Thursday, June 25, 2015

Tiemann Memoirs: Chapter 17/Calculating Wood Need

Getting the wood in for the coming winter was an important summer focus for Philip Tiemann. Following Chapter 17, is information on gagging how much wood you might need for a Cavendish winter.

To read the prelude and other chapters of Tiemann’s Memoirs go to Coming to Vermont (Cavendish): Memoirs of Philip Tiemann.

 Our first year at Windy Hill ended most pleasantly with the visit of a family of former neighbors from New Jersey. The brooks provided entertainment for the younger fry,- in fact, we older folks took advantage of the swimmin’ hold to get cool on hot summer afternoons after work. Also I derived great benefit from help and instruction in car mechanics, - the new cylinder was installed and other adjustment made, and be­fore the friends left Lizzie was ready to take the road again. And may­be we didn’t appreciate it!

If the hay is in, August is something of a between month; still plenty to do but with the crops under control and time to devote to other things. While Isabel and the children took care of the garden produce, (such as it was) and picked berries, I put the finishing touches on the new chicken shed,- wire across the open front (which later would be protected by a sunray-admitting, translucent plastic material) and a sliding door, besides various small projects. I also "changed work" for a few days with neighbors, helping them get in hay. It was necessary to cut more wood (not a very good job in the summer.) And I took time to walk over the place, checking boundary walls and fences, estimating possibilities of fields and pastures and reviewing successes and fail­ures of the past year.

For such greenhorns as we were, we certainly had been blessed with good luck,. Especially had our associations with our several neighbors been valuable, both in a personal way and in what I had learned. Working in company with practical farmers was the best possible method to acquire, knowledge of how to do things: not always the most up-to-date, perhaps, but the fundamentals were sound, Also I had a pile of Government bullet­ins which I studied as they applied to whatever I happened to be doing, which offered a more scientific approach. (As a result of this and the arguments it sometimes led to with my more experienced friends, I discovered I had been dubbed "the book farmer.") Of course my year of practi­cal experience was quite priceless, and altho I still did some things the hard way I was learning fast.

As a start for the second year I was determined to do better with the wood supply. There was enough in the shed to carry us for a while. Any which was cut at this time of year could be stacked to season for a couple of months; then altho still green it should not be sappy and after being sawed and in the shed for a while it should be usable- un­like some of the logs I had dug out of the snow the past, winter and burned almost immediately. The selection would be better, too,- gold rock maple and beech and birch (both yellow and white) with a minimum. of other species. I hoped thus to avoid further trouble with creosote, that bubbling, black, sticky, smelly goop dripping from the pipe joints.

Not only was it messy but it could be a hazard. When one of our friends noticed the condition he cautioned  us, "You'd better clean that pipe and probably the chimney. Get clogged up and you'll have a good chimney fire. If that ever happens," he advised, "throw a lot of kitchen salt into the stove and close the drafts, and call the fire department. They may get here in time to help but it may burn itself out anyway without setting the house afire." I lost no time in doing as suggested and found both the pipe and the chimney lined with a combustible crust. After the job was finished my clothes had to go into the wash and it took a couple of days to get the grime out of my skin. Thereafter 1 emptied the pipes of soot at least twice every winter. Despite precautions we once did have a chimney fire. It started mildly but soon was burning with a whooshing roar that turned the pipe rod-hot and was more than a little terri­fying. This is why sound chimneys are important, as crevasses in the brick may permit fire to reach interior woodwork,- and then, so long, house! Even a good volunteer fire company can't do much arriving after a fire gets a start and too often having a limited water supply, (So, country houses have high insurance rates.)

