How to Build a Fire Pit

I’m sure all of you are sitting there thinking to yourself, “Self, don’t read this.  It’s a waste of time.  It’s stupid easy to build a fire pit.”

And you’d be right.

However, there’s one tip I have to offer that might save you some headaches.  Besides, I took pictures of the build process damnit… so I have to post them on the internet.

Pictures like this one:


When we moved out here, the first “project” I finished during our inaugural weekend after it was too dark and we were too exhausted to carry one more box… was to drag some random rocks out of our woods, circle them up in the back yard, scavenge some limbs, wait until dark, crack open a beer, and light up a fire.

That first fire was glorious… and that primitive stone circle saw a lot of use.

But, it was something else to mow around.  Plus, you need to know my least favorite chore is weed-whacking.  I have a really nice Stihl string trimmer I’m thankful to have, but I don’t enjoy the work.

So just a couple weeks after our Version 1 of a firepit was born, and for much of its life, that stone circle would be more overgrown than a 1980′s centerfold and always badly in need of a trim.


Last week I was walking through the big box store and saw these retaining wall bricks on sale for $0.99 each.  Along with those, I bought these 2″ tall 12″ x 12″ patio stones.  Ready to go, I ironically began building my fire pit on the hottest day of the summer.

My primary goal was to have something with a sunken stone border around my ring I could mow over, to keep the grass under control.

Yep, obvious to many I’m sure.  But in case it’s not to you – this is the only way to go.

I made sure the new fire pit would be a safe distance from the house and within convenient vicinity to our firewood, threw all my materials in the general area, ignored the old unused satellite dish I cut out of the ground earlier that morning (and is now in the hands of some eccentric CraigsLister)… and got to work.


How to Build Exactly This Fire Pit:

  • Purchase or otherwise source thirty-three retaining wall bricks, twelve 12″x12″x2″  patio stones, and three bags of pea gravel.
  • Dig a square hole 52″x52″ at least 2-3″ deep.
  • Pour pea gravel in the hole, but don’t fill it.
  • Level the gravel as much as possible.
  • Place your patio stones in the hole, creating a 4′x4′ border.  You want these stones to be even with your yard, or just slightly above it so your mower will roll right over them, preventing grass from cozying and then growing right up next to the retaining wall bricks.

HoleYeah, I was just measuring here and hadn’t put down the gravel yet.

  • Lay out eleven retaining wall bricks in a circle, three layers tall.  Stagger the upper layers so the bricks cover the gaps in the layer below it.
  • Work around any obstacles or challenges due to the lay of the land.



  • Have your safety foreman check for proper depth.


  • Wait until dark.
  • Crack open a beer.
  • Avoid eye contact with your neglected weed whacker.


Question of the Day: What’s your least favorite chore?  Did I mention I hate weed whacking?  Did I mention we have a metric crap ton of split rail fence around our place?  I’m (too) slowly establishing wildflowers and other other stuff under the fence to cut down on trimming time.

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DIY Rain Barrel from a 275 Gallon IBC Water Tote

We’ve previously talked about Why You Want Rain Catchment and how to easily build a DIY 55 Gallon Rain Barrel.

Well, a couple weeks ago I decided my puny little guys needed a little something.  So I went balls to the wall and turned my rain barrels up to 11.

It all began with an innocent comment over dinner where I slipped in, “Hey baby, I’m thinking of adding a little volume to our water catchment.  What do you think?”  I don’t remember what details were sought… nor whether my mouth was full… nor maybe if I mumbled a little……. Who knows… The point is there was no objection and I promised they would be unobtrusive and blend right in.

Thanks to the magic of Craigslist, these beauties soon graced our driveway:


See?  Barely noticeable.

Here’s an easy step by step installation guide for amping up your  Water Storage systems.

DIY 275 Gallon Rain Barrel

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Posted in Emergency Preparedness, Permaculture

Family Resilience Essentials – Food Storage

This is Part 2 of a series discussing a few simple things each of us can do to increase our family’s chance of surviving, and more importantly thriving, during hard times… no matter how minor or serious those times may be.

In our last installment we talked about the importance of having a little extra water on hand.  This time we’re talking food.

I don’t know about you, but I like to eat.  I will eat at least a couple times today.  I ate yesterday.  I hope to eat tomorrow.  If for some reason we couldn’t make it to Kroger, or if we just want to take a little strain off our food budget every now and then, I’m thankful we’ve planned ahead with these easy and relatively inexpensive steps .

Food Storage in Three Easy Steps

Before we get into the thick of it… and just as a reminder, deciding to take care of your loved ones by keeping spare food, water, and some supplies socked away for emergencies doesn’t mean you’re a crazy person and your family should be the featured idiots on the next over-hyped reality TV show.

