Minnesota Farmer


Ash wood and locust
June 16, 2014, 9:28 pm
Filed under: Farm, Trees, wind, wood heat | Tags: , , , , , , ,

When I ran out of trees to cut for my wood pile this spring I was about two cords short of my goal.  It is always best to have some place to put the wood cut after summer storms.  Today finds me cutting two ash trees and a locust that came down in Sunday’s storm.  Ash is one of the best woods you can find in this area for winter fires, but that locust is not far behind.  The problem is that locust is very heavy at this time of year.  Lots of water in the wood.  It’s going to take time to dry them out for winter use.100_2702

Summer storms are always hard on trees.  Although winter winds can whip around at a trees branches the leaves are not present to catch the wind.  Now with trees full of sap and a full head of new leaves there is a lot to catch the wind.  The two trees that came down fell towards each other and left a mess of crossed branches to work through.  They also came down on some other small trees.  If I can save those small trees we will have something to fill in the space left by broken trees.

Now we have had more wind and rain and I can see several small branches down.  I’m sure I’ll have more clean up to do.  So I’m now adding some ash and locust to the wood pile, oh, and some maple, walnut and a few other chunks from wind broken trees.



How much wood

It’s Christmas eve, the morning temperature here in southwestern Minnesota is -6F (-21C) and my wood burner has just been filled for the second time today at 8 a.m.  Yes, I burn a lot of wood.

I’m a confirmed wood burner.  Our houses main source of heat has been wood ever since I moved here in 1979.  We live in a several times remodeled 1925 Gordon-Van Tine Co. model number 501 home.  Here’s the catalogue our house was ordered out of.GVT 1923 Pre-Cut Homes Catalog   024

As with all old houses of the era, it had very little insulation.  If we had not had the wood burner, the furnace would never have quit running in those first cold winters.  Now with much added insulation and several added rooms, keeping the cold out is easier.

Our earlier attempts at wood heat were crude to say the least.  We had a stove made out of a 50 gallon oil barrel to start with, crude but effective, that sat in the basement.  Later we purchased a Vermont Castings Resolute, an earlier cousin of this one.  Ours was black.  MHSCWebImages42_P_fullThe Resolute lasted over 25 years in our living room and though small, it provided a lot of heat.  The problem with these stoves was hauling the wood indoors.  This added dust, ash, insects and smoke to our living area and those are not popular items for my bride.  The advantage was we always knew where to go to get warm.

Three years ago we went to an outside heat source by Central Boiler.100_2533Now our wood stove sits outside near the wood pile.  Heat is pumped via hot water in insulated, underground tubes to our water heater, house and shop all from the same source.  Much cleaner, and adds more uses to the one heat source.

As you can see, I have a sizable wood pile.  You can see about six cords of the pile. (A cord of wood is 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet.)  I also have another two cords behind the shed.  Most of the wood in my pile is green ash, but there are also some hackberry, apple, maple, mulberry and walnut branches in the pile.

I never really have to go looking for wood.  We have enough trees broken by wind and ice here to keep me well supplied.  Add trees that die or are overhanging buildings, and we stay nice and warm in the winter.

So now we get to the question in the tittle, How much wood do I use for winter warmth?  That depends.  A warm winter will find me using just over three cords of wood from November to March.  Colder, windier winters can double that amount.  How much of the wood is the heavier ash rather than the lighter maple will also be part of the equation.

Wood burns best if it is dry.  I try to dry my wood for at least 6 months before I use it.  One year I use from the front of the stack and the next from the back.  Thus I can be cutting wood for the next year while I am still burning older, dryer wood.  I also store my wood on pallets to keep it off of the ground and cover the pile with used steel siding pieces to keep the rain off.

Yes, I do have a furnace, and there are several electric heaters in the house to add warmth to cold corners, but as long as I can handle a chainsaw and stack and split wood, I’ll be heating my house with wood.

Michael



The wind said no
October 5, 2013, 3:43 pm
Filed under: Farm, safety, Trees, wind, wood heat | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’ve been cutting trees for over 40 years now.  Keeping the farm yard tidy means picking up the branches that the wind breaks in trees, and some times cutting down the whole tree.  When I moved to this farm site in the late 1970’s I decided to use wood as my main source of heat.  Since then I have cut a lot of trees.  I’ve also learned a lot about how trees fall when cut.  So far, no broken bones or falling out of trees for me.

