Belle of Dirt

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


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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:

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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.

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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

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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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Seedlings Update

FBDirt

I’m going to be posting progress pictures and updates about the seedlings I’ve started on Facebook. This will give me something to post about there besides Arbor Day memes. 😉
Click the link below if you want to see how the seeds have progressed this past week!

Belle of Dirt on Facebook

See you there!

B


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Shiny New Toys

It’s seedling time!

I spent a good part of today getting seeds started in the table top greenhouse Mister bought me for Christmas. Together with the HUGE greenhouse he gave me for Valentines’ Day, I’m SET for the season. A man who truly knows where my heart lies… in the dirt. LOL

We’ve been saving up our plastic water bottles for a couple of weeks. Had a whole box full under the kitchen sink- they were starting to overflow the box and roll out on the floor. I’d have to punt water bottles at random while doing dishes or making dinner. I cut the tops off about half-way down and use the bottom portion for planting seeds.

If anyone has any brilliant ideas for a use for these cut-off tops, I’d love to hear it. You can only keep so many about for funnels.

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Mister was kind enough to mount a bracket under the cabinet where my table-top greenhouse sits, to hold the grow light in place. It wasn’t a have-to thing with this set up, the photo on the box shows the light sitting directly on top of the greenhouse itself. I feared that it would wind up melting the plastic when left on for a long time or get knocked off and wind up broken. Those grow lights can be expensive! It gives TONS of light, even mounted a couple inches above the box. Much more than the light through the window or the grow bulb I had rigged up the previous year. This was a nice kit- the lid sits up almost a foot high, so the seedlings have plenty of room to grow, there are vents in the top that can be opened and closed. I’m not sure exactly where he got it, but I found one on Amazon that looks very much like this one for around $50, light included: Table Top Seed Starter Kit

There are some really pretty Victorian style ones if you’d rather have something elegant that isn’t plastic. I’m happy with this, it gets the job done, it’s washable and it will do a fabulous job growing strong seedlings. I’ve always had issues with not enough light in the past. Our only window with southern exposure is in our office. It’s tiny, the cats love to knock off the few plants that are in there, it’s not the most optimal place to start seeds. No cats here, it fits on the counter and did I mention… I really love the light. There’s something really inviting about it, like with real sunlight.


I’m doing several different sorts of tomato this year, as I couldn’t decide which I liked best. I have a yellow cherry, a roma, a beefsteak and a roma grape that we’re going to try. I’ve been saving up bell pepper seeds from the peppers we get from the grocery store, they worked fine last year. They aren’t quite true to the original, but actually had a stronger (but still sweet) flavor. Peppers LOVE heat, so I may keep some of those plants in the greenhouse this year and see how they do. We also have a package of carrot seeds that Burpee sent as a free gift. We’ll be starting cucumber and snow peas, but I direct sow those into the garden at planting time instead of starting them in the house. Peas don’t mind a little chill and cucumbers grow extremely fast and produce long before other plants that are direct-sowed.

I use a basic seed starting mix (which is mostly made of peat) to fill the bottles. The reason you use this instead of potting soil is that it’s sterile- meaning there shouldn’t be weed or grass seeds sprouting in it and competing with your plants. Also, it’s very light, fluffy and holds water well, so those frail little starter roots don’t have to fight through heavy dirt to get moving. I filled  over thirty bottles with a single bag.

The Popsicle sticks I saved from ice cream bars. I love these things, they are great for stirring paint, apply glue or plaster, scraping sticky things and work great as plant markers. I just write on the ends with a permanent waterproof marker. The last time I started seeds, I used bendy straws. Whatever you have handy is fine, so long as it’s waterproof and you can write on it. I’ve used bits of foam egg carton, plastic bottle, straws, peeled tree branch, you name it.