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How to Acclimate an Adopted Outdoor Cat

Last time, you met our cute and relentless mouse terminators – Gray & Abel – and I shared a little about why I fired our exterminator service.  Here you’ll read about the best way to acclimate an adopted stray or feral cat so they can be happy, healthy, and not run away as soon as they get home.

AbelAbel at his Royal Rescue foster home

I’ve never had pet cats before, but my wife grew up with several that lived strictly indoors.  As I researched more and more over several months about their characteristics, nature, and the huge benefit cats can provide in helping to reduce a rodent population around barns or outbuildings, I decided it was time to move out of research mode and into action mode.

GrayGray at her Royal Rescue foster home

After a ton of reading, there were a few things I knew for certain:

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Why You Should Adopt Cats for Mouse Control

As a student of Permaculture, I detest the primary and ever present role harmful chemicals play in our modern lives.  Monocultured lawns are sprayed with this one. Sidewalk cracks are sprayed with that one. The veggies on your family’s plates have been drenched multiple times in another.  The porous shells of the industrial eggs you buy at the grocery are irradiated and sprayed with something else.

We try to live as free from as many toxins as possible and always seek more natural and healthy solutions.  However, sometimes convenience and marketing wins the day and even us at the ol’ Gentleman Homestead give in.

Our first winter here, when we heard some scratching in the walls and caught a couple mice inside our kitchen sink’s cabinet…  I declared war and implemented lots of improvements to mouse-proof the house, including building my (awesomely effective) Five Gallon Bucket Redneck Mouse Trap.  That stuff helped… and even though our problem was far from an all-out infestation, and every neighbor chuckled while advising us to “Get used to it”… we still weren’t happy.

So, it’s confession time.

We hired an exterminator service and paid a hefty upfront cost plus about $30 per month (!!!) for them to stop by every quarter and refill doggie-proof bait houses with anticoagulant poison.

That was last year.  Now that we’ve added a few more animals, all of whom would not think twice about feasting on a poisoned mouse that happened to keel over near their coop, and our Toddler is much more mobile and ornery than he used to be (hard to believe), I stopped filling those bait houses in early spring, boxed them all up, and am going to try a different, more natural route.  Besides, I always felt dirty walking past those mouse hotels since they go against the Permaculture ethics by which I strive to live.

I fired our local A Abel Exterminator service.  I adopted Gray and Abel as exterminators. (But I’m still calling them by their original names Gracie and Oliver while we all get acclimated.)


“Just cuz you bring me tuna doesn’t mean I trust you yet.”

We’re very happy to have Gray and Abel with us and are slowly but surely getting used to each other.  I hope they’ll live long and happy lives out in my workshop… regularly patrolling the house perimeter… and hating mice as much as we do.

I performed a lot of research into the proper way to adopt, acclimate, and care for indoor/outdoor “working” cats.  I have an upcoming post on that process.  Thankfully, my research led me to Royal Rescue, a local organization that specializes in socializing and finding homes for stray or feral cats.  Many Humane Societies have a similar program for felines who are unlikely to be adopted as indoor lap kitties for various reasons.  Unfortunately, I learned some “unadoptable” cats in those types of programs are either released to a life on the street, or destroyed. I’m very happy to give our two loveable furballs a new home and a second chance at life.

Will this be an effective solution to all the mice living in our fields and woods who get too close to the house?  Time will tell.  For now we’re still working on accepting treats and petting without darting for cover.

Will this be a cost effective solution compared to a $30/month exterminator service?  Probably not.  But that’s not my main motivation.  I take very good care of the animals I’m entrusted with, including these cute little guys who will be “barn cats” and have a job to do.  Gray and Abel will always have shelter, food, clean water, monthly flea/tick medication, vaccines, and a (free!) scratch behind the ear multiple times a day.

So let’s take a look at our Big Board of Animals, shall we?  This brings our count up to:

2 Dogs

12 Chickens

6 Ducks

2 Cats

And hopefully a dwindling number of mice.


Question of the Day: Have you swapped out a toxin for a more natural solution?  Let’s hear about it.

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Welcome to GHC!

I'm Mike, I'm new to this blogging thing, and I'm glad you're here. My goal for this space is an informative companion to my primary passions - the Workshops I facilitate on various topics and the Private Consultation I give to clients as a Permaculture Design Consultant.

Recently, our young family moved out of the cul-de-sac where society says we're supposed to live, and onto five acres outside town. If you stick around, you'll see our successes and failures in real time as we start from scratch and transform our land. Read a lot more about us Here.

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