Posts Tagged ‘firewood’

Stove dog Rusty and Grace

It’s finally feeling like winter, which around here isn’t usually too brutal, just cold and sometimes wet, sometimes muddy, sometimes a little snow and wind.  All those balmy spring-like days in December were nice, and we’ll have some moderate temps here and there over the next few months, but the green grass has withered on the pastures and I don’t go out without coat, down vest, hat and gloves no matter how sunny it is.

We’re heading into a pretty good cold snap over the next few days and the expectation of single-digit overnight lows certainly adds a bit of complexity to the normal routine of feeding and watering and tending to livestock, as well as household tasks.  I’m better prepared this winter than last, but there are still gaps in my readiness posture.  Like the paltry stack of split firewood out in the little woodshed, which explains the empty spot along the wall next to the stove in the picture above.  It should be filled with wood, but there’s not much wood to bring in; so it goes.

The little EPA certified soapstone stove doesn’t need a lot of wood to keep this little place warm, so I can get by with scrounging as the weeks go by, but it would be nice to have a couple of cords laid in and not have to worry with it.

Maybe next year.

What’s more important than a full woodshed?  A full hay barn, of course, and a good supply of well-covered round bales for the cows – I’d much rather have to cut firewood in the winter than be running out of hay and trying to find some to buy this late in the year.  It’s an example of how I have to prioritize my time and energy, there isn’t enough to get everything done exactly when I’d like to; so it goes.

The stove is cranking tonight, the dogs and Gracie the cat are gathered close, I at my computer table; it’s a familiar winter evening scene full of peace and contentment.  There’s much work to be done this coming week, the list is ever changing as time and priorities dictate, but staying warm and keeping everyone fed is always at the top.



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Fall grazing

That title phrase is borrowed from a recent Gene Logsdon blog post, in which he talks about bringing in firewood for the winter ahead, and how the onset of winter makes some of us uneasy, whether we know why or not.

I know why the coming months of dormant grass, saturated soils, and frigid temperatures make me uneasy.  Because I’m not ready for it, that’s why.

It feels like we went hurtling through the heat of August just last week.  But of course, August was two – nearly three – months ago.  Back then, I was mapping out all the things to get done by October, and though the list was ambitious, it seemed doable.  Now October is heaving its last breath, and the bottom half of my list just rolls to the right.  November.  We’ll get it all done in November, then.

Meanwhile, the leaves are changing color and falling, and the cows are on their last rotation through paddocks just recovered enough to provide good grazing – most are 8″ at the tallest and some areas much sparser.  Quite the difference from the lushness of May and June.  Regrowth slowed in September and after this time through, will be just enough to regenerate root reserves before growth stops.

It is sobering to see the end of the grazing season fast approaching, knowing that soon I’ll have to serve up hay to hungry animals in all sorts of weather.  Glad to have the hay stockpile; not thrilled with the work ahead to feed it out.

The things that did get done should make me feel very contented, and in any other season than this, they would.  For example, in just two weeks I tracked down 80 rolls of grass hay for the cowherd, hauled them up to the top of the hill, set them on pallets along the hay storage lane, and covered them with plastic.  That was huge.  A lot of work, and a load off my shoulders to finally get it done.  Having enough hay to feed a mixed herd of cows, steers, heifers and calves through the winter is no laughing matter, even here in balmy Kentucky.

The garden harvest has gone very well, too; my shelves are literally groaning with quart jars of tomatoes, green beans, and three kinds of pickles.  There are pounds of chard and edamame in the freezer, bags of dehydrated herbs and cherry tomatoes in the cupboard, piles of winter squash in the spare room, and an overflow fridge out in the shop stuffed with potatoes, beets and carrots.  The abundance makes all the work worth it, and I’m glad to have homegrown food for the winter and beyond.

Still, I am uneasy.  My firewood pile is very small.  I’ve just enough split and stacked on the back porch for the next few weeks, then I’ll have to devote a couple of days to harvesting some standing dead trees, cutting them to length and splitting a mix of large, medium and small for the woodstove.  I wish I’d have had time to get ahead of this resource but I didn’t.  I won’t run out and I won’t freeze, but it’s work that should have been done by now.

Then there’s the horse hay storage structure, still sitting in the palletized box it shipped in, waiting for site prep, footer holes dug and poured, and assembly of the 24′ x 20′ steel tubing frame that’ll be covered by the heavy-duty custom-sewn covering, warrantied to last 15 years.  Once erected, it’ll hold 600 bales of hay for the horses.  Sitting in the box, it’s a long way from being able to hold 600 bales of hay.  Might as well be a box of rocket ship parts out there, as useful as it is to me right now.

