Birdhouse Gourds

Remember all those gourds I grew over the summer and have been drying?
I wound up with about 40 of them that dried properly, so one of the projects I’m doing with my 4-H crafts group this year is to make birdhouse gourds.

I pre-prepped a little before they go there, bleached them and scraped that thin slime coat off with a flat razor blade and let them dry over night. The girls drilled holes yesterday, cleaned out the insides and saved whole envelopes worth of seeds to take home and hopefully grow their own gourds. I’m posting the instructions I gave them before. (Pictures aren’t mine, they are screenshots from the tutorial I used to figure all this out at https://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/outdoors/structures/how-to-make-a-gourd-bird-house)

HOW TO MAKE A BIRDHOUSE FROM A BOTTLE GOURD

  1. Grow and dry a gourd.

You can buy birdhouse gourd (bottle gourd) seeds online or at your local nursery. They take 6-8 weeks to grow before the last frost, so you’ll want to start seeds inside and transplant into your garden, or get them in the ground right after last spring frost (around Mother’s Day in this part of Missouri)

To dry your gourds, you need to hang them in a place where they will get air flow on all sides and if inside, warm and dry. Do not hang them in a basement or cool, damp area- they’ll just rot. You can leave them outside, but make sure they are in a sunny area with good airflow on all sides. I trim the stem long- leaving about 6-8 inches- then run a needle through the base of the stem and poke a thin piece of wire through to hang the gourds from a nail or fence.

Your gourds are ready when you tap on them and they sound like a tight drum, or you can shake them and hear the seeds rattling around inside.

  1. Clean your gourd and drill a hole.

Using a hole saw, drill a 1 ½ inch hole into your gourd. We use 1 ½ in particular, because this will keep bluebirds safe if they nest in your gourd. A larger hole can allow aggressive European Starlings access to the bluebird’s eggs or young and the starlings will destroy them to take the nest.

With a long knife or spoon, clean out the seeds and pulp left inside. It doesn’t have to be spotless, the birds wont mind.

Use fine grit sandpaper to smooth the outside of your gourd, then soak for about an hour in a bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Wipe clean, then let your gourd dry completely.

  1. Use an exterior latex paint to seal and prime the outside of the gourd. (Avoid oil based paint- they take WAY too long to dry) If you prefer the natural look of the gourd, you can also seal it with wax.

If using paint, do two coats, let both dry completely, then spray with a clear coat of outdoor polyurethane to protect your paint. If you’re going to decorate your gourd with designs- you’ll want to paint your design before the polyurethane step.

  1. Drill some small holes in the bottom of the gourd for drainage so it doesn’t hold water if rain gets inside. You can also drill a couple small holes through the neck of the gourd to add a bit of wire or a strip of leather for hanging.

*Painted designs will last longer and stay brighter if you choose a spot out of the sun. The birds will also appreciate a shady location when it starts to heat up outside! 🙂

Painting saws

I have another saw blade available on Cordes Farm’s Etsy shop! This one is on a hand saw, rather than the round blades I’d been using. I found it on the wall in our red shed- which according to our neighbors that have lived here for years, used to be a poultry barn sometime around the 1960’s/70’s. Also according to neighbors- it was one of the largest poultry operations in the state at one time.
Now it’s just “the red shed” to us and it’s full of random stuff that Paw Paw Max has put there when he couldn’t think of where else to stash them. We were poking around in there when my brother Stephen came to visit and he spotted 5 or 6 antique handsaws hanging on the shed wall, which was a great find because I was already starting to run out of round ones to paint on. I’m not particular though, I’ll paint on just about anything and these are really cool.
I looked up the saws online and best as I can figure, they are about 40-50 years old. Most of them had the Warranted Superior Eagle symbol still intact on the handle, some of the emblems were missing, one of them has a plastic handle. Of the Warranted Superior saws, all have wooden handles with ivy scrollwork carved into the wood. I found many of these on E-Bay, ranging in price anywhere from $15 to several hundred dollars depending on how old they thought they were. I don’t have any way of authenticating the age of mine, I just know they are vintage old things from Max’s shed.
These cleaned up pretty easily, since they’d been hanging indoors out of the weather, there was minimal rust, mostly just spider exoskeletons (eww) and dirt (we don’t mind dirt). I washed them, let them dry and sprayed the fronts with a rust arrestor/primer which cured for a while before I painted on the first one. I dabbled a bit in oils on a painting for my daughter and decided I’m not a fan, that I much prefer my acrylic, so this one and probably most of my future paintings is in acrylic. I’m too impatient with the drying time of oils- I have a bit of that Veruca Salt thing going on of “I WANT IT NOW.” Three days for some thing to dry so it doesn’t smear is WAY too freaking long, so acrylic it is.


