Belle of Dirt

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


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Hiking Pictures

We recently acquired a new puppy from a friend. She’s a gorgeous little thing, part Malinois, part Border Collie- a mixed breed that they’ve termed online to be a Malincollie. We decided a Malincollie dog must have a Melancholy name, so we called her Lenore. She doesn’t live up to her name at all though; with two very high energy breeds for parents, she’s a very lively, very curious, very bouncing off the walls if you don’t walk her EVERY SINGLE DAY kind of puppy. My friend gave her to us because we were supposed to be moving to a place where there’d be lots of running room. That may or may not happen eventually… in the meantime I have to keep this puppy entertained so that she doesn’t eat my house or drive our older, EXTREMELY MELLOW by comparison, dogs insane.

I started taking her on walks every morning to the city parks last week. This week, I decided that I actually liked walking every morning. I haven’t been outdoors nearly as much as I would like this year due to house remodeling (again! sigh) and holding off on new yard plans due to possible move. It’s not given me much to write about on Dirt, as you can imagine. No yard, no garden, no posts. 😦

I was already bored with walking circles at the city park, looking at the same scenery and the same people that also go there to walk every morning. My husband would probably make friends. I’m not very social in that way though. I prefer a small circle of close friends to small talk with strangers, ALWAYS. I started driving out to one of the state parks instead this week. Ha Ha Tonka has a been a favorite haunt of mine for as long as I can remember. I was going there as a child to swim in the springs and walk the dirt paths long before it was taken over as a state park. Lenore needs exercise and I need something interesting to look at while she’s exercising, so I decided we would pick a trail each day until we’ve gone down all of them. I’ve explored 90% of the trails in the park and even some that aren’t trails anymore, but I haven’t’ visited every single one of them.

I went down Turkey Pen Hollow the first day and the views were spectacular, in spite of little rain this fall and the colors not being as vivid as usual. I took pictures along the way. It occurred to me today that I should be posting all these wonderful photos on here and share them with everyone, not just my friends on Facebook. These I’m posting today are of the Spring Trail, that main paved/board walked trail that leads from the parking lot down to the mouth of the spring.

Hope you enjoy the views as much as Lenore and I did.

-B

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Patio visitors

We try to keep our yard as toad and frog friendly as possible. My daughter loves them. She loves to catch them and take them to a “safe place;” she loves to watch them swim in our little pond. Every summer we wait for our annual visitor under the Amaryllis pot on our front walk.

Creating habitat for toads and frogs in your landscape is pretty easy. Toads and frogs need a water source near their home. This can be anything from a small garden pond to a birdbath saucer placed on the ground near their habitat. Keep the water changed fairly frequently if it isn’t running or moving- you don’t want to create a breeding ground for mosquitoes. 003.JPG
If you have pets, keep them away from the area your toad house is in. Don’t put the house somewhere that outdoor pets frequent. One of our cats was an adept toad and frog hunter, when we brought her inside the population of toads and frogs in our yard tripled!

Broken flower pots, crockery, old dishes, buckets, etc. make excellent toad houses. You can put a wet rag or some wet moss inside the house, under some leaves to keep the house cool and wet for toad friends. They LOVE those self-watering pots with the bottom taken off. There is just enough room for them to squeeze under, it stays moist and cool from watering the plant above and it’s fairly safe from most predators- ours especially, it’s sitting up high on a trellis rail. Since I’ve been putting this pot out on the porch, we have had a toad living under it all summer without fail.
It gets sun in the early morning, but is in shade during the hottest part of the afternoon.

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If you have kids, get creative! Toad houses are even better than those fairy houses kids love to build, since they can watch the actual animal living in the house. I Googled “Building a toad house” and pulled up TONS of great photos and ideas. Clay pots are often featured because they stay cooler and hold moisture better than plastic. If you can half bury the pot in the ground, it also gives your toads and frogs a place to dig in a bit and stay cool and safe.

Toads are great little insect eaters and I encourage as many as possible to hang about the garden. The more predators on plant eating insects, the better!
Share your toad house pictures! I love to see other people’s creative ideas and projects.

PS. Forgive my long hiatus from Dirt. I was busy all the month of June painting this mural for my daughter’s school. The posts will probably still be spare for a while. There is a possible move for us in the works, so I’m not doing many new projects here right now, mostly maintaining what’s already here. I’ll share some pictures and things though, because I still HAVE to be outside! 🙂
-B

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M-O-O-N

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

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Hugelkultur

Walking through the woods a couple weekends ago with family, we came across an area of Pa Pa’s property that we hadn’t visited before. It was a far corner along the property line, the woods there so thick and close that the light was dimmed at least by half by the canopy above.

