Belle of Dirt

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


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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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Oops, I Forgot My Wisteria is Insane.

This is a post where you get to learn from my poor planning and lack of foresight. Or if you’re a more experienced gardener, you can just say, “Tsk. Tsk.” or “I feel your pain.”garden 003

A couple years ago we made these great wooden planter boxes out of leftover boards from the back deck rebuild. I planted tomatoes in them two years in a row and they did wonderfully. I’ve occasionally had to trim the wisteria vine behind them back to keep it from getting down onto the tomato trellis. There was a storm that blew hard enough to lift the entire wisteria vine and flop it over to the other side of the trellis a year or two ago. We had to use our pickup and a tow chain to move the trellis back in place, the wisteria itself was too heavy to re-locate back where it was, so I was forced to cut it back severely. It didn’t bloom the next year and I was sad. I was afraid I’d not see it bloom again for years; sometimes new growth on a Chinese wisteria can take 10 years before it will produce blooms!

garden 004This year though it bloomed like crazy, the bumblebees were back, the birds are nesting in it and all is right with the world. Except…
Because the bulk of the plant now grows towards the driveway and not the yard, the way it did before the storm relocated it, it now almost completely covers the planter boxes we built by the fence. I wanted to grow peppers in them this year, but the wisteria grows somewhere at a rate of 6 inches to a foot every day I think… once I’m sure it grew 3 feet in about 5 minutes when it realized I wasn’t keeping an eye on it.

I fear that one day it will eat our house.

Anyway, the planter box that had once been in a nice sunny spot for growing vegetables was now in almost complete, deep shade 90% of the day. It got a little morning sun, but that was it. AND the wisteria continues to grow. If I don’t cut it back every week, it will reach the ground and start traveling towards the cars. I’m sure of it. Maybe I can train it to go do my Wal-Mart shopping for me?

So today, because of poor planning and a Wisteria that grows like Kudzu, I had the pleasure of emptying out the entire planter box, moving the frame and then putting all the dirt back in it. It took me almost as long to move it as it did to build it in the first place, but I’m fairly certain it will get plenty of sun in its new home. I dropped it on the front corner of the what is slowly becoming our new vegetable garden. garden 001
Anyway, lesson learned and I thought I’d share. If you’re thinking of building a structure like a raised bed, make sure you plan it away from plants that may grow very large, or especially aggressive growers (like wisteria!), unless you don’t mind your structure being taken over by Jumanji nightmare vines. A little planning and consideration for the future look, size and scope of a project could save you a lot of trouble later!

Ok gardeners. You can stop smirking and shaking your heads now. :-P

-B

Firepit (4)


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Fire Pit

You hear it all the time on DIY and HGTV- Everybody who is anybody has a fire pit in their “entertainment landscape.”  The Firepit (4)professional designers come in and they point around the barren, weed riddled pathetic yard of some nice, overworked couple and say, “We’ll put the firepit there, outdoor kitchen here, pizza oven, wet bar, children’s play area… oh and we’ll need a 3×3 ft square for the dog to do it’s business.”

I’m not a professional designer. And up until now, I’ve not really had a huge desire for a fire pit, because up until recently I was pretty much the only one that spent time in our yard. But this fall, we got a four-wheeler and suddenly my husband has decided he likes to be outdoors. He bought camping equipment. He went hunting for the first time since we’ve been married (15 years!) and he’s probably been out in the woods more in the past year than he has his entire life. Part of this was influenced by his brother’s family, who likes to go camping. We spent a little time with them at Fiery Fork, if you’ll remember Firepit (7)from this post: http://belleofdirt.com/2013/06/05/camping-at-fiery-fork/ and that same year, I braved sleeping in a tent TWICE by going to Table Rock Lake. http://belleofdirt.com/2013/07/09/camping-at-table-rock-lake/

This past fall we started building a path through our woods to the back 15 or so acres that is up on top of a ridge; the area back there is park like and beautiful. Problem is, we have to cross a couple of MASSIVE ravines to get there. We’ve almost conquered that project and I’m sure I’ll be writing a ton more about it later. As usual, one project leads to another where the yard is concerned- clearing the path through the woods spawned the fire pit idea.