Anyway, this painting is a conglomeration of our field, the neighbor’s field, a lovely sunrise picture I saw and just a bit of random nature stuff from off the top of my head. I’m working on a turkey one next that is put together in a similar way. To some, boring I know, but this is what I’m attracted to and what I love. Most of the photographs I take are landscapes, old buildings, plants and animals too… other than that period of time where my daughter was small and I ran around behind her photographing and video taping her every move. She’s almost a teenager now and doesn’t appreciate that like she used to. 🙂
She does like my painting though and asked me to do one for her room of our dog that passed away recently. So I painted her Ollie in the creek fetching a stick. That one is just done on a piece of barn wood that she went and found in the garage. I’m working on a fall scene in oil for her too, but it’s not finished yet because… that freaking dry time. The Ollie painting game me a chance to work on my rock painting technique and play with the new fan brush I picked up, which seems to work great for running water. Mostly greens, blues, browns and greys in that one, I didn’t throw in my usual pop of color because I was working from a particular photograph of Ollie in a friend’s creek.

I’ll post an update when I make some progress on the new turkey painting. I got some new detail brushes also which I’m excited to try out and Ely talked me into buying a set of palette knives, which look really interesting, but also kind of scary.
I’m going to be teaching 4-H crafts this year, so I’ll be sure to share some of those that we do too. Although I will confess, most of those will not be original ideas, they’ll be Pinterest projects. Right now I’m off to figure out how to make hand cream because I can’t find the stuff I usually get at Walmart and I’m VERY picky about my hand cream. I figure if I make it myself, at least I know exactly what I’m smearing on my skin, as opposed to the commercial stuff that has at least 10 unpronounceable ingredients in it.
Always busy. Keeps my mind from wandering or dwelling. 🙂

The fall scene sawblade is for sale HERE on Etsy.


-Belle



Throwback Thursday Painting murals

I came across these pictures from several years ago and thought I would share. Don’t remember if I ever posted these on Dirt or not…

I was volunteering at Ely’s school in Camdenton, Missouri at the time. I had been working a couple days a week for the art and music teachers, really just doing odd jobs like hanging stuff, filling bottles of glue, cleaning out old paint, loading the kiln, laminating stuff, etc. I had also created a couple really cool doors for the music room with door-sized drawings, paper flowers, stuff like that. News got around that I was “artsy” and could “draw stuff.” Those of you that also “draw stuff” or “do art” know that when word gets out that you this kind of thing, people will approach you with projects and either ask your advice, or just ask if you’d do it for them. This is how I got talked into doing a mural at the school- the thing was about 15 feet high and some 25-30 feet across, all along the outside wall of their library, facing the elementary cafeteria. We had to have some kind of special permission from the school board to do it, apparently they have to approve any paint colors or artwork that will be permanent and outside of what they’ve previously voted on.

Sketching out the mural- I punched up the contrast on this picture so you can see the pencil drawings.

We started work in early June, just a couple weeks after school let out. There were still kids there going to summer school, so I had to be careful when they were walking through the hallways, to not be on the ladder when they went by and to keep my supplies close the wall so nobody tripped on stuff. I wish I had taken more pictures of the process.
The school’s scaffold was in use by the janitors elsewhere, but I decided after seeing what they brought to stand on that I would just use my own ladder from home. I balanced on the top of that stepladder, holding onto the wall to do the upper part of the mural. It was an adventure. 😀

We had a month to get it finished. It had to be done by the time the janitors came in to wax the floors before school started in August. Until summer school let out, we were only allowed to be there certain hours, so really the bulk of the work had to be done in the three weeks after summer school and before waxing.