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Very old Hugelkultur mound

The wood’s floor was deep and spongy with leaves- even the usually prolific Poison Ivy and Virginia Creeper wouldn’t sprout; mosquitoes were abundant, we could smell the leaf mould and wet permeating everything. Many scrubby cedars stretched up to the canopy, struggling for light but found little in the understory of taller trees. As a result, only the branches at the very tops still remained green and held needles; all the lower branches within reach were dead or dying and brittle to the touch. We pushed through to the edge of the property line and began to back track, when we came across several large mounds of earth in our path.  The mounds were 3-4 feet high and about 10-12 feet long. Rocks were piled on top of one of them as if to mark that spot. The larger two mounds were planted at the foot of a big cedar, this one towering over its straggling, sad looking younger cousins.

Shawnee are common in the St. James area and I had already spotted multiple thong trees pointing in the direction of a dry creek bed nearby. My sis in law speculated that they might be burial mounds. Under that darkening canopy, with sounds of water, critters chewing away at the rot and squirming about under a foot-thick carpet of decaying leaves and spongy wood- the idea of burial mounds seemed not only plausible but very likely. We also kept hearing something near us like footsteps or small rocks being tossed… but each time we stopped to listen, we heard only insects chewing and the whining hum of mosquitoes trying to feast on our ears.

I climbed to the top of one of the mounds so that I could look at it from a bird’s eye vantage point- it occurred to me that this would be rather irreverent if these were graves. Looking down on them though, they looked less like burial mounds. They reminded me more of  my Great Grandma’s old root cellar. We found four mounds in sets of two. They were placed with a space between them almost equal to the width of each mound. The tops of the mounds were squishy; the soil rich, deep and covered in moss.

We walked in the direction the thong trees were pointing after examining the mounds. Most of the thongs were in mature oaks that I’d guess their age to be about 80-100 years. By the way, I found this little guide from Missouri Conservation most helpful in guesstimating the age of  trees without counting rings: http://mdc.mo.gov/your-property/your-trees-and-woods/backyard-tree-care/how-old-tree

After traveling downhill for a bit, we came to what I expected to find, which was a creek bed. It was dry though, no active spring feeding into it. We wanted rocks to take back with us and had ridden down to that part of the property on Pa Pa’s 4-wheel drive mule, but I wasn’t sure that I would make it down to the stream-bed through all the thick undergrowth and trees. We opted to backtrack to the field and look for the source of the stream instead. We found it, at the bottom of a wide ravine that allowed a perfect size space to park the ATV in.

BigAssRockAt the top of the stream bed, there was a dam. It had been built of stacked rocks, earth and chunks of concrete that I noticed were decorated with bits of glass. The dam was about 5 feet at its widest point and spanned the bottom of the ravine like a bridge. The rocks I found there had mineral deposits that reminded me of the formations you see in the caves around here- I took one back to the house and Thurman said it had a lot of iron oxide in it and a fair amount of pyrite. It was a REALLY heavy rock for the size that it was. I also brought back another monster rock, which Miranda had to help me lift into the back of the mule. I’m still trying to decide where in our yard I want to park it. For now it’s sitting near the frog pond, since that is as far as I could carry it myself from the trunk of our car. :-p

When I got home, I decided to do a little research into what those strange hills in the woods might be. My husband read a fair bit about Shawnee burial mounds. I started looking at different types of root cellars. It was during my browsing of root cellars that I stumbled across pictures that looked EXACTLY like our mounds. 3-4 feet high, paired in sets of two, at the base of large trees. The word under the caption was Hugelkultur, which is a German word for “Hill culture.”

There has been a lot of interest in recent years regarding perma-culture, or permanent, sustainable methods of gardening or small scale farming. I’ve heard gardening called a “retired person’s” hobby, it’s coming back into vogue thanks to the popularity of survival-ism and prepping. Hill culture is method of lasagna gardening, which is layering different materials for your garden bed and planting right on top of the layers, then allowing all the materials to compost there in place. It’s less labor intensive than building compost piles and turning, watering and caring for them every day. The material breaks down slowly, feeding the plant roots on top as it turns into compost. The mounds we found in the woods would have broken down over time, spreading out and losing height as the bulky inner layer decomposed. After I read how Hugelkultur mounds are built, I understood why they felt spongy when I stood on them.hugelkultur

