A great chance find at the library, lying there on top of a returned-book cart. This isn’t a book review or recommendation, although Barns, Sheds & Outbuildings is a cool browsing volume, full of clear explanations, instructions, and photos. What it did was remind me, as my year of living mainly in town has its effect, how little most of us (I’m talking about the majority of North Americans, at least, living in cities and towns) have to do with actually building things. And how kinda HELPLESS we are, not knowing how to put together and repair the structures we need. I read somewhere that in the 1950′s, around half of the houses in Toronto (so, I assume, in other big cities as well) were built by the owners. Who’d think of doing that now?
The interesting thing is, like growing food, building basic structures IS NOT HARD. For me, working alongside Bob to put up a wood-framed, winterized, 450 sq. ft. barn extension clued me in to that a few years back. Not a huge project, but it was basically a tiny house constructed to withstand cold Canadian winters. We leveled land and poured a concrete pad, built a concrete block retaining wall, framed, installed a metal roof, windows and doors, insulated and wired…everything. Being warm and dry in the middle of winter inside a structure I knew literally down to the nuts and bolts was satisfying and fundamental. Working alongside someone with old-school farmer skills, following his lead, doing whatever he did, made it…simple.
There aren’t that many old-school farmers left to learn from, but we do have books! :)
Our first wood order of the season arrived a week ago, just as we ran out of the leftover from last year. It’s a bush cord. At least, that was what was ordered, bought and paid for. One bush cord of well-seasoned hardwood, in 16″ pieces. The wood is great on the seasoning end, but when I finished stacking it today, in our custom-built, holds-one-bush-cord rack (below), even taking into account the wood we burned over the last week, we are CLEARLY WAY SHORT!!
I’m kinda shocked at how short we are. When I looked into what exactly a bush cord comprises, the definition seemed pretty clear: 4′x4′x8′ of tightly stacked wood. A volume measure. With 16″ pieces, that equals one long 24′ row, 4′ high. “Tightly stacked” is a little vague, but after asking around, and looking at photos, it seems like common sense: you don’t fit the wood together like a jigsaw puzzle, just stack it nice and solid. OK.
I built a simple rack out of 2x4s that should fit…exactly one bush cord. Of standard 16″ pieces. It’s kind of a bush cord meter. To fit in the narrow side yard, the rack has two 12′ rails, with 4′ high ends. I stacked it reasonably solidly. And we seem to be at least 1/3 (that’s 33%!!!)…short.
The firewood guy came recommended, he’s apparently been doing this for decades, how could this BUSH CORD be so off? It’s a mystery. I’m new to firewood, maybe the counts are loose, but this is extreme. I’m on the phone…
Nights are getting chilly, and a few days ago, in the evenings, we started lighting the wood stove at Kendall’s house in town. It takes some skills. Paying attention to the mechanics of heating was never part of the mix in my few years of winter farm living. It was either central heating by oil furnace, or with electric space heaters, and both ways, really no different from city life convenience: adjust a thermostat or click a switch, pay the bill, and that was that. Pretty mindless.
Here in town with Kendall, natural gas central heating is the main heat source, but she offsets that as much as possible with good ol’ wood heat. So, oddly enough in my ongoing tiny farming career, it’s in an urban setting that I’m first learning how to build and feed a fire, adjust the air intake, get a feel for the draft in different weather conditions, safely dispose of the ashes and embers. And, of course, there’s the wood: bush cords and face cords, hardwood and softwood, well-seasoned vs. green, splitting and stacking, the never-ending quest for good kindling…
Just as your awareness of weather explodes with attention to detail and a certain urgency when you go from city supermarket life to growing food, the same thing happens when you become intimately involved with fending off the winter cold (especially here in Canada, where you can literally freeze to death!). Only a few days of casual evening fires in relatively mild temperatures, hovering around freezing, and already I’m hooked! So much to learn, so little time… :)