Mildly freaking out.

I had never painted anything before.

Yes, you read that right. I’ve done plenty of drawing. I’ve done stuff in colored pencil, lots of digital work, crayons (lol)… but outside of painting walls in my house, I hadn’t worked much at all with paint. The last picture I probably painted was in high school art class. So that look of concentration and mild worry on my face is for real- I wasn’t really sure I could pull this off when I started and was pleased that it came along as well as it did. I would have no issues doing this NOW… well, maybe I’d tell them it was going to take a bit longer than a month to finish!

My daughter came and helped me with painting the large amount of sky and grass that had to be filled in, while I worked on details, but she couldn’t be on the ladder of course. Jeannie (the teacher that picked me to do the project) helped where she could, but she had multiple other painting projects to complete at the same time. She WAS good company and moral support though!

We did finish ON TIME and it was there for all the kids to see when they came back in fall. I loved getting to hear them talking about it and the excitement when they’d come around the corner and see it for the first time. We used the school’s therapy dog as part of the picture, the kids recognized her immediately and even noticed the purple toenails I’d added to the dog’s paws.

It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun. I’d do another one in a heartbeat. AND next time around, I’d actually know what I was doing! LOL

Twice baked recycling

I am now 15 weeks into recovery from a rotator cuff repair/arthritis removal of my right shoulder. Apparently, the last few years of remodeling house has not been kind to my joints. I built up some bone spurs on both my shoulder joint and my collar bone, which were steadily tearing my rotator cuff to shreds while I dry-walled, tiled and painted on our lake house for months, getting it ready to sell. As soon as the papers were signed, I scheduled myself for surgery. The pain had been ridiculous some nights, bad others, just general suckiness the rest of the time. The MRI didn’t show what the surgeon told me afterwards, that I had torn my rotator cuff completely through, there was nothing but a big hole and tattered edges over a nice bone spur on my collar bone. I watched the video they sent home with me and wasn’t surprised that I hurt afterwards for weeks.
I didn’t get to go to rehab after surgery (insurance issues), so I wound up putting together my own rehab schedule. Which seems to be serving me well, as I’m out and doing garden stuff I wasn’t supposed to be able to do until the end of May/June. Thank goodness for YouTube, you can learn to do anything there! I’m amazed at how LITTLE pain I have now. I still have to be careful… I’m not going to be lifting hundreds of pounds with that arm or slinging bails of hay from dawn to dusk, but I can use the weed eater now without wanting to cry, which is just about as pathetic to look at as you imagine. I did minimal gardening last year. I put in a few bulbs, grew my tomato plants, that was about it.
This year, I’ve already cleaned out the lean-to, cut down dead trees, hauled and stacked wood, burned brush piles and built a little cage to hold a bunch of kindling for the fire pit. The fenced garden here is huge. I know I’ve said this before, but it really is just HUGE. Even this year, I’m probably still only going to be using 1/4 of the available space in there. I have a pile of broken stuff in one area that I haven’t hauled off yet and might possibly, maybe in some way down the road be useful somehow. This is the stuff that will find it’s way to the dump when I’m in a purge mood, but yesterday, it got recycled instead.
I had a tire that had once been used for a raised garden bed. I don’t build raised beds in tires, I use hugelkulture mounds, so most of the tires in the garden were of no use for me. (yet) I had some welded wire tomato cages that the ground stakes had snapped off and couldn’t be used for cages anymore. There were a couple portions of chicken wire that were too small to be of much use for anything- I tried to use them to keep the raccoon out of the watermelon last year, to no avail. I took all these scrap pieces, that were already recycled from Paw Paw’s previous garden projects and recycled them again into a kindling cage for our fire pit. We had a big pile of sticks behind the wood pile, that looked unorganized and messy (as a pile of sticks will).