Usually the trees I cut are dead or dying.  Some times they are in the way of future buildings or roads.  I’ve never had to really go out and looks for trees to cut down, there are always enough to keep the wood pile full.  The trees I wanted to cut today were in a place they should not be.  They were the only Cottonwood trees in a hedge row and definitely in the wrong place.

Cottonwood trees are not really that great of a tree.  In our prairie area they were some of the only trees that were growing when European settlers moved in.  They like to grow in damp areas and thus avoided many of the prairie fires that would sweep the area pre-settlement.  Although they do grow to great heights in the right conditions, They are a messy tree, dropping branches after every storm.  I happen to live in Cottonwood County, so cottonwood  trees have been here since before settlement.

About 15 years ago I cut down the original Cottonwood that was where I was cutting today.  Since I did not dig out the stump, five sprouts came out of the stump and were becoming fairly large trees.  But, as I said, these trees were in the wrong place.

Now cutting a tree is fairly straight forward.  You need to figure out which way the tree leans and hope that direction is a good direction for the tree to fall.  The first two went as planned falling to the north.  This tree was leaning east-south-east, a good direction.  I did not want it to go straight east since that would put it onto a hedge row.FH12OCT_FELING_08

A straight tree needs to be notched to direct its fall as shown above.  Since this tree was only about ten inches across, and was leaning the right way, I just gave it a back cut rather than the full notch.  As I got into my felling cut I realized that I had a problem, the wind was wrong.  Usually gravity is the deciding factor in where a tree falls, but if the wind can get a good grip on a tree, it will spin off in a whole new direction.  The wind wanted to take the tree north, gravity and my back cut were aiming the tree south-east, the tree was going to go somewhere in between.

I really did my best to get the tree to fall where it should, but each gust of wind was taking it off course.  I even stopped before the hinge was cut far enough through and tried to push the tree in the correct direction.  No dice, the tree was going to fall in the wrong direction.  I finally gave up, reassessed the situation, and went with the wind.  This also meant that the safe spot I was going to finish the hinge cut from was no longer safe.  I had to move.

When the hinge was cut the tree fell just north of east.  It missed the place that I was originally going to stand and my hedge row.  It is always a good job of felling a tree when no one get hurts and the tree does no damage.  The plan to cut the last two parts of the tree is on hold until the wind is right.  I do not like it when the wind says no to my plans, but I have to listen if I want to be safe.



Good for something

This wet weather has been good for something, it has allowed us to continue cleanup of our broken trees.100_2011

Those of you who follow this blog will remember my pictures of the broken trees in our yard, but they are only a few of our broken trees.  Our farmstead shelter belts took a heavy toll in the ice storm also.  So far we have focused on getting trees near the buildings cleaned up.  Because conditions have been so wet we have had little choice.  Now we need to tackle the field wind breaks.

Our farm has several fence lines planted to trees to help slow the wind that could blow our soil around.  These trees on the edge of fields drop their branches into plantable ground in heavy winds or if there is too much ice.  Sometimes the branches are quite large.  Since our fields are just about dry enough to start planting, we are going to tackle some of those fence lines now.

Since the ice storm I have harvested enough wood to keep my house warm for more than one winter.  Since the work needs to be done any way, I may as well use the wood rather than waste it.100_0887

The wood pile looks ready for winter now, and I still have a lot of cutting yet to do.  Cold weather will return again.

Michael



Aftermath of the ice

What to do when the ice gives you broken trees?100_2011

Make firewood!100_2025

My wood pile had gotten kind of small with all of the cold weather we had this year so a strong wood cutting season is in order.  To do this you need tools.  Chain saws, wood splitting equipment and some way to get the wood from point A to point B.100_2026

I have three chain saws.  This Stihl professional duty is my biggest, I also have a smaller one for cutting smaller limbs and a pole saw to reach up and get some of those branches that broke off but have not yet let go of the tree.  Then I have the Bobcat 3400 to either carry or drag branches to where they need to go.

I really have only gotten a start on the job of clearing broken branches, the weather has not been very good for outdoor work.  So I work on the ones that are in the way now and go back to the others later.100_2027

When the log is too big, I need a variety of splitting malls, hammers and wedges to break those logs down.  Yes, I do have a motor powered hydraulic wood splitter, but that means I have to have a large pile of big logs to split.  If there are only a few, I start swinging.  It’s good exercise.

Since my main source of heat is fallen branches and dead trees, I always have a bit of work to do each year.  The wood needs to dry in the pile at least six months before I use it, so what I am cutting now is for later in the winter.  It sure is better than just piling them and burning them for no purpose.