Mister wanted a spot in the yard where we could all sit around and have Smores, sing Kumbya or whatever else you do around a campfire in the Firepit (2)woods. (No, there are children present. Get your mind out of the gutter) We do not dance naked under the full moon during the Solstice; I have neighbors.

I found this huge, gorgeous, I just gotta have it small boulder (About 200-300 lbs) in the ravine near our yard. So the two of us picked it up, put it on the four wheeler and took it to a spot next to the garden. It was so FREAKING EASY. Until I had a machine, any and all boulders I brought out of the woods required that I rolled them, usually uphill, for about an 8th of a mile. No, I’m not exaggerating. Which is why, until this fall, there have only Firepit (8)been 5 such rocks moved into our yard in the past 15 years. It was a massive effort and took literally days to move each one. But I had just moved one such rock with the four wheeler and his help in a matter of MINUTES. /overjoyedhappydance

So we put this boulder in the yard and it looked lonely. We brought it a friend. They were sitting by the edge of the woods around spot where water always puddles and made a little hole.
I was sitting and looking at them when it clicked- Oh My Dear Gods and Goddesses- I could build a fire pit, out of nothing but huge, gorgeous rocks!!! We managed to bring up just a couple before we got distracted by the path through the woods, then deer season happened, then winter.

A couple weeks ago, we started boulder hunting again. Our land is typical Missouri hills and valleys, which means both neighbors’ property drains into the valleys, creating little wet weather creeks and an Firepit (10)abundance of really cool rocks to find. The next several rocks we moved fairly quick and without incident. They were all really beautiful- worn by water from the ravine, most of them with small plants/moss growing on them, some with visible geodes and fossils in the surface of the rock.

The next to the last broke as we were lifting it, causing me to drop it on his thumb (thankfully he was wearing thick gloves and avoided serious injury). I didn’t realize I had also tried to catch the rock with my stomach as it fell, until I felt something sting, lifted my shirt and found a 6 inch long gash where it had ripped me open. Luckily, not deep enough to need stitches. Unluckily, I was still getting bits of rock and dirt out of the wound two days later.
The actual building of the pit was super simple.
We live in central Missouri and 99.9% of my earth here is either pure red clay, rock, or some combination of the two. In the spot we wanted the fire pit, it was all clay. It’s been raining here for almost a month solid now, so the clay is really holding Firepit (9)some serious water. Imagine putting a 10 lb bag of wet sand on the end of your shovel. Now imagine that it also sticks to your shovel like a booger on a kid’s finger. That’s wet clay. It’s impossible to shovel in. Mostly I just loosened up chunks of earth, then got my hands in there to get the globs out of the hole.
If you’re working in actual dirt or sand, you should dig a hole and then line it with some sort of fire-proof stone- be it brick, cement blocks, big rocks, whatever material suits you aesthetically and will keep the soil from falling back into your hole. I am in no danger of that clay going ANYWHERE. It molds like modeling clay when wet and gets hard as cement when dry. It can crumble a bit in that state, but by the time it dries out this structure will have been there a while.

I painted a circle on the ground with spray paint and dug out about 6-8 inches below the boulders. This gives your wood a nice hole to sit in so that it’s contained and doesn’t blow sparks everywhere from each tiny breeze. Since I’m dealing with saturated clay, my hole immediately filled up with water in the bottom.
The edge was so mushy, I only had to roll the boulders into place where I wanted them anFirepit (11)d press down a bit to sink them into the ground. Had it not been so wet, I would have dug a shallow trench around the outside of the hole. I wanted the bottom 3-4 inches of each boulder to be underground. If you were laying a course of bricks or cement blocks, you’d do the same- bury your bottom course partway in the ground. The nice thing about using boulders instead of landscaping bricks or blocks is it is a very natural, informal look. I didn’t have to worry about leveling each course or lining things up. I just maneuvered them in like a big jigsaw puzzle until I liked the way they looked.

