[Originally posted on PocketLoft on 10-23-2002 11:56 PM. My screen name on PL is "Willa."]
Farmette Report (v. 2.0)
Back by popular demand (thanks, Chrashing ;) ).... here's the all new Farmette Report wherein our gal Willa, formerly of suburban Washington, DC, moves with her husband and cat to a 102 year-old house and former llama farm in the countryside next door to West Virginia. Along the way, our plucky gadget lover acquires another cat (the now famous Sofia), tries to get rid of the resident groundhogs while managing to trap the neighbors' cat, and then a raccoon in the process, copes with getting water from an underground cistern, and learns to act nonchalant at finding snake-skins in all sorts of places outside and inside.
(Okay, enough of referring to myself in the third person!)
My latest adventures on the farmette (that's how the county officially classifies these few acres) have centered around being able to stay warm this winter. The folks who sold us their house heated it entirely with wood their 16 years here, and by golly, that sounded fine to us even though we're complete novices. We purchased two lovely woodstoves: a regal Jotul in the living room and a snazzy, green Vermont Castings in the kitchen. Oops, then we discovered that we needed to make new bases for the stoves as the ones already in place were not up to current code. We also had a bit of fun cleaning the flues which we did with very long-handled brushes and strategically taped trash bags to catch the crud. There was a lot of it. (I suppose the former owners didn't bother with end-of-season cleaning since they knew they were selling the house.)
A neighbor was kind enough to tell us of a good local source of hardwood. The fellow sells it by the dumptruck load. We were told it was already split and that all we'd have to do is stack it. Once we took delivery of the first truckload of wood, we decided it would be more accurate to say it's 'mostly' split. There are plenty of lengths of log that we think are just too big around to put into our stoves. They needed to be split... Strangely enough, splitting the firewood has been fun. I never split wood before, but now I can swing a 10 lb. sledgehammer onto a 5 lb. splitting wedge (the diamond-shaped "wood grenade" is excellent) and almost feel rugged (haven't broken a fingernail yet). Sure, we could have rented a hydraulic splitter, but where's the fun in that? Buncha noxious fumes from those machines. Anyway, in addition to providing a good workout, I find splitting wood to be relaxing in a meditative way. It's become addictive - maybe in the same way distance runners say their sport is addictive. This weekend, we finished splitting and stacking that first truckload and I really found myself missing the work.... not for long, though, as two more truckloads arrived this afternoon. That should make for about six cords of wood for this winter (more than enough) - and plenty of wood yet to split.
Heating with wood in general will take some getting used to. It's not like gas or oil, where all you need to do is adjust the thermostat or flip a switch. There's a lot more involvement required to heat with wood: cutting or buying it, splitting it, stacking it, building the fire, monitoring the stove temperature, stoking the fire, cleaning out and disposing of the ashes (good for the garden!), and periodically cleaning the flues. Whew!
There's an old saying about heating with wood: "Wood is the fuel that warms you twice, once when you cut, split, and stack it - and once when you burn it." I've become pretty good a laying a fire and am just waiting for the cold weather to arrive.
Splitting wood has produced better results than a membership at Gold's Gym! I highly recommend it, and it really is fun. At first, I hoped to use a sort of Tom Sawyer-ish ruse to trick my friends into coming here to try their hands at it... now I jealously guard the logs I want to split! Really - I can hardly believe it myself, but I find myself telling my husband when he reaches for a log to split "Don't take that one, I want it!"
As for getting used to heating with wood, at this stage it feels strange to leave the house even to make a quick trip to the grocery store while there is a fire in the stove... I wonder how well we will be able to balance safety with keeping the house reasonably warm or at least avoiding burst pipes if we are gone for any length of time. Fortunately, we have an ancient oil furnace to fall back on if we find we're not cut out for full-time heating with wood.
11-02-2002 12:27 AM
This evening, I looked out the kitchen window and saw Sofie sitting in the doorway of the pumphouse - looking inside, but not going inside. This is unusual behavior for her as her food dish is in there and, if she's hungry, she can just help herself to dry food. Figuring that something was up, I quickly opened the kitchen door and made a quiet dash to the pump house - just in time to see a very long, very large rat-like tail disappear between the far wall and the old cook stove that serves as a table for the food and water dishes. The tail was a fleshy pink - it belonged to an opossum. I'm not sure where it went from there, but will look for hiding spots during the day tomorrow.