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The tire already had holes drilled into the bottom for drainage. I opened up the two welded wire tomato cages with some pliers and re-bent them to fit inside the tire, then closed them around each other again. Now they were one giant tomato cage with no stakes on the bottom; but this was ok, because I shoved them tight against the inside of the tire, and it holds them upright and in place. The chicken wire I wrapped around the bottom of the outside, since that welded wire is pretty rusted and I didn’t want someone scraping their leg against it accidentally and having to run out for a tetanus shot. I then broke up all my sticks into handy kindling size and dropped them in the cage. We now have kindling in a neat container near the fire pit and I have several fewer pieces of junk in my garden. I figure it will be of use at least another several years and if it breaks, I’m out nothing. Maybe by then, I’ll have more scraps to build a new one with. 🙂
This week, I need to get some poop around fruit trees and cut down a dead apple up front, so nothing all that exciting or blog worthy. I do have seedlings coming through, so might write a bit on those. It’s all good shoulder rehab, have to strengthen that rotator cuff back up!

-B

 

Winter landscapes Door

In my last post I talked about maker culture and how I’ve embraced the term maker and decided to start posting some of my projects on dirt that aren’t yard or nature related. This is a step by step of a door for a holiday decorating competition at my daughter’s school.

Her teacher sent me these two ideas from Pinterest, I came up with a blend of the two for our door design.

These are the original pins with links to their makers:
Bear looking through window
Ice blocks and snow

 

And this is our finished door:

door

My first step was covering the door in dark blue paper as a backdrop. I then brought in foam insulation sheets that I’d picked up at Lowes ($7 for a pack of 5 I think) and dry-fit them to the wall to figure out where my blocks were going to go. The foam is only about 3/4 of an inch thick, so it scores and breaks fairly easily and is super light to work with.

I took pictures using my phone with the foam cut to size and taped to the wall. My phone has an edit mode where you can draw right on the photo, so I marked the foam with numbers in place, then drew those numbers right onto the photo on my phone. This way, after all the pieces were painted and ready to go back on the wall, I had an easy diagram to remember where to put them. The penguin idea came later when my daughter suggested I have a penguin in the ice blocks. We toyed with the idea of doing a tree also, but ran out of time, which is why there is a tree in the planning photos, but not the finished door.

I took the foam home and drew rough ice-block shapes on it.

I used an X-acto knife to cut around the edges of my drawing, carefully pulling away the leftover pieces as I went. The rough shape shed foam EVERYWHERE, so I decided to sand the edges a bit. I used a 60 grit sandpaper and a very light touch, until the edges were all smooth, rounded and didn’t shed foam anymore.

paintingice

I painted the foam blocks with white and three colors of blue acrylic. A pale sky blue around the entire edge, a turquoise shade for mid-tone highlights and a bit of navy for the shadows. Acrylic dries fairly fast, so I worked only one block at a time so that the white was still wet when I started adding color. I let the acrylic dry and used a very fine spray glitter in silver to add a bit of sparkle to each foam board.

The blocks were by far the most time consuming part of the project.

bear

I drew the bear shape onto double-thick poster board, which is still very flat (important for fitting under the frame), but strong enough it didn’t bend when I covered it in cloth. I mod-podged the entire face and let the whole thing sit under a heavy crate overnight. The edges I folded over the back side of the face and hot-glued in place. His eyes, nose and cheeks were all cut from the same poster board, covered in cloth scraps from my scrap drawer and hot glued in place. I drew his face on the back, so that I could get an idea of placement before sticking anything in place with the hot glue! I cheated on the ears and just used a red laundry marker. (I was out of pink scrap)

The penguin was done exactly the same way, except I used a foam panel and cut him out with the X-acto knife and then covered him in cloth. His eye, beak and feet are just acrylic painted poster board, hot glued to the material.

doorframe

We thought we were going to have to build a window frame, but I remembered that when we replaced out back door last summer, I hadn’t thrown the old door away. I took the window casing off, it was only light plastic, filled the screw holes with some hot glue and gave it a fresh coat of white paint. We stuck it to the door with command strips and gave it a little extra support with hot glue, since the teacher intends to leave this door up through February and not just over the holidays.