Once the rings of boulders was in place, I took all the mud I’d removed from the center of my hole and pressed it around the base and between the boulders to settle them in. I’ll later put some sort of groundcover around the outside of this; maybe red clover or thyme, something low growing and tolerant of foot traffic that I won’t have to weed-eat all the time.

Firepit (1)Since the bottom of the pit was standing water, we took some gravel from an old part of the driveway to give the wood something dry to sit on. I threw part of a bag of lava rock on top of that, just for looks. I’ve seen people use all gravel, recycled chunks of glass, pottery, all lava rock… really it’s just about finding something that looks nice to you.

We had some old concrete benches sitting up by the highway that we hadn’t used since that shed was an office. We brought those down (along with a small ant colony) and set them up- they are fireproof and I don’t have to worry about them rotting in the mud over there. I’m hoping to add more seating soon, maybe a picnic table and some sort of more permanent path over to that area at some point. It’s right next to the where I’m putting in a new vegetable garden, so it will develop along with that plan.Firepit (3)

After showers and some antiseptic for various wounds caused by the rocks, we had Smores over our new creation that evening. It almost rained on us, but we each got two in before we had to go inside! I hope for many more evenings around it with family and friends. I love that it’s unique, that all the material came from our land and that I can say I spent exactly $0 on materials. (Unless you count gas for the 4-wheeler)

This is NOT a project you’ll be doing by yourself, unless you use much smaller stuff for the walls of your pit. Once we had all of our rocks, it only took about 3 hours to put it all together and have it ready for first use.

Garden and/or sidewalk will be coming soon. I’ll keep ya posted!

Belle


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9 New Visitors!!!!

Just logged into the site to work on a new post- (YES! I finally have something to post besides lamentations of winter doldrums and too much house renovation.) – and my stats showed that I have 9 new followers of Belle of Dirt. So welcome folks and I will try not to disappoint by actually giving you something to look at this season.
I have multiple projects in the works and I’ve been taking pictures like crazy. I have this bad habit though, of starting 7-8 different things and then they become run on projects that take MUCH longer to come to fruition than they should. I REALLY need to force myself to finish one thing before I start another. My biggest problem is, I have SO MANY ideas bouncing around in my head all the time that I can’t seem to find enough time to get them all done. Then I get on Pinterest and it gets worse.
The other part is that right now I’m saving $ for something special and I can’t put a lot of $ into any project until the end of May. So I’ve had to find projects or do partial projects that i can do from recycled stuff around the house or in the woods and don’t cost anything or next to nothing. I found an 80lb bag of concrete in the shed I’d forgotten about the other day. I was over the moonWisteria and had found a use for it within a couple hours! ;-)
Likely, what will happen is, I’ll work on all this stuff I’ve half-completed in May/June and you’ll all get bombarded with posts in July/August. That’s usually how it goes. Ok, enough rambling. I have a REAL post to make!

PS. This photo is the Wisteria in the fenced bit of our yard. I thought I had possibly cut off all the blooming wood last year when a storm flipped the entire thing to one side of the structure it’s growing on, and actually moved the structure itself, it was so heavy. (I’ve hit this thing with the car and it didn’t move, but the plant moved it.) We tied a tow chain to the trellis-frame and moved it back, then I cut the Wisteria back VERY severely.
For those of you that don’t know, some Wisteria don’t bloom for up to 10 years the first time, because the plant must be a certain age to flower. I was afraid I’d chopped it so much, that I wouldn’t be seeing blooms for another 8 years. But as luck would have it, I only pissed it off for one year. It did nothing last year, but is its usual gorgeous self this year and covered in many half drunk bumblebees swarming it in complete ecstasy. It’s kind of wild to sit underneath it and just listen/watch them. The buzzing is SO loud and they don’t even care that you’re there, they are so busy losing their little bee minds over the wisteria.
Also, my entire yard smells amazing, no matter what part of it I’m in.

-Belle


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Yeah, I know.

