Belle of Dirt

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


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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

 


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Fire Pit

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

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