rough-cut them to double check that they would fit on my board.
05 Print letters7. This is the REALLY tedious bit. I cut out every detail of each letter until all the white of the paper was gone. For some of them, this was a real challenge. The letters on Tulgey Wood had a lot of little curlicues on the ends and I just couldn’t cut those spirals out without tearing the paper. I wound up just cutting some of them off and painting the curlicues back on after the letters were pasted down. Once you have everything cut out, dry fit the letters again so you can see how they’ll look before you past them down. You might want to lightly draw a pencil line on the board to make sure the letters line up straight.
06 Dry Fit8. I used an outdoor formula of Modge Podge to glue the letters to the board. I can’t say if other adhesives would work better or worse. I can say that the Modge Podge was very easy to brush on each bit of paper, stuck well and cleaned up with just water. It was also very forgiving of mistakes, since it dries clear. I did all my cutting/gluing while watching TV, since this is a rather long and tedious process.
07 Paste Letters9. After the letters dried for a few minutes, I went back over them with several more coats of Modge Podge. I didn’t realize just how important this step was until I started sealing the boards later. The outdoor sealant will get into every crack and crevice it finds and it can discolor your printed letters if you don’t seal the edges properly. I did at least 3 coats around the edges of each letter, until they felt raised to the touch. I only let it dry for a few minutes between each coat, (it was still slightly tacky to the touch) as I was lazy and didn’t want to have to sand it each time.
09 Seal Edges10. I let all the layers of Modge Podge dry overnight. We had several boards in various steps of the process at once, so I could work on others while I waited for dry-time. I hand painted designs, outlines and other embellishments over the sealed letters. This was the really fun part! On Pixie Hollow I added vines and pink bell-shaped flowers. I brushed over the letters with a bit of glue and sprinkled glitter over it, waited for it to dry and brushed it with a dry paintbrush to remove the excess. My daughter loved the sparkles.

10 Paint Details11. This is the Galt’s Gulch sign finished with silver outline detail, a logo and few random splatters.
11 Detail Finish
12. I let everything cure at least 24 hours before sealing. I rushed one of the signs and the paint detail/lettering smeared a bit when I put the lacquer on it. The lacquer is horrible smelling, hardcore stuff. The hardware store did not sell outdoor polyurethane other than in a spray; I didn’t want a spray, because I wanted to make sure the coating was very thick. These boards have a lot of little splits and rough edges- which gives them great character, but also leaves a lot of places for the 12 Sealweather and insects to damage when left outside. I did do research prior to buying a sealant and read that supposedly poly’s tend to yellow outdoors while lacquer supposedly doesn’t. I must have read the wrong forum, because the lacquer yellowed every bit as bad. I did notice that the outdoor Modge Podge didn’t yellow, not even a little bit. But it also warns that the project may have to be re-treated each year to keep the finish weatherproof. Hoping for lowest possible maintenance, I went ahead and used the lacquer. The yellowing is most obvious on white or light colors. On straight wood or darker colors, it looks just fine. You want to do this step outdoors. It says right on the can that prolonged breathing of the fumes can lead to central nervous system damage. Wear gloves, don’t let the kiddos help with this step and if you have asthma or any other breathing condition, pick up a mask at the hardware store that is made to block fumes.
26 Group2
13. After sealing, the signs had to dry for several days (3 minimum) before they felt smooth, hard and no sticky or tackiness. (For Pete’s sake, sometimes writing about this stuff sounds like I’m writing erotica! LOL) The biggest pain the butt with this stage was that they had to lie flat and couldn’t be stacked or touching anything until they were completely cured. I only had to leave them outside for a couple hours before I could pick them up and bring them in without getting lacquer on my hands though.

14. We pre-drilled holes in each sign to keep the wood from splitting when it was fastened to a tree. This may seem like unnecessary work, but if you don’t drill the holes and you split your entire sign in half with a screw, you’re going to be upset about losing hours’ worth of work. I’m happy to say that because we did pre-drill, none of the signs we’ve hung so far cracked a bit.
27 PreDrillHere’s what they look like hung in the woods. As of right now, I still have 7 left to seal the backsides of and 3 more that I’m still doing detail work on. I’ll post the rest on Facebook at when they are finished. I also have plans to maybe make a few signs for friends/family. I’m thinking these would make cool “just because” gifts. If you want to see the individual designs, I’ve posted them below in a gallery.

Meanwhile, the garden is finally starting to take off after its late start and I’ll be posting a few updates on how those Hugelkultur mounds are working out. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on sustainable farming/gardening.
Until then,

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Mailbox recycle

We live on a busy state highway with lots of curves. Whether it’s the curves, something interesting on their cell phones, or 83567918beebcb550f5e08c0730f6e70whatever was in the bottle that they threw at the road sign by our driveway- people just can’t seem to stop crashing into the mailboxes here. OK, one was taken out by the snowplow a couple winter’s ago. Thanks for that one, Mo-DOT.

We finally got smart after the 3rd replacement and started anchoring a 4×4 post in bucket of concrete. Since the bucket contained the concrete and not the hole itself, this meant to replace the entire thing only requires pulling the bucket out of the hole, dropping in a new one with a new post and mailbox. The most recent time, it was the post they destroyed. The mailbox itself was a little scraped up, but still serviceable. So, new post, new bucket, new concrete and Voila’! mailbox replaced in under half an hour.

I drug the sad remains of the post down to the house, intending to put it in the burn pile, but it never made it. And it’s a good thing… because I was browsing Pinterest one evening and found this picture: Put your garden hand tools in a mailbox in the yard. I had a post. I also remembered I had a HUGE mailbox that I had bought years ago for our business office and it had never been used. We decided it was too big and gaudy (or perhaps a MUCH larger target on this highway) to put by the road. So it has sat in storage for years- until now.

016Along with the mailbox, there was a 60lb bag of concrete up there, also left over from a previous project. I had loads of extra buckets lying around, from skim-coating ceilings in the house after removing all that nasty popcorn flocking stuff. I dug a few coated screws out and had all the makings of a new box. Tom was kind enough to cut the cross-bar for me the other day while I hunted down something suitable for a hose hanger. We were once planning on hanging our ladders on the back of the house and it never was done. So I had a nice, big ladder bracket that would make a great hose hanger.

I sunk the old mailbox post in new concrete and made a hole for the bucket to sit in. It was important to do that down here in the yard too, since the mailbox was going to sit right in front of our well-pump. If I need to remove the box in a hurry, all I do is 015push a few rocks aside and pick it up out of the ground- bucket and all. We put in the support bar underneath (to keep the weight of the box from snapping the top board off) and added some 2×2 scrap to the sides of the top support to make it wider- this box is twice the size of the one that was originally on this post.

Attached the latch hardware to the box and my ladder bracket to the back- And this was the end result. A nice place to stash hand trowels, a little cultivator, some Off, a screwdriver, gloves- whatever I want to keep near the garden but out of the weather. It’s nice to have a hose hanger near the pump too, so that I’m not always tripping on coils of piled up hose.
I love that the entire project was done from things we already had around the house and in storage, so didn’t cost us anything but a couple hour’s time.


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