It’s been ages since I’ve written a new post. It’s not that I haven’t done anything worth posting about, I just haven’t finished any of it. I could share half- finished stuff that I’ve started and have a few pictures of… SQUIRREL!!!!

The new bathtub. Did I mention I also had to put in a toilet… after I broke it with the sledgehammer?

…and then I was actually surprised to find the surprise lilies still in the top of my daughter’s closet.

Now you understand the problem. Or part of the problem anyway. My best and probably the most truthful excuse for not posting is Life got in the way. I was going to do an article on winter garden chores, but then our new shower started leaking and I was afraid it was going to rot out the utility room and maybe short out the electrical box and burn the entire house down. So I had to drop all projects and demolish the other bathroom, then get the new tub and surround in ASAP so we could quit using the other shower. This is the shower we JUST put in last spring, mind you.

In the past five minutes, I’ve gotten up twice from this post. Once to exchange Candy Land for Monopoly for my daughter, who is playing board games with the dog (She’s 6. Should explain everything.). Once to check the fire I started outside an hour ago, trying to clean up some brush and the old tub I tore out of the bathroom. In the middle of burning there was a thunderstorm and it’s nearly put the fire out.

Yeesh- my posts are now starting to sound like the inside of my brain.

So we remodeled the shower in the main bathroom. I never did winter chores and I never wrote an article. I’m still working on the bathroom. I haven’t played Monopoly in 20 years or more and now my daughter wants to know all the intricacies of the game. >.<

Rocks kept getting all over the sidewalk, so I’ve removed all the rock and started re-doing the edges of the walk. I’ve faithfully taken pictures and PLAN to do a post on this… when I finally get it finished. I also started constructing and space for a vegetable garden, using the Hugelkultur mounds I’ve previously written about. It’s not finished either. Although we did put together part of a trellis this weekend and I dug post holes for concrete.

005

Leaf Towers. Yay! My forsythia is quite lovely this year. :)

Is it even possible to play solo Monopoly? I should probably go put that fire out and get in the shower so I can start dinner.

I can share with you these lovely leaf towers that I put in front of the garden. They were formerly protecting my rose bushes and Japanese Maple’s graft over the winter. I cage the plant, then fill it with leaves. It worked like a charm. No damage to the caged plants at all and it got below zero for sustained periods a couple times this winter. I decided I would put the cages by the garden- that way I have them to use again this fall to protect tender plants. In meantime I can fill them up with leaves, vegetable scraps, wads of dog hair from the vacuum cleaner and grass clippings I don’t put in my composter or on the garden mounds. I’m hoping to just dump the tower’s contents on the mounds at the end of the season- sort of like really coarse compost. We’ll see at the end of the summer how it works out.

What the hell happens to your piece when it lands on Free Parking? /sigh. I’m going to go put the fire out and take a shower. More structured posts are coming soon. I promise.

B

PS. This post is NOT an April Fool’s joke. Although it probably sounds like one.


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Hibernation

I began my winter doldrums early this year it seems.
There are still plants in pots in the yard that need to be put in the ground, plants I dug up this past spring when we were planning to move to Jefferson City. I watch the night temps drop each week and just keep procrastinating. It’s a good thing I didn’t order my usual 25-75 trees from the Conservation Department to put in the ground this fall. Or maybe not. Maybe a huge tree order would have gotten me out of my bed, off my butt and outdoors. I’ve been busy having a little pity party for myself lately. Not something to be proud about and certainly not constructive, but I’m doing it anyway. So there.

I’m 41 years old. My health was relatively decent until the past 6 years or so, thyroid issues, some girly stuff, but nothing too serious. Since my pregnancy in 2008, I’ve had chronic arthritis pain that gets progressively worse each year. I’ve been to multiple doctors trying to stave it off. So far, not much help in that department. I’ve tried herbals, I’ve tried vitamin supplements, exercise, rest, ice, heat, paraffin wax, crying, screaming, you name it. I haven’t been to a hypnotist or acupuncturist yet. Yeah, yeah I know. Everybody has their problems and I should expect a certain amount of pain now considering how I’ve abused my body in the past. I think what I’m having issues with is that it was just all so SUDDEN.