Like so many other good intentions I didn't begin to accomplish as much as I had planned, nor as soon, 1 did at least stack up several cords of wood and continued adding more until time to get it up from the woods to the shed, where my pile grew to about seven cords ready for sawing, It looked like a lot. Just about as snow was in the air a neighbor with whom I had worked - this one, from over the hill - came with his big old circular saw rig (drawn by a team) and set it between the woodpile and the shed, "Don't expect that to go you all winter, do you?" ho joshed me, "I thought you'd have twice as much," "There's a good seven cord," I responded. - "I guess maybe, Well, let's get it sawed up. But next time leave more room for me to get in with the rig," He put up the horses; then with some delay and a good deal of sputtering the single-cylinder engine was persuaded to start and the saw picked up its high-pitched whine,- As he could not spare more than a few hours at any one tine we worked off and ­on for a number of days, he "laying on" and I "taking away," that is, he pulled and lifted the logs from the stack onto the saw table with a stove length projecting and pushed it into the teeth. As the saw sliced thru with an angry buzz I supported the end of the log so its weight would not pinch the saw and when it came off heaved it as far as I could into the shed. I confess I was very glad the sawing periods were no longer, and that there was time, helped by the children, to pick up the chunks which had accumulated in piles and stack them properly else there would not have been sufficient space. When this was finished the supply was quite impressive...but it still proved less than enough for a long Vermont winter.

As hoped, the summer kitchen had proved-more comfortable, when the heat was not boxed in by a ceiling, But this worked both ways, and when it commenced to get really cold we couldn't keep any warmth out there, We hated to move the stove inside so Isabel stuck it out until the canning was completed, which was in early October, By that time the scrub wood we had been burning in the fireplace had boon used, and I didn't want to waste our precious supply of stove wood. So the stove came in.
That autumn we were lucky in not having a real freeze before October, when one night it got down to 26, This time we recognized the signs and prepared for it. Most of the more perishable things were already harvest­ed, the field corn was in, and the soybean hay mowed down so it would not suffer much flat on the ground, We hastily got in the last pumpkins and squash and covered some remaining beans. The latter were all we lost: they froze thru the covers. The cabbages being hardy were left out under baskets and pails hoping they would grow some more. Next morning the Swiss chard looked rather sad despite protection but I immediately cut and soaked several bushels and Isabel canned it at once. I had to strip the outer leaves from the smaller cabbages but the tender and succulent hearts could be used. - We finished the harvest soon after. As I pulled the large cabbage heads, they were hung by the roots in the cellar. This way they keep well, However, as I have indicated the kitchen garden was a disappointment and we had less on hand than the previous year.

This was not the only misfortune: the apple crop was short and besides those we used currently during August and September we had very-few to keep. This was thru no fault of ours, as fruit blossoms had been nipped generally by a late spring frost. In order to have some on hand we pur­chased a couple of bushels from a roadside stand on the way to Brattle­boro, - However, the field crops were in good condition, especially the hay. When I came to husk the corn it was very nice. Also it was a satisfaction to have the garden cleaned up and things in shape for the winter somewhat earlier than before. And having weathered a pretty rugged year on our own we were much more self-assured, and felt that our technique was improving.

So How Much Firewood Do you Need for a Cavendish Winter: As we’ve read in the first 17 chapters, Tiemann had a hard time figuring out how much firewood he would need. So how does one judge what you’ll need for the coming winter?

• Insulation: How much do you have in your house? The less you have, the more wood you’ll burn.

• Size of the area you plan to heat: Whole house or just one room?

• How warm do you want to be? If you are comfortable keeping the house at 65, you’ll need a lot less

• Type of Stove

• What type of wood do you have- very high-heat-value woods (equivalent to more than 220 gallons of oil per cord) which include hickory, apple, white oak, beech, and hornbeam, will give you steady fires of long duration and create deep beds of coals. The low-heat-value woods (less than 140 gallons of oil per cord), include most softwoods, poplars, basswood, and butternut, burn fast and make few coals. How seasoned the wood is also impact burn time.

Ultimately it’s better to have too much than too little. So if you think five cords will get you through the winter, add another cord or two just to be on the safe side.

Did you know that Vermont has a Roadside Firewood Lottery?  Between Jan. 2 and Jan. 16 you can apply to be part of the lottery. Names are drawn at the end of Feb. Those who receive permits are responsible for cutting and hauling their own wood from marked trees in the state’s forests. Learn more about residential wood heating at the VT Dept. of Forests, Parks and Recreation website.  

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