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This is the final set-up, all planted and sunning on my counter. I noticed that the the light spreads quite a bit past the sides of the greenhouse. I think I may add a couple more bottles on one side with a  pear and cherry tree seeds I want to play with. If I don’t cut the tops all the way off, they’re like single mini-greenhouses. Might as well take advantage of that light! 🙂

I’ll post more progression pictures as things start to sprout. One note on water- don’t drown your seeds! They only need a bit of a drink to start with, then check them every day to make sure they don’t dry out, but don’t let them just sit in water. It can rot delicate roots very quickly if they get too wet. I don’t have a heat mat under mine, so they don’t get quite very warm and dry out quickly. The clear bottles aren’t organic like peat pots, toilet paper rolls or as convenient maybe as plastic cell flats- but they are really nice for checking on whether the plant needs water at a glance (the peat is darker when it’s wet) and how the roots are coming along. If there are seeds near the side, you can even see them break through the seed coat and sprout. My daughter loves to watch this happen, she thinks it’s amazing.

She helped plant and water all the seeds. She even tagged a couple of the sticks for me. 🙂
She’s a wonderful little garden helper.

I was serious about those water bottle tops. I would love to hear your ideas or suggestions. I hate putting useful stuff in the trash!

-B

 

 


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Valentines Day

For years I’ve told my husband that I don’t want a vase full of dead flowers for Valentine’s Day, or jewelry that will likely gather dust in a box somewhere. Instead, he has always bought me plants with the roots attached or some other garden-related gift. One year it was a little pond, one year a bunch of hyacinths, daffodils, etc. in a bowl. Those I still have and they are over 10 years old.

This Valentines he didn’t get me plants with roots. So what’s better than plants to get a Belle of Dirt? A place to PUT plants into DIRT, that’s what! He spent this weekend putting together a new greenhouse, just in time for seed starting and spring planting.

It’s freaking huge! He added a couple of fold up tables for me to use as potting benches. I have a place to keep my tools now, and store bags of mulch or dirt until I use them and pot plants. Plant potting has been one of those thing that I’ve always done on the back porch, balancing things on the railing and dropping my trowel in the yard AT LEAST 3-4 times.
I’m hoping this greenhouse will give me a great place to rehab a couple things that need a little extra help, I may even try growing my peppers in it this year instead of in the garden. (Peppers LOVE heat)

Thank you Mister Man. You made her entire spring! 🙂

Loves him,

Girl who plays in dirt


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Spring Fever

It’s in the upper 60’s today in JANUARY. I have spring fever already! There are seed catalogs pouring in by mail and my husband bought me a table top seed starter for Christmas, so I’m ready to go.
This year we’re starting a couple of new fruit trees, a grape vine, some strawberries and several different types of blueberry. I’ll write more about each of those as I start the projects and get them in the ground.
Today I ordered most of my seed from the three websites that I frequent most. I’ve had good luck with plants from all three of these. Burpee is my favorite and usually sends me the best coupons. The other two tend to carry unusual things that Burpee doesn’t, like special hybrids and a larger selection of fruit trees. I like to browse the paper catalogs and then order online. You can get to their websites at BurpeeGurneys and Jung Seed.

I garden in Zone 6, in Mid-Missouri. Our last frost date is about the end of April. I usually begin seeds indoors sometime in mid-late February for plants that I’ll be starting inside. Last year, we went on vacation in early May, which is when I usually start putting in my garden, so I waited until we got back to start things. Direct sowing in Mid-May was fine, I didn’t hit frost or lose any plants, but some things we planted took SO LONG to produce that the season was almost over before we saw anything from the plants. The watermelon we planted didn’t produce watermelons until almost September. It was late July before we saw tomatoes.
I have a lot of patience, but I have to admit, direct sowing really tested it last year. So it’s back to seed starting inside for me. I usually start at least peppers and tomatoes inside, so that the plants are almost a foot tall before being transplanted outside in late April or the first of May. The cucumbers and peas I’ll direct sow; they grow SUPER fast, so they don’t really need that extra couple months to get a jump on the season.
While I wait for the ground to warm up, I’ll spend nice days finishing my fence and starting some new hugelkultur mounds for the fruit trees and grapes. I’m also going to be doing some landscaping around our picnic table/firepit.
I’m off to enjoy this weather while it lasts, looks like we’re back to snow next week!

Enjoy shopping and planning those spring gardens! That groundhog had better not see his shadow Tuesday, or I’ll be gunning for the little sucker. 😉

-Belle