I worked in the nursing profession for years; walking hallways all night on concrete floors, lifting 20101009-Flowers-018_HDR-1266-1267-1270people that outweighed me by 80+ lbs, hours of standing, crappy eating habits, smoking too much, partying too much, etc. I’ve had my share of low back problems and achy knees. I’ve taken care of plenty of people at work that had chronic pain. I prayed to every god out there that I’d never get rheumatoid arthritis. I guess one must have answered the prayers that had a wry sense of humor- because I don’t have the rheumatoid type, but I’ve got osteoarthritis bad enough already that my fingers are beginning to twist and there are days I feel like a wookie is doing it’s best to remove my right shoulder from the socket. It moves around. It’s rainy today, so my hands and hips hurt worse. Last week it was my right foot and shoulder. Next week it may be back and knees.

I don’t normally write about my personal issues on this site, unless they are plant or soil related. But this is preventing me from doing those things that I love. I’m beyond frustrated and being an introverted writer sort, it helps to get this stuff on a page. It puts the problem in perspective- because I also have a vivid imagination that tends to run rampant if I don’t get a leash on the damned thing. When I’m depressed it can turn into a traveling demon- gathering energy and building a little network of other demons as it goes. I’ll start out thinking- “Wow, that conversation with that person ended kind of abruptly,” and instead of my next thought being, “Maybe they’re just tired or preoccupied and didn’t want to talk.” It’s usually more along the lines of, “I suck with people. My boss told me once that I had an aggressive personality and that I needed to change that because people didn’t like it and if enough people say it’s bad it must be me and not them and I never made friends easily and people leave when I get close to them and…”
You see where this is going.
It starts out at as a tiny little thing and grows into a nightmare web of self-doubt, pain and self-loathing. Wrap that up with a pity party, some chocolate binging, more guilt and a day in bed. Then I look at the calendar and it’s been a month and I’ve accomplished nothing. I am good at faking normal in public. I suspect many of us are. Although when I’m in this downward spiral mode, it can feel like I’m the only one in the world that could possibly be this lame.

I sometimes wish I could hibernate like a bear.
I will try and accomplish something worthwhile soon and get it posted.

-B

The picture is from http://scenesofstlouis.blogspot.com/2010/10/dying-sunflower-5-nik-hdr-efex.html and was created by photographer Preston Page.


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Dirt Goes Commercial

This blog has been up over a couple of years now and any blog that has survived that length of time is doomed to start hawking stuff eventually. And so it begins. DirtStuff

But I promise, I’m not going to try and sell you cheap and easy gardening tools from TV or anything like that. What I’ve done is started a little shop at Cafepress to add some of my better nature photography to mugs, t-shirts, phone covers, water bottles, laptop skins, etc.
I’ve got 4 designs live right now and working on several more. Each design is on many, many products- so if you’re not into Cafepress’ overpriced handbags, there are still value T-shirts and little things you can pick up for a more reasonable price. I make a whopping $3 per item that is purchased on the store. That goes to more or less keep the store paid for. About once a year I may get a HUGE check for $25.00.
But this isn’t about the millions I won’t be making as it is about getting my stuff out there to be seen. I’ve had friends, family, even a few complete strangers tell me that some of my nature photos are wonderful and that I should be a photographer full time-or at least sell them as prints or something. I’m taking some of my favorite shots, combining them with quotes that speak to me and putting them on everything from toddler t-shirts to journals. I already post this stuff all over here, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, so why not on stuff too? Oooh… I should put them on Instagram also…

Some of you that follow all my accounts are in for a load of “BUY DIRT STUFF” and I apologize. But they really are quite pretty- don’t you need a mug or SOMETHING??? Your mother would even approve of these as Christmas presents. What mom wouldn’t want a throw pillow with a witty quote and a shiny winter scene on it?

And that is the extent of my salesmanship. Which is why I write and garden instead.

You can find the shop here: http://www.cafepress.com/belleofdirt

 

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