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The kid’s name snowballs are just these craft foam balls. I cut them in half with a big knife and painted them with the same four-color style I used on the ice blocks, then wrote each student’s name on it with a sharpie. If I had this to do over, I would have painted them first. Because the foam is so porous, the sharpie bled a bit and the lines weren’t as crisp as I’d have liked.

We put magnets on the back so that the kids can take them home after the display comes down. Those on the foam are hot-glued of course, but have a magnet as well.

The snowflakes are just shapes cut from poster board scraps. I bought mini-led lights at Wal-Mart that are battery powered with 2AA’s, they don’t get hot, are incredibly light and have an on/off switch. One of the packs we hid with the snowman on the table, one is hidden in the light blue tulle we used for snow and the other fit perfectly behind the window frame.

For the table, I pre-measured foam and built a three sided cover for the entire bottom. I then drew blocks on it, painted and carved the edges as I did the big foam blocks. The “snow” on the table is leftover white fur from the polar bear. We added a string of blue lights underneath the snow to give it some glow. The bit of snow over the top of the door is white fur also.

doorview

So that’s it! Step by step, top to bottom. Our Pinterest project mash-up… and my first maker post. 🙂

-B

Maker culture

I’ve officially started calling myself a “Maker,” since others have already bestowed the title on me. I guess I knew, but didn’t realize that there is an entire subculture called Maker Culture which centers around people creating stuff. It’s always been there, it’s just that technology and social media have now turned it into a sort of cult.

Makers are those people that generate ORIGINAL content and posts for Pinterest. Yeah, all those great little ideas you just pinned for your kid’s room… those were put there first by people like myself. Although I have to admit, many of my own project ideas come from Pinterest, it’s just that they wind up evolving to the point they’re often unrecognizable as the original post they came from. My biggest gripe about Pinterest is that there are SO MANY amazing, talented creative minds out there sharing SO much stuff and I don’t have nearly time to try even a 1/10 of what I see. I want to do all the things. I’m lucky if I get to pick a couple of the things.
Maker culture also includes software, electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, engineering, metalworking, woodworking, traditional arts and crafts, sewing, food art and any other hobbyist activity you can think up.

In short, makers make stuff.

In between renovating our house, volunteering at school and taking care of husband, child, dogs and other four-legged creatures that currently live here- I am pretty much a professional hobbyist. I’ve painted murals, decorated classroom doors, made my own clothes, created elaborate scrapbooks, sewn costumes and built furniture. My focus used to be almost exclusively our yard and anything to do with planting, landscaping and creating ‘outdoor spaces.’ Now that we’re making moving plans and my yard projects are in a maintenance only state, I’ve had to find new creative outlets. (See PS on the Dirt on Dirt page re- the moving bit)

My most recent project was a classroom door for a holiday decorating contest at school. My daughter’s teacher send a couple of ideas (from Pinterest of course!), I mashed the ideas together, added a penguin and poof! A door. This is one of those cases where I didn’t go too much outside the original post I was given from Pinterest.

These are the original pins with links to their makers:
Bear looking through window
Ice blocks and snow

This is the door I came up with from these two ideas:

door

The thing that I find incredibly frustrating about Pinterest is this: If this were a Pinterest post, you’d likely get a 10-15 word blurb about how it was done and then it’s up to you to figure out the rest on your own. This is fine if you’re a crafty person or maybe you’re just looking for ideas and don’t really need to know how it was done.

However, if you’re trying to get into doing metal or woodworking and you’ve never so much as picked up a woodworking kit (or in this case an X-acto knife and a paintbrush), a bit more instruction would be helpful. This particular blog entry did not start out as a post about this door, however. The door is only an example. So here’s what I’ll do… I’ll show you this fabulous door and if you want to go, “Oh, that’s cute,” then move on to the next thing, feel free. However, if you REALLY are interested in HOW I put put it together, I’ll be making another post soon with all the details and pictures.

Since I’ve decided that the Maker thing is official now, other crafty posts are likely to follow.

Right this minute though, the puppy needs to pee and I have to pick up my kid in an hour, so my Dirt time is up.

-Belle

 

Treehouse!

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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.

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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.

-B

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 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.
Until then,
B

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.

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: https://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. https://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