Thursday, March 13, 2014

We DID Start the Fire

Scott and I are big fans of fire. We like fireplaces, camp fires, fire pits, and even candles (responsibly, of course). In fact, we can't even say the word without getting this song stuck in our head from one of our favorite movies, Hot Fuzz.

It's true.

It was a natural thought, then, that we would have a fire pit in our backyard. When we were in our apartment, we would dream of being able to sit outside with friends around a fire, have a glass of wine, eat s'mores, and just chat for hours.

We had been throwing ideas around for a while as to how we wanted to go about making our pit-dreams come true since we moved in last year. Our priority at the time was trimming back some of the foliage that had taken over and getting rid of the raised beds that populated the yard.

Since we were able to clear out that riffraff last Summer and Fall, though, we were left with the yard as an open canvas for a fire-friendly layout.

We knew that we wanted it to be fire-safe and easy on our pocketbook, so we decided not to use pavers. First, we started with the actual flame-holding pit itself. Our friends had one that they didn't want that needed some clean up, so two days, a wire brush, and some heat-paint later, we had a like-slightly-used fire ring.

I then roughly marked where I thought a good spot for the seating area would be and we started digging in. I followed this up by taking a stick, sticking it in the ground, putting a length of twine around it and attaching a spray paint can (green) to the other side of the string. Then I just walked the length of the string to make a perfect circle for us to cut out of our tiny hillside. It ended up being exactly 12 ft in diameter, which was both cool and unintended.

This is when we wish we could teach the girls to dig for us because it was pretty labor intensive. Instead, Leels wanted to be behind the camera and Sam Sam was playing Rambo puppy across the way.

We were about halfway through doing the initial digging when we received 4 inches of snow overnight. I went to sleep after shoveling dirt in a t-shirt and jeans and woke up to the hole completely filled in with snow. Ugh. The cold-to-warm weather shifts also meant that our wheel barrow tire would pop the next time we used it, right in the middle of trying to finish the job. We would instead just shovel the dirt into the nearby 'flower bed' since there wasn't any real landscaping there anyway. Not permanent, but it worked for the time being.

Thankfully because we live in Kentucky, it was all melted three days later and we were able to continue clearing away the dirt in 60 degree weather. Oh Kentucky Weather, you foul and unpredictable mistress.

Scott and I were actually up till 9 pm one night with our camping headlamps on to finish all of the digging as quick as we could last Friday. Scott brought up more than once how our neighbors probably thought we were up to no good, and it was pretty amusing shoveling a hole in what felt like the middle of the night.The end goal was that when we approached the pit the next day, it was already looking much more inviting... in a muddy, dirt covered way.

It's a pretty deep pit, but we had to dig away so much for two reasons. The first is that we wanted to use river pebbles instead of pavers for our seating. Not only was this cost effective, but it was flexible and would look nice with whatever type of seating we decide to build/put there. Next, we have a slight hill to our backyard and we needed to make the area level so that it was both fire-friendly and more comfortable to sit in. Though the left side of the image above is on level with the house, the right side is almost 14 inches deep.

We managed to use our level and a couple of shovels to level everything out by skimming at the top of the shifted dirt.

Next we decided to use wood that we already had to create a retaining wall. Without one, the Hubs and I knew that the first good rainfall would mudslide the whole wall of dirt back into the seating area. We cut up a piece of pressure treated wood that had been used to make the old raised beds from the yard and staked it into the ground to see if it looked good and would do the job. It did both with flying colors.

So I ended up in the garage cutting 'stakes' out of the old planks while Scott hammered them into the ground. Most of them were cut to 16 inches at the tip of the stake, so they were pretty long. This meant that they wouldn't move around or come loose once they were installed.

Scott then hammered them in and made them level with the ground behind them to decrease the likeliness of someone tripping over them while walking in the yard. Sometimes we would get all but one inch of the stake in place and then it just wouldn't move. There are a lot of large rocks underground here, so this was not our first run in with a blockage for this project. We would just make sure they were in securely and then use the sawzall to cut off the top to make it even.

In a couple of hours, we were looking pretty good.

Scott also went ahead and set up the base for the fire pit in smaller gravel in the center so that we could work around it. I followed this up by laying out the landscape fabric and cutting it to size for the space. This included cutting a big hole around the fire pit because we didn't want to have the fabric close to the flame. I then covered the hole around the fire pit with the small gravel.

We had barely enough to cover, but it worked out. Sometimes landscaping fabric isn't worth using because the weeds will just grow through it anyway. On this job, we decided that it would keep the ground from turning to mud in the rain and swallowing all of our river pebbles. Essentially, the fabric is a big anti-pebble sinking device.

I then started pouring in the larger stones. We ended up with close to 20 bags of pebbles in the end, but were still very strategic as to where we initially dumped them. Specifically, we wanted to make sure we covered the fabric seams first (to help hold it down), then we started nearest the fire pit and worked our way out.

It eventually had enough pebbles that we were able to take a garden rake and spread them around. We were later able to scavenge even more pebbles from our friends who are trying to (ironically) get them OUT of their yard, so that added about 5 more bags to the mix. This was accompanied by back-filling the retaining wall with dirt to eliminate the gap and shore up the stakes.

For the time being, this is all we're doing. We have already been able to enjoy it two or three times. There will be another update with the other things we are hoping to do as well as the tweaks we have accomplished, but honestly, I just don't have pictures of that yet. I know you guys like the pictures (Speaking of, none of the colors of the images in this post match because the weather and the sun were all over the place last weekend! Sorry!). I have actually painted the tops of the retaining planks a fun color as well as trimming the landscape fabric back so that it's invisible. We are hoping to have a hammock stand set set up behind the fire pit soon, too, which will really make it relaxing. The plank walkway will also eventually be continued out to meet up with the side of the pit (notice the green spray painted lines on the right).

First, though, we need some nice weather to come and let us enjoy our new outdoor space. Come on 70 degree weather, we know you're out there somewhere! Hope everyone is looking forward to Spring as much as we are!!!

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