Chalk up another for the local menagerie:
- groundhogs under the front porch and in the veggie garden (now relocated)
- raccoon under the workshop porch
- 'possum in the pump house
- nasty gray cat hangin' 'round eating my cats' food
- snakes here and there. I found another snakeskin while sweeping the leaves off the wooden deck behind the barn.
- wild turkeys out back
- a small herd of deer out back
Speaking of deer - I'm learning not to mention that there's some around my property. See, if I'm talking to suburban or city friends and I mention seeing a dozen deer out back, they'll say "Oh, that sounds lovely" or "I guess that means you've got to watch for deer ticks." If I mention them to folks who live out here in the country, they'll say "You've got deer?" and will then start talking about their guns and hunting season - mentally mapping out good places to hunt on the property. So I don't mention the deer anymore. Rifle hunting season hasn't even started yet, but I've heard a few shots already - early on a few mornings.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to the wife of the guy we buy our wood from. We were gabbing about groundhogs, then she wanted to talk about what she was going to give her husband for his upcoming birthday. She told me that she was thinking of a "tree stand." Those words barely registered with me... tree stand... tree stand.... was she talking about a coat stand - aka coat tree - one of those free-standing racks that you keep handy for hats, coats, and scarves? Then she told me that the tree stand she found was $600! "Whoa, that's some tree stand," I said. She talked some more and, eventually, I figured out that a tree stand is a something that hunters attach to a tree that provides them with a relatively comfortable place to sit high off the ground where the visibility is good.
11-03-2002 09:07 AM
We had a gorgeous sunny day yesterday, blue skies for the first time in 4 or 5 days. I mowed the orchard, raked leaves, split wood - ah! Life is good! This must make me sound like a complete nutcase, but raking leaves is another of my secret passions. That crisp autumn air with a hint of woodsmoke in it, the golden sunlight on the falling leaves... I highly recommend it!
If your parents make you rake leaves, you should get together with your friends and help each other do it. The work will go a lot faster, plus you'll be with your buddies while you do it. Or... if there's a certain girl you'd like to spend some time with, maybe get to know each other a little better, offer to help rake leaves! I know it sounds terribly old-fashioned, but it's a date that will cost you nothing (unlike a movie or dinner), the girl will appreciate your help and will have hours to chat and flirt with you, her parents will be relieved to know their daughter is spending time with such a thoughtful, nice young man... :) If leaf raking isn't an available option, think of some other project to work on together. (BTW, I offer the same suggestion to any young ladies who might be reading this.)
11-12-2002 11:11 AM
We're experiencing a fall-weather invasion of box elder beetles! Fortunately, these are fairly harmless insects, but they are extremely annoying. They remind me of slow, stupid cockroaches, except they are relatively benign and they can fly. (Yes, I know roaches in tropical areas often are capable of flying.) What's happening is that these bugs congregate on the south side of our house on sunny days. They are warming themselves and looking for cracks and crevices in which to hibernate. Sometimes they find themselves inside our house. It's not an enjoyable thing to reach for my cup and find a big ol' beetle perched on the edge. Or to see them crawling all over a sunny window - usually caught between the window and the storm window.
These last two days, I took a small hand-held vacuum cleaner and sucked up hundreds of these critters as they lounged on the outside of our house. At one point, I got a little carried away and killed the over-heated over-full vacuum as well as the bugs. Fortunately, the vacuum was still under warranty and I was able to exchange it.
We're having a lady bug invasion, too, but they are such cute and beneficial insects that I try not to trouble them. Still, I wonder what we'll be in for come spring, when hibernation is over. When we first moved into this house, we vacummed up a couple of pounds of dead lady bugs that were amassed in the attic...
Best laugh: we knew it was time to stop serving wine to one of our guests this weekend when she starting referring to these bugs as "elderberries." ;)