Barn doors need built and hung to finish the stall so I can wean the little colt; cows need run through the corral and chute again for annual shots; calves must be captured and hauled to the vet for castration and vaccinations, the yearling colt needs a vet visit for his gelding ceremony; the list goes on, and the weeks fly by, and it is getting cold already.

I shake off the uneasiness but it’s the season for that sort of thing, and it returns.  Maybe I’ll get used to it in a couple of years.

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Splitting hickory

My farm is in Kentucky, but I’m a Colorado native.  A lifetime ago, when I was in my early twenties, I lived and worked year-round in the northern foothills of the Colorado Front Range,  where the snow that comes in October doesn’t stay until April, but the cold sets in for the season and can be serious.  I cooked on a wood cookstove back then, so firewood was a way of life, all twelve months of the year.  In winter it became even more important, as it also provided our only heat.

I’m no stranger to the task of laying up a supply of firewood for winter.  Felling whole trees, cutting them to stove length, and splitting the logs into burnable chunks – these are familiar skills, though I’ve not used them for many years.  (We bought a cord of split firewood every winter in San Diego for the fireplace, but the only work of that was loading and unloading and stacking.)  So I’m pleased to report, I can still swing a splitting maul well enough to reduce a whole log into halves, then quarters, and so on.  A very necessary skill here.

There is really nothing quite like the satisfaction of driving a splitting maul into the top of a 14″ log and splitting it in half in one clean stroke.  Starting a clean split, as in the photo above, that can be finished with a sledge hammer pounding the splitting maul through, ranks a close second.  It takes a certain amount of force and technique, there’s no doubt.  One has to swing the maul with every intent of cleaving the log; head speed is critical.  And aim is even more so.  But when the two collide with wood grain ready to break apart, it’s a beautiful thing.

There are easier ways to split firewood.  I can borrow a wood splitter from friends and probably will, soon.  But it is good to know I still have the skill and strength to turn a tree into firewood, by hand, in a couple of afternoons with the right tools.

This first winter at the farm is my first real winter in 25 years, and I am late in all my preparations.  I’d rather not be splitting firewood in December for this year’s fires.  Glad, though, that I’m able to.

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Brutal cold is making life difficult in many parts of the country right now.  Even Florida is feeling it, god bless ’em, where fruit growers are spraying fields to protect their fruits with a coating of ice.

Just hunkering down in a warm house is a blessing when it’s this cold.  For all the folks out on roads and highways, this weather is a nightmare; scary, nerve-wracking, unpredictable.  And for those whose fortunes do not currently include a warm house to stay cozy in, it’s life-threatening.

I lived with bitter cold for many years, growing up in northern Colorado.  I remember it well, as do my fingertips; they still tingle with memory of mild frostbite and turn white and numb if I fail to protect them with gloves when the temperature drops.  And looking at Moonmeadow Farm’s  picture of her wood cookstove reminds me of waking up to frigid mornings in a drafty logging cabin at 6,000 ft, shivering out of bed to light a fire in the cold, dark mornings before work.  Yes, I know cold.  It’s been awhile, but I remember it.

It is 24 degrees this morning east of Campbellsville, KY at the Farm, and a light snow is falling.  At Ridgewind Farm in Virginia, where the horses are, it’s 22 but “feels like” 10 degrees, and cloudy.  In Vail, CO where Skidder is working the ski resorts, it’s 10 degrees and cloudy, too.

Out east of Fort Collins, Colorado (my home town) where the good folks of Boyles Family Farms  are hunkered down next to the wood stove, it is minus eleven degrees.  Now that’s cold!

In Bonita, California where I am it is currently 45 degrees and clear.  And it’ll probably get up to 75 this afternoon.  The disparity between our winter temps and what is experienced across the rest of the nation is never far from my mind.  I am mentally bracing myself, I think, to return to the real world of seasons that include the discomfort of cold.

Meanwhile, although it doesn’t take much to warm a 1,500-sq-ft house at this latitude, we burn a small fire in the evenings to take the chill off, with eucalyptus firewood bought locally from Garcia’s Firewood in El Cajon.  My little Toyota Tacoma has to make two trips to bring home half a cord, but that will last us well into next year, so the trouble is worth it.  The ashes enrich my compost pile and the labor of stacking and carrying in keeps me from getting too soft.

Wherever you are this morning, bundle up well when you go outside, shut the doors firmly behind you when you come in, keep the fire well-stoked, and stay warm.

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