The inner layer of a Hugelkultur mound is bulky, rough material- such as tree trunks and limbs. Over this you would add a layer of a slightly lighter compost material- straw, chopped leaves, grass clippings, sod, large vegetable scraps, newspaper, cardboard, etc. Soil amendments can be added on top of this layer. I’ve read that the first couple years, nitrogen rich additives may be needed, since the tree trunks will absorb most of the free nitrogen in the pile until they reach saturation and begin to break down. Blood meal is great for this and relatively inexpensive. If you have access to manure, it’s full of nitrogen. Plants in the Legume family will also add nitrogen to the surrounding soil.
On top of all this bulk, you would add your actual soil. I have mostly clay and rocks here, so I’d probably use a mixture of purchased garden soil from the nursery, cut in half with some native clay. Clay is wonderful for holding nutrient value, it just sucks for drainage. Add plants, then mulch well as the final layer.

hugelkultur_how_to_imageThe mounds are built in pairs at an angle where the sun will pass over them side to side; some pictures I saw used  trees as a wind break on the north. Some left the space between the mounds empty so that every part of the hill was easily reachable. Others used the middle space for extra compost and added this center to the tops of the mounds as it broke down; this would give the hills a constant source of renewal and nutrient build up.

I’ve already chosen a spot in our yard where I intend to try this out. Even though I have a commercial drum-style composter, I would love to see if Hugelkultur gardening is as pain-free as its proponents claim. I already build raised beds for practically everything I grow in our yard, since few plants really love the rocky, clay soil. Plus, tilling clay only serves to dry it out and completely strip it of any nutrient value. A tilled garden simply wouldn’t work well in our yard. I tried it a couple times, then my tiller was retired to the shed up the hill after about 3 uses, it will likely see a revival only if we move.

I know our local Amish and Mennonites are genius when it comes to growing anything- if you’ve ever had one of their tomatoes from Farris Fruit Market in Camdenton, you’ll stop in there JUST for those. The Amish on Pa Pa’s property would have been the ones who built these mounds. I’m guessing they might have also dammed that spring, maybe to create an artesian well, in order to water their gardens.  I’ll post more pictures when I get back up to St James and can visit the mounds with a camera in hand. When I build mine, I’ll try to do a step by step write up on what I put into them and post later on whether or not they were superior for growing plants or not.

This site has some really excellent information about Hugelkultur and a ton of photos if you’re interested in learning more. http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/ It also shows the progression of the mounds in graphic form, from year one all the way up to 20 years.

http://gardenhillbilly.hubpages.com/hub/Gardening-Without-Fertilizers-Tips# also has some great how to’s and tons of info on Hugelkultur gardening.

 


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Camping at Table Rock Lake

This 4th of July weekend we camped at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri.

I’m a native lake girl myself, having lived at Lake of the Ozarks my entire lifetime. I’ve watched our lake go through many changes over the years, some good and some not so great. In regards to water quality, I didn’t realize how MUCH our lake had changed until my recent visit to Table Rock. I’m sad to say there’s no comparison.

Table Rock is absolutely gorgeous. It is an Army Corps of Engineers Lake, which means it’s maintained very differently from our privately owned Lake of the Ozarks. The water is so clear in fact, that they scuba dive here; some claim you can see the bottom as far down as 40 feet. From my personal experience, the water clarity IS incredible. There’s limited building and docks along the shoreline. A two-layer rock shelf wrapped the shoreline around the entire campsite area. I was able to walk with our dog along that shelf around the entire cove, in calf-deep water. We stopped several times to sit on the shelf and cool off in the breaking waves. I was taking photos of the boats and bridge, but Olivia became something of a celebrity to passing wave runners and pontoons, they were stopping on the water to take pictures of her and wave at us while we walked. We checked out some stacked rocks along the shore and chased a few minnows.

Our campsite was only a few minutes’ drive to downtown Branson. The $16 sites had water available, you can also get them with electric and other amenities. We went to the nearby pavilion to charge batteries and cell phones when necessary. The toilets are unfortunately not plumbed, but for outdoor toilets, they were very well cleaned and maintained. There are shower rooms on site and a marina if you need to restock ice or pick up essentials. We didn’t rent a boat or do any diving, but there are plenty of rental options available if we’d been interested.

Great place to for camping and the water was amazing. I’d absolutely go for a return visit!

http://www.news-leader.com/article/20130501/LIFE06/305010138/table-rock-lake-clear-water

http://mostateparks.com/park/table-rock-state-park


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Camping at Fiery Fork

Fiery Fork Conservation Area

This weekend, I went on my first camping trip in probably 25+ years.
My brother in law, his wife and children are all heavily involved in Boy Scouts and are old pros at the camping scene; but due to some pretty rough experiences camping as a kid, my idea of camping since I’ve been an adult has been a stay at the Ramada Inn. I know this may seem odd, considering my affinity for dirt, rocks and growing things- but the thing is, I love to work with nature, I just don’t know if I love to SLEEP in it. However, my recent camping experience was no where near the nightmarish memories of my youth and I think I’m even willing to do it again!fiery fork 005