Michael



Big Oil vs. all of us

I’ve made no bones about it, I’m in favor of ethanol.  The fact that I’m part owner of a small ethanol plant here in Minnesota does color my perception.  That ethanol is cleaner burning than gas or diesel is a given.  Bio-fuels are a renewable resource, being produced new again every year.

I’ve alway been one who hates to pay any more money to Big Oil than I have to.  The main heat source for my home and shop are dead trees harvested from my farm.  I have air to air solar collectors on my house and shop.  I try to keep the house tight and all equipment operating at peak efficiency.  I limit my trips as much as possible and will use public transportation when practical.

Big Oil does not like my little ethanol plant.  They also do not like conservation practices that use less fuel, they want you to keep paying them for ever.  In fact they don’t seem to like anyone who gets between them and their fat profits, and they are very, very fat profits.Big_Oil-598x426

Big Oil is worried.  They have to be to keep saying the bad things about ethanol that they have been for so long.  They try to tell us that ethanol is bad for our cars when the same cars we use are on the road in Brazil and in some cases are using 100% ethanol and have been for many years.  They try to tell us that using more ethanol is causing our food prices to go up when more of your food dollar goes to oil related costs than to the farmer.  They push a message of the carbon foot print of farming when they blow much, much more carbon into the air than any other industry.  Big Oil has convinced our politicians that agriculture does not need any financial help so that they can protect the much larger tax breaks and hand outs that they take in.

This is nothing more than a coordinated effort by oil companies and refiners who will stop at nothing to hold their near monopoly on the liquid fuels market in the long quest to blame others for their absurd profits and never-ending increasing gasoline prices at the pump.  I find it very interesting that the states with the largest ethanol industries have some of the lowest gas prices in the nation.

All we hear about is a domestic energy boom; more drilling and new oil and gas reserves. But nothing changes; gas prices still increase and every time it’s the other guys fault, not the oil companies. Let’s be honest here. The oil industry is experiencing record profits on the backs of the American consumers. And their industry sees renewable fuels such as ethanol that can be produced far less expensive than gasoline as a threat and they will go to great lengths to discredit any competition through misinformation and smear tactics. Enough is enough – it is time to call this what it is – an orchestrated sham by the oil companies to manipulate markets, cause panic and attempt to use false data to blame an industry that has grown to be a threat to their record profits and bottom lines.

Ethanol is a win-win for America, creating jobs and revitalizing rural economies, it is better for our environment and it is reducing our dependence on foreign oil, all while providing consumers a choice and savings at the pump. It is time for Americans to hear from someone other than oil companies, which are holding American consumers hostage to excessive prices and a dangerous dependence on a finite resource.



It’s COLD!

I’ve made a couple of trips out into the Minnesota cold this morning to feed the critters and the wood stove, and believe me I’m looking for an excuse to stay inside all day.  This is the kind of cold I remember from my younger days.  With daytime temperatures forecast to stay below zero for the first time since January of 2009, we just do not remember this kind of cold so well.  Then there is that cold north wind blowing down from the arctic to bite through our clothing, it feels like about 30 below.  Yep, I think I’ll do some book work.  There must be a few other jobs I’ve been putting off for a cold day, time to do them.

100_0804OK, so this is a picture of my wood burner from a warmer day, but the woodpile is still looking good.  We’re keeping the house warm on the dead trees and broken branches of years past.  Still, I must go outside to warm up the inside of our house, and that is a chilly trip today.

Michael



Water heaters and other pre trip oddities

So, here you are, planning a trip out of town and you have a problem with the water heater.  If the house was to be empty, no problem, turn it off and deal with it later.  Nope, I’m going alone,wife would prefer to have hot water while I’m gone.

Now nothing in our house is simple.  It comes from not liking to pay fuel bills.  When I hooked up our wood burning boiler to heat the house, I also used that hot water to heat our household water.  There are extra things hooked to our heater and I would like to be here to explain when the new water heater is installed.  I may not have the chance.  I’m already in a time crunch and I have to plan on a water heater being replaced while I’m gone, wonderful.

So here’s the old heater.  Notice the dark stain of wet cement on the floor?  That’s what gave me the first hint of trouble.  The heater is 20 years old so it has had its life.  We are on load management with the electric company so they and I can save some electricity in times of high need, we both save money.  Because of that I get a big water heater while paying less for a top of the line electric water heater.  The electric company can shut the heater off periodically to save during times of peak demand, never long enough to notice if you have a larger, well insulated, tank.

