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.
When 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.
So 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-pit, 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.
There 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.
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.
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.
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 chance. 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…
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.
We 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.
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-housing 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.
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 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.
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.
We’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.
1.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:
By 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.
6. I printed my designs out and rough-cut them to double check that they would fit on my board.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. This is the Galt’s Gulch sign finished with silver outline detail, a logo and few random splatters.
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 weather 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.
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.
Here’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 https://www.facebook.com/BelleOfDirt 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.
We live on a busy state highway with lots of curves. Whether it’s the curves, something interesting on their cell phones, or whatever 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.
Along 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 push 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.
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!
This 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.
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
You hear it all the time on DIY and HGTV- Everybody who is anybody has a fire pit in their “entertainment landscape.” The 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 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 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 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 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 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 and 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.
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.
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!