The Fiery Fork Conservation Area is just east of Climax Springs on North State Highway 7, if you blink at Granger Lane, you’ll miss the sign. Last summer, the fields below the campgrounds were planted with sunflowers that were higher than my head (doesn’t take too much, I’m only 5’5″). There are several creek areas; it is the Fiery Fork Creek that the park is named for, all winding together to empty into the little Niangua River. Camping at Fiery Fork was my idea. I had driven down there a couple times last summer and discovered it was a really pretty area, not too busy compared to other parks in the Lake Area and conveniently, only about 5 miles from our house. In other words, close enough to go home if I couldn’t commit to spending the night under the stars.

Last summer, at the peak of  the drought, the river was only thigh-deep and much calmer, the water clear enough to see the gravel fiery fork 008bottom. Someone has tied a rope swing to the trees across from the river access; a sandbar that is usually large enough to park a couple cars or launch a canoe from. When the water is in its normal, more tranquil state, the riverside is the perfect Country-Time Lemonade Spot. This weekend was the end of a  very rainy couple of weeks; the river was crazy-full and running very fast, it looked like there was a fair amount of storm debris in all that muddy water too, so we didn’t attempt to swim in it, but took the kids to the creek instead. They explored, saw minnows, held a tadpole, slid around on the moss-covered bridge and collected rocks.

At the campsite, we made Smores around the campfire, grilled hot dogs and breakfast burritos. The campsites are primitive, which means no electric hookups or potable water- but the sites are large and an outdoor toilet is available near each campsite grouping of 4-5 sites each near the river. There is accessible parking near the toilet area and a paved ramp to the wide gated doorway. No sink or running water, take wet wipes with you!fiery fork 009

We had an entire camp area to ourselves, due to the earlier rainy weather, but Saturday evening was clear, sunny and only upper 70’s. The campsites have a metal fire pit with a grate attachment over them for cooking; some of the campsites are right on the Little Niangua; we opted for the wooded area near the creek crossing, it turned out to be the perfect spot for my 4 year old and her cousins to play. The kids set up a badminton net at the adjacent campsite and played a few games before our evening meal.

fiery fork 012The Missouri Department of Conservation site mentions hiking trails from a quarter mile up to a mile and a quarter, marked in blue paint on the trees to find your way. Some of the trails intersect with state and county roads or private property. Hiking wasn’t high on the list of things to do for my camp-mates or the kids, so I just took a few short walks near the campsite and by the Fiery Fork Creek; there is some really gorgeous scenery to look at.

Overall, it was not a bad camping experience. I did discover that a sleeping bag would be a wise purchase before spending a night outside again, I forget that temps in the upper 50’s are REALLY cold if you don’t have a house to protect you! Bug repellent comes in very handy here as we found many, many ticks. I managed to avoid being bit; just wear light colored clothing so they are easy to spot, that way you can remove them before they bite. Missouri woods are full of deer and other wildlife that ticks like to munch on; with all the rain this year, they are especially prolific.fiery fork 032

Bring some firewood with you if you want a fire for warmth, or charcoal for cooking if you don’t have a propane camp stove. The park service makes brochures available at the campsites with rules and regulations of the area. They request that visitors do not cut trees or limbs to get fire wood. We brought along enough for ourselves plus the next 4 or 5 visitors and there was some wood at our site already where the previous occupants had left some as well. So… if you forget your wood, you might check neighboring campsites.fiery fork 013

I heard whippoorwills on and off all night, an owl or two and one lonely coyote howling. Fiery Fork Creek was home to frogs, tadpoles, tiny minnows, crawdads and water snails. It  flows over the road and drops off the other side in a rocky waterfall ending in a small deep pool below before continuing on towards the Little Niangua. Most parts of the creek I was able to walk in Wellies that were just under knee-high without them taking on water.

There was thick forest all around us, but fields across the road and the creek running along and behind the camping area. The Conservation department keeps the grass mowed in and around the campsites. I may have to return to the creek later this summer and do a walk-through to explore more. I love following and exploring creeks in summer, but there are increasingly fewer places to do this around the Lake without encroaching on private property.fiery fork 022

I think what I liked best about Fiery Fork  is that it’s enough removed from the Osage Beach tourist mecca to offer a little quiet exploration, but close enough that it’s convenient to drive to. You can truly immerse yourself in nature here without loud boat engines or wave runners to interrupt the peace and quiet. There aren’t any shops or billboards, there are views of filtered light through tall trees, clear water and plenty of woods and fields to enjoy. 🙂