Notice also the white lines on the heater?  Those are signs of previous leakage.  Not good things to find.

See that yellow tag, it’s wet.  It hangs from the electric junction box on the water heater.  When I removed the cover from that box I discovered that water was coming out of the heater from around the electric cables.  This means I have to replace the heater.  I make the plans to replace everything, and hope it all holds together so the plan will never go into effect.  If things go wrong, one phone call and my wife gets her hot water back.

Luckily everything held together while I was gone, now I can get things done my way.

While I was gone the new a water heater was delivered.  Today I wrestled it into the house and got it out of the box.  The next step is going to be interesting.  The tank is 30.25 inches wide and the top of my basement stair well 30.25 inches.  Yep, tight squeeze.  But hey, I’m home and the job will get done.  It’s much easier for me and a load off of my wife.

It happens so often, you are headed off on, or just back from a trip, and something goes wrong.  So far no problem, so far.

Michael



Burning questions

“Every man looks at his wood pile with a kind of affection.” Henry David Thoreau

I’ve been heating with wood now for over 30 years.  Every fall I look at the wood pile and hope it is enough to get me though the winter.  This year there is no doubt.  I’ve got enough wood to get through this winter and into the next.

When I first moved to this house we had a cast iron stove sitting in the living room, and a sheet metal stove in the basement.  Although I had a gas furnace, I planned on it only running when I was not home.  Through the years the basement stove has been replaced with a corn stove, and the living room wood stove with a gas one, but I still heat with wood.

Three years ago I bought a Central Boiler wood furnace.  This wood burner sits outside so it keeps all the mess of wood burning outside.  The Central Boiler heats water and then pumps the heated water into the house.  This hot water first goes to the water heater where it leaves some nice hot water for us, then it goes to a radiator in the furnace plenum.  When the furnace fan kicks in we get hot air right away, no waiting for the furnace fire to kick in.  Before the hot water goes back to the boiler it makes a trip to my shop where it helps keep that building warm.

Over the years I’ve learned a few things that may help you with your burning questions as you contemplate heating with wood.

  • A fireplace is nice, but to get the most heat you need an enclosed stove.
  • Burn dry wood, it is less of a fire hazard for your chimney.
  • Clean your chimney.  No matter how hard you try you cannot avoid a chimney fire, cleaning it properly keeps chimney fires from happening so often.
  • Burn your fire hot, then let it go out.  A slow smokey fire adds creosote to your chimney, a hot fast fire helps keep that chimney clean.
  • Air dry your wood for at least 6 months before burning, longer if possible.
  • Wood stored inside molds, wood stored outside dries even in rainy weather.  Having a roof over your wood is nice, but walls are bad for drying wood.
  • Keep you wood off of the ground.  I like to store my wood on old pallets.  This allows air to get under the wood.  It also discourages rot where wood touches earth.
  • Rotate your wood pile.  Burn the oldest wood first.  It helps keep insect populations at bay, and keeps rodent nests cleaned out.
  • All woods do not produce the same amount of heat.  Ash, oak, hard maple, beech, birch, hickory, pecan and dogwood produce the most heat.
  • Some woods are not good for your chimney.  Pine and fir cause more creosote build up and chimney fries than other woods.
  • Some fires smell better.  There is nothing like the smell of a hickory or apple fire, most fruit and nut woods smell nice when burned outside in your fire pit.
  • Some wood stinks when burned.  A cottonwood fire is truly vile.
  • If you cut wood, you need to plant trees.

Wood heats a man twice.  Once when he cuts it and again when it is burned.  Enjoy your wood fires.

Michael

 



Changes made
September 28, 2011, 8:08 pm
Filed under: cold, Farm, Minnesota, Trees, winter, wood heat | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Some changes happened at my house today, can you see it?

The two spruce trees that have been in front of our house for at least 75 years are gone.  It’s a big change.

We really had enjoyed those trees, it’s just that lately they have been losing more needles than they have been producing.  They just had to go.

Count the rings

It was interesting to count the rings and see the record of the good years and the bad years the tree had survived.

I got home from my school bus route and the first tree was already gone, and they were notching the second one in preparation for dropping it.  It came down exactly where it was supposed to.

The crew cut off and shredded the branches, cut the trunk up into manageable lengths, and piled the logs for me to process later.

They ground up the stump, leaving only a small hole for me to fill later.

My wood pile which was large before is huge now.  I could have enough wood for two years out there now.

I do love a large wood pile with the prospect of a cold winter ahead.

Michael




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